February 27, 2010

Resisting Rome

That's what I wanted to call this chapter, but I didn't find any conclusive evidence of it. With roughly 30% of the population of Imperial Rome composed of slaves, you'd think that there would be some kind of indication that slaves were unhappy with their lot. Archaeologically, it's quite difficult to find evidence of all the little ways that people resist their bosses or masters, to find evidence of changes that people refuse to make because they want to be defiant or because they just don't want to do anything differently. It's been argued by Stefan Burmeister (2000) that the best way to find evidence of immigrants is through an examination of cultural phenomena that are inscribed on the internal, private domain: internal household architecture, for example, expresses a learned, cultural conception of space; as does the proper way to prepare food and the proper foods to eat; and burial rituals surrounding marginal members of society (i.e., those for whom a public display is not needed). Finding evidence in the private domain that is starkly different from the public domain could indicate resistance or maintenance of past habitus. I don't have household information for my skeletons, but I do have dietary data and style of burial, so I thought I'd check it out.

The dietary data definitely indicate some sort of acculturation. Childhood diets of immigrants were significantly different than adult diets, the latter of which were in line with the local Roman range. I was able to test both the enamel (childhood) and the bone (time before death) of four immigrants: three of them had bone within the local Roman range, and one had bone that was quite close. This means that, after they came to Rome, they ate a local diet. Whether this was a voluntary choice or a necessity, though, remains unknown.

The burial data don't indicate much either. There were more locals buried in the cappuccina style and more nonlocals buried in amphorae, but in general there were more adults who were local and subadults who were nonlocal. Almost without exception, subadults are the only ones buried in amphorae - perhaps it's because the vessels don't necessarily accommodate the adult body or perhaps it's for a more ideological reason: pottery represents the home, the private domain, and children are domestic figures rather than public personages. At any rate, there was one burial of a 15-year-old teenager in an amphora, when all the other amphora burials were of kids aged 7 and under. In addition, this teenager was the clearest immigrant in the entire sample: his (or her, but probably his) strontium, oxygen, and carbon were all completely different from anyone else's - he was most likely from Africa, possibly central Egypt or Nubia. The anomalous burial is not, of course, conclusive evidence of anything - after all, he didn't bury himself. But it is possible that his burial is an indication of his nonlocal status; it is possible that someone commemorated him in a way that is in essence comparable to a Roman tradition but is in practice quite different because of his age.

So, unfortunately, I have nothing much in the way of people resisting Rome. I can't imagine, though, that there was no resistance, that there was no creolization. If we can find evidence of syncretic religions in Rome, surely there were other practices that were contrary to or a mishmash of Roman and Other. Or perhaps during the Empire, Roman culture was pervasive and largely homogeneous? The dietary differences would then simply indicate a difference in food resources at Rome compared with far-flung areas of the Empire, and the lack of differences in burial style would be unsurprising. As always, tons more research needs to be done, particularly in Roman bioarchaeology, so that we can pursue topics such as ethnicity, identity, and acculturation, topics that are woefully under-researched in Rome.

February 25, 2010

Panic Writing

Somehow, in the last two weeks, I've managed to write two chapters and an introduction to the dissertation, for a total of over 50 pages of new material. Getting up at 6am is definitely paying off, and I've only had one sleep-deprived-and-stress-induced mini-meltdown. So far, so good! The bad news is that my advisor would really like the completed first draft by spring break... which starts next Friday. The good news is that I have in the neighborhood of 25-30 pages to go: one interpretation chapter that should be easy (and actually kinda fun) to write, and a conclusion (part of which is already written).

I actually already blogged about the final interpretation chapter, so the two that I haven't mentioned are about the geopolitical structure of migration in the Roman Empire and migration theory in anthropology/archaeology. The structure of migration was a boring chapter to write, although I got to put in some neato keen maps. Migration theory was more fun to write than I thought it would be, but that could be because I geek out a bit on transnationalism and how it can be applied to approaches to migration in archaeology. I honestly think I have a fresh approach to migration in the Roman world, and it might even be a fresh approach to migration in archaeology as a whole. But the real test will come in a few weeks' time when my advisor and the remainder of my committee have to read the 350 pages that constitute my proof that migration to Rome is an important topic.

