Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival VI

I fear I will be accused of padding out this edition of the Roman bioarchaeology carnival with my own posts, but some weeks I feel the need to devote more in-depth coverage (i.e., a stand-alone post) to a new find than to others.

Excavations and Finds
Was it murrrrrder?

  • October 5.  The skeletons of three men dating to the 1st c BC to 1st c AD were found outside of Modena, Italy, and archaeologists think they were murdered because of the burial style and the presence of sharp trauma (cut marks) on the bones.  Only the Italian media has covered the find so far (with the best coverage at La Repubblica and best pictures at Gazzetta di Modena), so I summarized the find in my post "Mutiny in Mutina? Decapitated Slaves in Roman Modena." [Photo from Gazzetto di Modena.]
Oldest Sardinian found
  • October 8.  The oldest skeleton on the island of Sardinia has been found at the site of Marina di Arbus.  Archaeologists have named the skeleton Amiscora, and the remains appear to have been that of a male.  Amiscora joins a an adult male skeleton, "Beniamino," discovered in 1985 in the same region and covered in red ochre, as Neolithic-Mesolithic in date (roughly 8,500 years ago).  So, not exactly Roman, but still quite interesting since the skeletons will help archaeologists understand when and how Sardinia was originally settled. [Photo from]
  • October 12.  Excavations have concluded on a Lombard cemetery at the fortress of Albornoz in Spoleto (central Italy).  There aren't any further clues on the date (6th to 11th centuries AD?) and no information on whether there were skeletal remains.  But the results of this year's excavation season will be presented in a public lecture next year.
  • October 17.  Turkish archaeologists have discovered a Lycian tomb complex near the site of Rhodiapolis, dating to roughly 300 BC.  It sounds like the tombs have been looted, so there may be no skeletal remains left, but the architecture of the tombs will prove key to understanding the burial program of Lycian Anatolia.
  • October 19.  A dig at Poggio Colla, an Etruscan site in the Mugello Valley dating to about 600 BC, turned up not one but two incised fragments of bucchero, a glossy black pottery characteristic of pre-Roman times, that appear to depict a woman giving birth.  Phil Perkins, an expert on bucchero, made the identification.  Greg Warden, the director of the project, suggests that this find is extraordinary for its subject matter and its discovery at an elite sanctuary.  This fragment appears to be the earliest depiction of childbirth in ancient Italy, with other representations not appearing until Republican Rome 500 years later.  A paper about the find will be presented at the upcoming AIA meetings in Philly by Ann Steiner.  An interesting blog post on the find and others like it comes from archaeologist Rosemary Joyce on her blog, Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives. [Photo from]

Data Analysis
Correlating geography and disease
  • October 11.  Inspired by a lecture by bioarchaeologist Bethany Turner, who works at Machu Picchu, I correlated carbon and oxygen isotope results of my Roman skeletons with presence/absence of porotic hyperostosis (a condition that indicates the presence of anemia) in "Mapping Parasites in Ancient Italy".  I found that the Romans were mostly not eating C4 foods (like millet) that could lead to dietary anemia, and that there was a significant difference in oxygen isotopes between the people with and without anemia.  This suggests that people with high oxygen isotope values may have been from areas of Italy with endemic malaria or other parasites that caused anemia.  More analyses are needed, of course, but this blog post represents the results of my playing around with my dissertation data to see what else I can learn about the Romans. [Graph by me.]

Tibia affected with treponemal
disease from Roman Spain
  • October 17.  In an early-view article in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, Rissech and colleagues present evidence for treponemal disease from Roman Spain.  The 25- to 30-year-old male's tibia (right) presented all the characteristics of syphilis, but without a complete cranium, the authors did not feel comfortable definitively stating this as a diagnosis.  They are fairly confident that it is a treponemal infection, though, lending more weight to the pre-Columbian hypothesis for the origin of syphilis.  I summarize the article in my post, "Morbus gallicus in the Roman Empire." [Photo from Rissech et al. 2011.]



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