April 3, 2015

Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival LXX

Last month brought a bunch of news related to Roman bioarchaeology, which is linked to below, as well as the annual American Association of Physical Anthropologists conference in St. Louis, MO.  I live-tweeted a bunch of bioarchaeology papers, including some classical ones, and you can find them by clicking through to my twitter feed (and looking for #AAPA2015; I unfortunately can't figure out how to filter out just my posts with that hashtag).  Without further ado, last month's news items:

Pre-Roman Italy
  • 27 March - Stone-age Italians defleshed their dead (Science Magazine). Writing in Antiquity, John Robb and colleagues talk about the practice of excarnation in Neolithic Italy at a site called Scaloria Cave. The fact that people at this time had a multistage burial process is
    Pre-Etruscan burial vessel (photo: ANSA)
    interesting, although not unique.  There are cultures around the world that at one time or another have practiced various forms of secondary burial and death rituals.  For more bioarch coverage of this, click over to Bones Don't Lie.
  • 2 April - Pre-Etruscan tomb discovery (ANSA). In Volterra, archaeologists have found a large jar that I guess contains human remains (although this isn't specified in the short news brief) during construction on a school.
Roman Period
  • 8 March - Bulgarian bones could be John the Baptist's, scientists say (CNN). An island off Bulgaria called Sveti Ivan (St. John) was the find spot in 2010 for some bones in a reliquary attributed to John the Baptist.  Radiocarbon dating and DNA analyses were done, and the individual seems to have been male, from the Middle East, and around the middle of the first century AD.  All of this fits with a potential Biblical interpretation, but of course it doesn't have to have a Biblical explanation either. I'm disappointed that CNN felt the need to refer to the archaeochemist running the analyses -- twice -- as an atheist.  It's science; who cares?
  • 19 March - Reading the stories in the bones (Hamilton Spectator). A graduate student working at the village/cemetery site of Vagnari in Italy writes about that dig's findings and about why it's important for more anthropologists to break into research about the classical world.
  • 22 March - Human sacrifice victim, Roman military diploma at ancient Thracian sites (Archaeology in Bulgaria). This news item appears to report on a presentation (rather than a publication) of findings from 1st c BC to 1st c AD sites in Bulgaria (ancient Thrace). There is unfortunately no additional information on the supposed human sacrifice victim (a 20-year-old male?), so I hope this is followed up with a publication.
Publications, Methods, and Conferences
  • 17 March - Creating a malaria test for ancient human remains (Phys.Org). Yale grad student Jamie Inwood developed a new method for testing for malaria in ancient skeletal remains, and she tested it out at Lugnano (550 AD) in Italy, whose excavation is led by David Soren, one of the leaders in the field of malaria analysis in ancient Italy. If this technique stands up to repeated testing and isn't terribly destructive, we may very well see a revolution in Roman bioarchaeology soon as collections are tested.  The question of malaria in the Imperial capital has been debated for decades.


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