October 13, 2009

Comparative Cemeteries

It never ceases to amaze me just how few Roman cemeteries have been published (at least, in terms of the skeletal data. It seems the exciting grave goods are always published). Consider that in 2001, Italian bioarchaeologists noted that over 3,500 skeletons had been excavated in the previous three years. I don't even know how to extrapolate from that, as there was a lot of construction work done in 2000 for the Grande Giubileo, but Rome is still putting in all sorts of metro and train lines, so I would assume there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 skeletons that have been excavated in the last 10-15 years. And these are only from sites that are under the purview of the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma, so they are cemeteries from the city and suburbs of Rome. (I'm pretty sure, for example, that the cemeteries at Isola Sacra are curated by the soprintendenza for Lazio.)

The lack of publications makes it both easy and hard to figure out what my comparative populations are for my dissertation. I have counted 8 Imperial cemeteries that have been published on their own, plus 4 that have been published as comparative material (and thus have only summary data rather than raw numbers). But this includes other urban sites like Pompeii, Herculaneum, Isola Sacra, and the rural sites of Lucus Feroniae and Quadrella. If I really narrow my search to Imperial cemeteries from the city and suburbs of Rome, I get 3: Via Basiliano (about 1 km further from Rome than my Casal Bertone), Vallerano (just south of my Castellaccio), and Osteria del Curato. Basiliano had over 2,200 tombs, but only 142 skeletons are published. Vallerano had only 103 tombs, but they are all published. And Osteria del Curato seems to have had hundreds of burials, but 120 skeletons are published and another 100 or so are summarized.

It's probably silly to stress about this, as I'm picking comparative populations solely for demography (and possibly for basic palaeopathology of teeth and cribra orbitalia/porotic hyperostosis, as those are the diseases most often reported in Italian bioarch), which is background to my isotope studies. It's very surprising, though, that nothing close to raw data is published in the Italian bioarch articles I've read. There are percentages of males versus females, percentages for age-at-death, and average height of males and females. But in general, I have no idea exactly how many skeletons were assessed to come up with those percentages, and that is a bit frustrating and worrisome from a comparative standpoint. Even more difficult is the fact that more skeletons were found at each of my two study sites since 2007, so I don't have complete populations either, just a fairly large sample of each. This is probably a complication, though, of having a full ancient city underneath a modern one.

Mostly for the sake of my graphs, I think I'll compare my two sites with the cemeteries in the same (sub)urban radius, because putting them all on the same footing (as is often done in the literature I'm reading) will only minimize any differences between urban and suburban life. And there do seem to be differences, at least in terms of age at death and diet. But more to come on that in the future...

1 comments:

Libby lydia said...

Ouch, that sucks. My google news reader implied she was pretty much ok. I hope that she is soon.
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