February 15, 2010

CRACking remarks about slavery

So I'm reading up on archaeological perspectives on slavery in the ancient world, and I come across a reference to a session to which I contributed a paper in 2008, the Critical Roman Archaeology Conference at Stanford (Webster, J. 2008. Less beloved. Roman archaeology, slavery and the failure to compare, Archaeological Dialogues 15(2):103-123). Webster notes that she was the session chair for "Diaspora and Migration," in which I presented a paper that eventually became my in-press JRA article (Killgrove K. 2010. Rome if you want to: identifying immigrants to the Imperial capital. Journal of Roman Archaeology). I presented my work in the last session of the last day. It was a very poorly attended session, and there were only three papers: mine, one by (I recall) a European researcher that wasn't on migration at all, and one by British bioarchaeologists who couldn't come to the conference. Webster writes about this session (pp. 110-111):

"Given the central role of US-based archaeologists in developing an archaeology of the African diaspora... I was reasonably confident that the 'Diaspora' session would attract papers by American postgraduates developing innovative approaches to the study of Roman slavery. Not so: not a single abstract was received on any aspect of Roman slavery, let alone Roman slavery in comparative perspective. ... Thus it has come to pass that the 'agency' generation (following Sanjek 2003) have recast diaspora as voluntary rather than forced migration, and at CRAC the term was wholly used to discuss the movement of free migrants within the Roman world."

Now, I have no idea what other sorts of abstracts were received, but I can definitely believe none of them took a comparative approach to Roman slavery. The phenomenon of migration in the Roman world is woefully under-researched, and the topic of slavery is worse. Both of these research streams clearly require anthropologists - or at least comparatively-trained archaeologists - to point out why they're useful to our understanding of the past and the present and how to go about studying them. But I never used the term diaspora to talk about waves of free migrants, except in quoting others' redefinition of the term. So the reference to Sanjek? Yup, that was in my paper. Did I say that I agreed with him? Nope. The use of diaspora to talk about what is actually simply population movement? That was in the talk by the British researchers, a move that I similarly disagree with because diaspora has a specific meaning. If we want to talk about mobility, movement, and migration without force or threat, we already have perfectly serviceable words for them.

I also disagree, however, with the insinuation that taking an agency perspective to the study of Roman slavery is necessarily a bad idea; it's unfair to expect American postgraduates to engage in simple comparative research on slavery when we (anthropologists, anyway) have to justify our research to thesis advisors and grant committee members. Using information from other historically known slave societies to elicit information about Roman slavery? Not likely to be funded by NSF or Wenner-Gren. Using an agency perspective to discuss the experience of Roman slaves and their means of active or passive resistance? Much more likely to be funded. Migration theory has moved on to an individual, transnational perspective, even if archaeology (and especially classical archaeology) hasn't even caught up to systemic push/pull factors yet, just as diaspora theory has moved on to ideas of agency. Wanting better research about Roman slavery is one thing, but expecting it to come out of graduate students working within the American academic tradition (particularly the anthropological tradition) is a bit misplaced.

At any rate, I do recall having to answer a lot of questions during the discussion time because, as I mentioned, the other presenters didn't talk about migration, and the British bioarchaeologists didn't come - I even answered a question about their methods. And I do recall Webster using her role as discussant to discuss slavery - it was honestly a topic I had not even considered at that point because I bought into the Italian archaeologists' assumption that the skeletons from my sites belonged to the free poor. As I research further, however, it is clear that I can't know whether these individuals were free, freed, slave, or somewhere in between (e.g., peregrini, visitors) because of the integration of slaves into Roman society but also because of Roman archaeologists' and historians' long tradition of glossing over the fact that Rome was a slave society and therefore not researching the effects slavery had on life beyond the general economy. I'm doing my best to spread the word about migration to Rome - why it's important, how it can be seen archaeologically, ways that we can push this topic further with modern anthropological theory - but I think that a stronger foundation needs to be laid regarding documented patterns of migration to Rome, primarily through stable isotope analysis, before we can separate those patterns of movement into slave and free, occupational and circular, short- and long-term.

February 12, 2010

Integrating Immigrants

After recalculating disease frequencies for immigrants versus locals at my two sites (as well as a pooled local/immigrant population) and totting up all the archaeological context information I could find, I did several dozen t tests and Fisher's exact tests to see if there was statistical significance to any of the differences. Not really.

In terms of burial style, it seems that none of the nonlocals had cappuccina burials, but five of the locals did. Perhaps there is a bit of a status divide? There are too few data points to tell for sure. The d13Cap-enamel values were still significantly different (indicating that, on the whole, immigrants had a different diet as children than locals). The only disease processes that differed in frequency between the groups were calculus and antemortem tooth loss at Casal Bertone. Interestingly, the locals had higher frequencies both per tooth and per individual than the nonlocals. But dental disease is rather nonspecific, as processes like calculus are accretional and therefore affect older individuals more than younger individuals. Since the immigrant population is, on the whole, younger than the local population (owing to a bunch of teenagers), it's unsurprising that the local population would suffer more from dental decay.

