Bioarchaeology of Women's Health in the Roman Empire

Rebecca Redfern's talk at the Museum of London was recorded and posted on Vimeo a few hours ago.  In it, she discusses what bioarchaeology can tell us, why we need to study skeletons even in an age that produced loads of historical records, and specifically how women's health was affected by living in the Roman Empire.  Unfortunately, it appears that the Museum couldn't show all the images, so the video is definitely lacking in interesting illustrations:

Redfern does great work on the bioarchaeology of Roman Britain, and I highlighted one of her articles in the 1st Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival.  Of course, I've also been critical of her interpretations about the health status of people living in Imperial Rome, as I talked about in my presentation at the Paleopathology Association meeting back in April.  In short, the disease ecology of Imperial Rome was quite diverse, with some skeletal populations showing high frequencies of diseases, and others showing quite low frequencies.  So we can't put all the blame for disease on urbanism, nor can we praise Roman toilets for excellent health.

I should note that this video appears to be at least a year old.  Redfern refers to "just in" data on the Ivory Bangle Lady, noting that she came from Rome, just after saying that there isn't any isotope work coming out of Italy.  This isn't true, of course, since Tracy Prowse did an oxygen isotope study at Isola Sacra in 2007 looking at migration, and I have already published one paper on migration to Rome based on the strontium isotopes from my 2010 dissertation, plus co-authored a paper on lead isotopes in Rome and Britain.  (And, yes, still need to get my Sr/O article out to a peer-reviewed journal...)

Still, it's a good primer on bioarchaeology and the kinds of questions Redfern, I, and others are currently asking about life in the Roman world.


Killgrove K. 2010. Migration and Mobility in Imperial Rome. Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina. [PDF

Killgrove K. 2010. Identifying immigrants to Imperial Rome using strontium isotope analysis. In Roman Diasporas: Archaeological Approaches to Mobility and Diversity in the Roman Empire, H. Eckardt ed. Journal of Roman Archaeology supplement 78, Chapter 9, pp. 157-174.  [PDF]

Montgomery J, J Evans, S Chenery, V Pashley, K Killgrove. 2010. “Gleaming, white and deadly”: lead exposure and geographic origins in the Roman period. In Roman Diasporas: Archaeological Approaches to Mobility and Diversity in the Roman Empire, H. Eckardt ed. Journal of Roman Archaeology supplement 78, Chapter 11, pp. 199-226.

Prowse TL, Schwarcz HP, Garnsey P, Knyf M, Macchiarelli R, & Bondioli L. 2007. Isotopic evidence for age-related immigration to imperial Rome. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 132 (4), 510-9. PMID: 17205550.


Jill Duggan said…
Learning about the women's health on ancient times such as during the height of Roman Empire is beneficial as we will learn a lot from those accounts and even incorporate it in modern day setting.

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