Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival IX

Not much on offer for this carnival as we head to the cold, rainy season punctuated by holiday merriment.

New Finds

One of the Cirencester skeletons (photo credit)

  • 17 November.  A Romano-British cemetery was recently discovered in Cirencester, dated based on pottery to about 70 to 120 AD.  The significance of this cemetery is that it may very well be the earliest example of an inhumation cemetery in Roman Britain.  Inhumations aren't common until after 200 AD, so the cemetery is quite interesting (although I would argue that just because cremation was the "norm" doesn't mean there weren't plenty of people inhuming their dead for religious or financial reasons).  Earlier excavations at the site in the 1960s revealed several dozen cremations, suggesting a change in burial tradition from inhumation to cremation over time.  There are a ton of interesting details in the news reports about pottery and jewelry, and excavators even found a decapitated skeleton, with its head between its feet.  I can't wait to hear more once the analyses are complete.
  • 15 November.  An Etruscan tomb dating to the 6th century BC was found near the archaeological park of Vulci, apparently just ahead of some tombaroli who wanted to loot it.  There's a neat video at the link above (an Italian news report) as well as a bunch of pictures of the pottery recovered from the tomb.  No skeletons or bone fragments, though.


Individual 15A.
Copyright Natural History Museum 2011 (found here)

  • 17 November.  The Manchester Museum is running an exhibit until March called "Grave Secrets: Tales of the Ancient Nubians."  One of the specimens on view is the skull of individual 15A, whose healed wounds suggest he was knocked down, but he got up again (you're never gonna keep him down!).  Also on offer is a giant-cell tumor of a humerus, a rare instance of cancer identified in skeletal remains.  The remains were uncovered at the turn of the 20th century by Sir Grafton Elliot Smith, an anatomist and early proponent of the study of palaeopathology, but there's no indication in the brief news blurb about when specifically the skeletons date to.
  • 22 November.  Seen over on one of my favorite blogs, Street Anatomy, photographer Thom Atkinson got permission to photograph some very interesting medical artifacts from the Wellcome Collection in London, including preserved tattoos, a wax model of a decomposing body, Charles Darwin's walking stick, and these assorted Roman votive offerings (below).  One of these days, I want to write a post on Roman body part votive offerings and disease.  Until then, check out Thom's work at

Assorted Roman Votive Offerings.  Copyright Thom Atkinson.
Beyond the Romans

  • 18 November.  Over on History in an Hour, Liam A. Faulkner writes about the Plague of Athens (430-426 BC).  It's a short summary of our understanding of this disease epidemic based on the writings of men like Thucydides and Plutarch, as well as the Hippocratic Corpus.  One day, we may start finding more cemeteries in the Greco-Roman world whose skeletons yield evidence of various plagues and help us reconstruct history better than the eyewitnesses who didn't understand germs or disease ecology.


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