It does not seem, then, that the immigrant population to Rome had a particularly rough time of it compared to the locals. Being lower class in Rome sucked equally all around. On the other hand, the large number of subadults means that these individuals died soon after arriving in Rome, likely from a disease that doesn't manifest itself on bone immediately - quick-killing infectious diseases, for example. There is definitely more research to be done in terms of epidemiology - how immigrants affected and were affected by the disease load in Rome. I wish I could say more than that immigrants to Rome pursued a strategy of integration - at least in terms of diet and burial style - but I can't tell whether immigrants were, for example, shunned on account of their skin color or mocked because of their accent. Bioarchaeology gets me tantalizingly closer to understanding people who by and large aren't in the histories, but it's still frustrating that I can't find out more.

Unless I can think of other ways to crunch the data, I'm done with analysis for good... or at least in service of the dissertation. All that's left is to write the chapter on migration to Rome, a chapter outlining the lack of significant results above (plus a bit of individual history-writing, just for fun), and some introductory and concluding remarks. It even seems like I'll hit my goal of having completely written the dissertation by the end of March for submission to my advisor and then my committee. I just need to stick with it and write my heart out for the next six weeks. After that, maybe I can stop getting up at 6am every day.

February 9, 2010

Wikipedia Meets Bioarchaeology

In preparing my abstract for a conference on palaeodemography in Athens next month, I decided to check the Wikipedia entry for the term. It is short but decently written. As I scrolled through it, the reason that it sounded familiar finally clicked: the bibliography at the bottom, which consists of Larsen's Bioarchaeology and the chapter on palaeodemography in the older edition of the Katzenberg and Saunders book, were reading assignments in my Bioarchaeology class way back in the spring of 2006. Because students always want extra credit, I had decided to reward their writing short Wikipedia articles on all things bioarchaeological. Only two students ended up taking me up on this assignment. But a quick check of the history of the palaeodemography page confirmed that my student Cameron had written the first entry. It has since been updated, but most of his original article remains. The other article was on middle range theory, which has since become disambiguated into archaeology and sociology, and was written by my former-and-current student Lara. Almost all of the other words/terms that I suggested are still stubs in Wikipedia. The original assignment can be found here if anyone wants to issue a Wiki challenge to their osteo/bioarch students.

I don't think I had anticipated four years ago just how popular Wikipedia would be. It's my go-to site for quick-and-dirty information about a variety of topics. But I am surprised both that most of the terms in my original assignment are still undefined and that my students' work endures, albeit in a remodeled skeletal form apropos to the class in which they both did excellent work. This is definitely an assignment that I will resurrect in the future, as I strongly believe in both the duty of academics to share their knowledge with the public and the collective maintenance of freely available information online.

February 7, 2010

What would the Romans have eaten on Superbowl Sunday?

Since I am frantically writing up this chapter on the ancient Roman diet from C/N isotope analysis on what happens to be the day of the biggest annual sports celebration in America, I wondered what the Romans would eat were they transported here and plopped in the middle of our modern version of a colosseum. The Romans were quite fond of snack food, at least judging by the histories and the presence of thermopoliae (a sort of pub/fast food joint) at Pompeii. I don't actually know if they would snack while watching games or sports, but they certainly snacked at the baths according to Seneca (Epistolae 56), who commented on the cacophony of "the cake-seller with his varied cries, the sausage man, the confectioner, and all the intonations of the vendors of food hawking their wares." It would not surprise me at all if the Romans originated the tradition of brats-and-beer at the ballpark, as it were.

So if you're still looking for interesting things to cook for your superbowl party, why not try the Roman version of brats, some stuffed dormice (preferably on a stick), or a pizza made with a base of chickpea pancake? Don't forget, of course, to wash this all down with muslum, a wine and honey concoction similar to mead. And go local sports team and/or college!

February 6, 2010

Italian Food

I've finally crunched the numbers for my dietary analysis. I was holding off on this chapter in the hopes that I would get some additional data in the form of re-run samples, but no such luck. So I have 33 people with both C/N isotope data and an additional few with just apatite data but no collagen. I also have apatite data from these people's first molars thanks to the archaeochemist who did my oxygen isotope analysis, meaning I can compare the whole-diet carbon between birth-3 years and a decade or so before death in the same person.

