Open Osteological Data - Two Imperial Roman Cemetery Populations

I defended my dissertation, Migration and Mobility in Imperial Rome, four years ago.  Because of my interest in open access and because my NSF grant required a data access statement, I've been thinking for four years about how best to open up all the data I collected.

At first, I was worried about opening up the data because I wanted to get a job.

I got a job in 2012 at the University of West Florida.  

Roman Osteology Database Screenshot
Then I worried about opening up the data because I needed to publish and get tenure, but growing interest in open data among scholars made me conflicted.  So I compromised: I posted all published isotope data as bare-bones Excel files.  But divorcing these data from their larger context didn't sit well with me.

I'm entering my third year at UWF, and I see no reason to hold back the database any longer.  While I'm still a ways from making my tenure case, I've been steadily publishing the plethora of data I generated during my dissertation fieldwork, so I feel confident in my ability to research, analyze, and write on bioarchaeology.  

More importantly, though, I think I'm just done with this project.  

That's not to say there isn't more to write or that there aren't more data to analyze or that I'm not still interested in this time and place.  There's a ton of dental and skeletal pathology data, for example, that I haven't tackled.  But I want to move on to other projects, and at this point I worry that I'm becoming too myopic.  Honestly, Imperial Rome tends to do that -- it sucks you in, making you think it is, was, and ever will be the most important city in the world full of the most important people in history.  Roman imperialism is calling out for more diverse perspectives, though.  The rise in osteological analysis of Romano-British cemeteries, for example, is created a multifaceted Empire.  And new multidisciplinary studies in the Transatlantic slave trade are raising the question of potential comparative work with slavery in the Roman world.  I still love answering questions about population interaction in the past, but I might try focusing that interest on times and places like Medieval Berlin, Greco-Roman Italy, or Pre-Emancipation Southeast U.S.  Still, I am working on skeletons from various time periods at Gabii, so I haven't abandoned Roman bioarchaeology.  And I might yet publish dental pathology data (or enlist a grad student to do it for a thesis)...

At any rate, you can find my Access database on GitHub at this link.  Please use it if you're interested in comparative data sets, if you want to check my work, if you disagree with my interpretations, or if you just like reading databases.  I only ask that you credit me appropriately.  (If you want to collaborate further for a publication, though, I'm happy to do that as well.)

What follows is the repository read-me for more info. Some pictures are posted; more to come as I find the time to wade through and post them. Note that the database is partly embargoed; I feel bad about this, but for various reasons (that I'm happy to explain over a beer, but not here) I will make all the data available within the next year when publications are submitted and/or come out.  Also note that no archaeological context information is available for these two cemetery populations; I didn't dig up these skeletons, so I have only included data that I personally generated.  Someday, I hope to find an alternative to this Access database that I wrote in 2007 (maybe ARK? maybe an app I design?), but I'm not a fan of Osteoware or other non-open methods of recording skeletal data.  A blank version of my database is also available on GitHub.

I hope this database is useful.  While I realize I'm not being fully open with all my data just yet, I hope that this can set a precedent for other bioarchaeologists.  There's nothing more I'd like to see than large-scale, world-wide comparisons of health, diet, disease, and migration in antiquity.

Roman Osteology [Read-Me] -

This repository contains my database of published and unpublished data resulting from my research on skeletal remains from two cemeteries in Rome, Italy (Casal Bertone and Castellaccio Europarco). There are also photographs relevant to various publications, each labeled by skeleton number (which is the ID key in the Access database).

In the database, you will find basic demographic information (age and sex), an inventory of each skeleton, skeletal pathology data, records of teeth examined and their pathological conditions, and results of all biochemical analyses undertaken to date (C, N, O, Sr, Pb isotopes; Pb and Sr concentration). Note that adult measurements, subadult measurements, subadult dental data, and nonmetric cranial trait data will be available in the next year, once the relevant publications come out (I'm afraid I have to embargo these raw data for the moment). Data from my work at Casal Bertone and Castellaccio Europarco can be found here; data from Gabii will be posted when possible. No information on the archaeological context of the skeletons (e.g., provenience, grave goods, etc.) is included in this database, as that information is the purview of the Archaeological Superintendency of Rome. Download the database by clicking on the "Download" button (over there on the lower right toolbar) and open with Microsoft Access.

The photographs folder currently includes shots of all individuals with scoreable porotic hyperostosis. Photographs are also available for many of the individuals with enamel hypoplasia, but photographs were not taken of every individual or every tooth with this enamel insult. More photographs will be posted soon, largely related to various pathological conditions (osteoarthritis and fractures among them).

I'm suggesting a CC BY-NC-SA license for these -- that is, feel free to use the data as you see fit for your academic publications; I just ask that you credit me appropriately. To find my own analyses and interpretations, or to get additional context, please see the relevant publications. If you don't have access to them, I will gladly send you a copy of anything published or under review:

[Pathology Data]
  • Killgrove, K. Submitted (July 2014). Imperialism and physiological stress in Rome (1st-3rd centuries AD). Manuscript submitted for edited volume, Bioarchaeology of Contact, Colonialism, and Imperialism, H. Klaus and M. Murphy, eds. University Press of Florida.
[Sr and O Data]
[C and N Data]
[Pb Data]
[Nonmetric Trait Data]
  • Killgrove, K. Submitted (December 2012). Using biological distance techniques to investigate the heterogeneous population of Imperial Rome. Manuscript submitted for edited volume, The Archaeology of Circulation, Exchange, and Human Migration, D. Peterson and J. Dudgeon, eds.


This is fantastic, well done for making your data open to researchers. The skeletal inventory database looks like a great tool to use as well. It also reminds me to upload my database for my masters dissertation up on Good luck with the rest of the publications!

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