March 3, 2012

Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival XIV

This is a bit late, but here's your now monthly round-up of news in the world of Roman bioarchaeology (broadly defined, as usual)...

New Finds

  • The big story out last month was in the area of Montereggi, an Etruscan site.  There is plenty of information at La Repubblica, Nove da Firenze, and Archeorivista, as well as some brief English-language coverage (The Florentine).  Montereggi has been excavated for seven years, with the last phase ending in October of 2011.  This past year, excavators found a human skeleton in a well.  The skeleton was found on top of a number of waterproof jars that seem to have contained wine (although further testing will determine this for sure), then covered with other fragmented jars.  The excavators think it was a purposeful burial (not that, for example, someone fell into the well or was thrown in), but analysis of the skeleton is ongoing at the Archaeological Superintendency of Tuscany.
The Etruscan Skeleton in the Wine Well
(credit: La Repubblica)
  • Another big story was on the discovery of around 90 graves that may hold the bones of early Christian martyrs near Milan.  The skeletons were found near the Basilica of St. Ambrose and seem to date to the 4th-5th centuries AD, although it's uncertain because the graves are quite simple (meaning there are few artifacts that can date them).  There's a nice series of photographs with the Corriere della Sera piece, and the find was also covered at Archeorivista.  Sounds like some construction project is being held up for the excavation of the bodies, so I hope the archaeologists are able to recover as much as possible given the time constraints. (See also: The Bones of Martyrs?)
A Christian Martyr?
(credit: Corriere della Sera)
  • Archaeologists also found about 30 Lombard tombs in Cividale del Friuli (northeastern Italy, on the border with Austria).  They seem to date from around the Roman period (or at least are positioned near the Roman architecture that remains).  Work has been done at this site in the past, but many of these new Lombard graves were pretty intact and included a lot of interesting artifacts.  One of the graves:
Lombard Grave from Cividale del Friuli
(credit: Archeorivista)
  • Two cremated bodies were found in Cawston (near Norfolk, UK) dating to the Roman period.  Not a lot of additional information on them, though.
  • Did an Italian archaeologist find the tomb of St. Philip the Apostle, who was martyred in 80 AD, in Hierapolis (Turkey)?  He's certainly suggesting that the Roman-style tomb was indeed that of Philip, but this is the only coverage I saw.
  • Roman cemetery was discovered in Djerba, Tunisia.  There are apparently over 100 graves, but no additional information has been released yet.  Djerba may have been the island of the lotus-eaters referred to in the Odyssey and, in Roman times, produced a lot of murex dye.  This could be a very cool site, especially if they have skeletons from those graves.  I hope more information comes out soon.
Upcoming Excavations and Projects
  • And now for a bit of crowd-sourced archaeology... If you live in Kingsholm, Gloucester (UK), you might want to dig up your garden and see what you find - the area used to be a Roman military fort.
  • Excavations are resuming at the Etruscan site of Populonia this summer, including its necropolis.  Should be some interesting news coming out of this dig.
  • new archaeological project seeks to answer the question "What have the Romans ever done for us?" - with the "us" being the Irish.  The project will tackle Late Iron Age and Roman Ireland.  Previous work has already been done on human remains (including isotope analyses), but this project will find additional sites and try to figure out what it meant to be "Roman" in Ireland.  This could be quite interesting, as it's likely that Roman influence in Ireland was different than Roman influence in Britain and this difference hasn't been thoroughly researched yet.
New Analysis and New Media
Fun Stuff
  • Would you have survived the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD?  Take this quiz at and learn a little about volcanoes!  (I did survive - but only barely.)
  • Mike Henderson at the Museum of London laid out a skeleton in proper anatomical position and was stop-motion-captured.  The result is this awesome 40-second video.  (A friend asked me if I could lay out a skeleton that quickly.  I could do it a whole lot faster; it's just a matter of speeding up the video!)
Join me next month for more news from the world of Roman bioarchaeology!


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