What I've found is that the N values of the people at both Casal Bertone and Castellaccio Europarco are similar to the N values of other populations: the Christian burials at St. Callixtus along the Appian Way, the Imperial population at Portus Romae, the Romans from south of Naples at the site of Velia. So the marine component of the diet was more or less the same - people were eating both freshwater fish and seafood. Interestingly, the C component is hugely variable, both within the populations and between sites. The people tested from my suburban site, Castellaccio Europarco, have the highest d13C values on average of any of the aforementioned Imperial-period people. Because their N values are more or less the same as the other sites, the increase in C is likely related to consumption of C4 plants. This does not necessarily mean that they were eating millet or sorghum directly; both are excellent fodder for ruminants (goats and cows), bones of which were found at Castellaccio. The people of Castellaccio were therefore eating millet and/or the tissues (meat, milk) of millet-fed animals, more so than the people at urban Casal Bertone.


At Casal Bertone, there were two burial contexts: a mausoleum and a necropolis. Until now, I had found no differences in the skeletal population to indicate the mausoleum people were of a different status than those buried in simple pits in the necropolis. The dietary study, however, shows that the mausoleum folk have a much less varied diet than those in the necropolis; their d13Cap values change little from infancy to adulthood. I think this means they had more consistent access to food than those people in the necropolis, whose d13Cap values are widely divergent, particularly in the teen and adult age groups (10-40 years old). In comparison with Portus Romae, I see much higher C values at Castellaccio indicative of millet consumption, less variation in older individuals at both sites, and no real differences between the diets of males and females. The diet of my Romans is quite different from that of the people at Callixtus, who researchers concluded might have been eating a lot of freshwater fish and C3 plants and therefore have surprisingly low C values. But this is not terribly surprising, as both Casal Bertone and Castellaccio were several kilometers from the Tiber, meaning it was more difficult to access freshwater fish.

It would be great to test some goat and/or cow bones from Castellaccio to see if they are indeed enriched in d13C. A similar study was done in Roman Egypt, where the researcher found heavy C isotopes in these ruminants and in the males and subadults from the site, concluding that the kids were drinking goat/cow milk and the men were eating beef/mutton. But first, I need to finish up this dissertation... I have to force myself not to do more isotope analysis until it's done. I have one goat metapodial from Castellaccio, but more goat/cow samples will need to be procured and tested before I could publish the dietary study suggesting the people of Castellaccio ate C4-fed animals. Right now, my evidence is very circumstantial.

The most interesting part of the dietary study for me, though, is the fact that I have d13Cap data from the enamel and femur of several of the individuals I have already identified as immigrants based on their Sr/O values. Almost all of the identified immigrants (for whom I have dietary information) have strikingly different d13Cap values from their enamel than the rest of the population that was presumably born locally. Two individuals have quite high d13Cap values, again, likely indicating consumption of C4 plants either directly or indirectly, but two have quite low d13Cap values, indicating an almost completely terrestrial diet (i.e., no input from fish, garum, etc.) as kids.

And finally, the person with the highest d13Cap enamel value, a 14-16-year-old, also had statistically different Sr and O values that were consistent with an origin in North Africa or even Nubia. Based on the aforementioned Roman Egypt dietary study, if the practice of foddering animals with C4 plants was common in this area, the enriched C signature makes sense: this teenager came to Rome from North Africa. Interestingly, his/her d13Cap value from bone was very close to the Roman range for Casal Bertone, indicating s/he possibly came to Rome several years before death, enough time to adopt a "Roman" diet. Unfortunately, this individual was not terribly healthy, with evidence of cribra orbitalia, some sort of infection along the spine (which I can't conclude for sure was tuberculosis), periostitis, and other nonspecific skeletal conditions. So this person has turned out to be the most interesting in my study - and of course I want to run more tests, like DNA analysis to see if s/he was African (or of Roman ancestry living in Africa?). Third molar data could help me narrow down the age at which s/he came to Rome as well.

I'm very glad that the dietary study has not been completely worthless. I was worried that it would be exactly the same as the dietary study from Portus Romae. But it turns out that: 1) not every population has the same diet; 2) people in the Roman suburbium were consuming more C4 plants than urban people; 3) there are status differences between the mausoleum and necropolis populations from Casal Bertone; and 4) most of the people who immigrated to Rome had different childhood diets, some with strikingly high amounts of C4 foods. That's a lot of information from isotope analyses that I assumed would give me very little! As soon as I finish this diet chapter, I finally get to write the chapter that I've been anticipating for years: answering the question about what life was like for immigrants to Rome.

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