January 31, 2010

East Asian Immigrant to Italy

My colleague Tracy Prowse recently did some DNA testing of skeletons from her cemetery site at Vagnari, in south-central Italy, and found out that one of them was from eastern Asia. aDNA is, of course, way cooler and often more useful than Sr and O analysis at finding immigrants (and at finding out how individuals in a cemetery are related), but it's still pretty damned expensive. Now that I've done the background work with Sr/O and isolated some individuals I'm fairly certain are immigrants to Rome, however, perhaps I can get some grant funding for aDNA analysis... but it'll have to wait until I graduate.

January 27, 2010

More and more migrants

After finishing the next chapter of the dissertation, in which I combined the strontium and oxygen isotope data, I have even more immigrants than before - well over 1/3 of the sample was outside the bounds of one or both isotopes. I got to whip up some pretty awesomesauce charts, like this one (the labelled people are immigrants):


Finding homelands is difficult, particularly since the bioavailability of strontium in the region is unknown owing to no previous human enamel studies. But I seem to have people from various parts of the Italian peninsula and some from warmer, drier areas: Greece, Asia Minor, north Africa perhaps. There were more male immigrants than female immigrants, and a surprising number of kids came to Rome before the age of 15.

Next up is the best part - characterizing immigrants' lives through pathology, dietary, and archaeological information to see, particularly, if they had a different experience in Rome than their local brethren. Then, a couple chapters introducing/concluding the study, and the dissertation is complete. Easier said than done, of course. But it's time to choose work over sleep, at least for the next couple of months.

January 21, 2010

Annoying quotation of the day

I was e-flipping through a new (2010) book about isotopes, Isoscapes, in the hopes of reading the entire article "Stable and radiogenic isotopes in biological archaeology: some applications" by Schwarcz, White, and Longstaffe. As Schwarcz worked on the oxygen isotopes from Portus Romae, he includes this in the section of the chapter in which the authors discuss applications of O isotope analysis at archaeological sites around the world. I know he's not an archaeologist, but this quotation just started nagging at me:

"In the period of dominance of the Roman Empire, cemeteries were mainly located just outside of the walls of larger cities, including Rome itself, with the result that few burials from this period have been recovered."

Of course, I can't expect someone who is not a Roman archaeologist to know the ins and outs of the periurban cemeteries around Rome. It's extremely difficult to find articles on the few cemeteries (or samples thereof) that have been published, as they're usually found in obscure European journals, few of which are peer-reviewed or available online. And, of course, the publications are in Italian. For a throw-away sentence at the beginning of a section, I don't expect a non-archaeologist to research the availability of skeletal material at Imperial Rome or at Roman cities in other parts of the Empire (e.g., Roman York, Gloucester, and Hampshire in England). Still, throwing out such a crazy blanket statement about the presence (or lack thereof) of human skeletal remains is quite odd. It also kind of annoys me that it's possible to make this kind of assertion without any citations.

Regardless, it is clear that more attention needs to be directed to the wealth of skeletal remains that have been uncovered in Rome in the last 20 years or so. There are some issues of cultural patrimony, in that Italian researchers rightly feel they should have first crack at studying these bioarchaeological remains. Yet there is so little funding in the academy in Italy that only small samples of large cemetery populations get published (as, for example, the roughly 120 individuals from the via Basiliano cemetery in periurban Rome, which held close to 2,000 people). I am, of course, hoping that my dissertation brings to light just how much more we can learn about Rome from the amazing amount of biological remains that need to be analyzed. My work isn't currently widely published, although I hope that my upcoming Journal of Roman Archaeology paper will help disseminate at least the fact that cemeteries and skeletons exist from Rome. Perhaps after these publications, researchers will no longer be able to claim that there are few burials from Imperial Rome.

January 20, 2010

Migrants on the Horizon

I finished the chapter on oxygen isotopes (chapter 9) the other day. Here's my tweet of its contents:

Nearly 30% of the sampled population of Rome was from elsewhere, mainly the Alps/Apennines, North Africa, and Greece/Asia Minor.

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