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Journal Article

Far from home: a multi-analytical approach revealing the journey of an African-born individual to imperial Rome


Rivollat,  Maite
Archaeogenetics, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society;

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Salesse, K., Dufour, É., Balter, V., Tykot, R. H., Maaranen, N., Rivollat, M., et al. (2021). Far from home: a multi-analytical approach revealing the journey of an African-born individual to imperial Rome. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 37: 103011, pp. 1-17. doi:10.1016/j.jasrep.2021.103011.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0008-C0BB-C
Rome saw its number of foreign individuals increase considerably as the empire expanded. These foreigners arrived as either free persons or slaves from the newly conquered provinces and near-frontier zones and came to influence the whole life of the city. Yet relatively little is known about their life histories. In this study, we bring direct evidence for the first example of an African-born migrant, with an origin beyond the southern imperial border, discovered in Rome. Based on a multi-tissue sampling strategy including molar teeth and mandibular cortical bone, a multi-analytical approach including isotopic (δ13C, δ15N, δ18O, δ34S, 87Sr/86Sr), dental morphology (geometric morphometrics, nonmetric traits) and ancient DNA (mitochondrial DNA, Y chromosome) analyses allows reconstructing the journey and lifeway patterns of the individual US215/Mand1 buried in the mass grave from the catacombs of Saints Peter and Marcellinus. The successful isotopic and dental morphology analyses suggest that the individual was probably born in the vicinity of the Nile Valley or within the central Sahara Desert. Results also suggest a diachronic change of residence in the area during their early life. The way US215/Mand1 reached Rome is still hypothetical, although it seems likely that the individual could have undergone forced migration as a slave to the capital.