Am J Phys Anthropol. 2007 Jan 4; [Epub ahead of print]
Isotopic evidence for age-related immigration to imperial Rome
Browse TL et al.
Oxygen stable isotope ratios (delta(18)O) have been determined in carbonate in paired first and third molar teeth from individuals (N = 61) who lived in the town of Portus Romae ("Portus") and who were buried in the necropolis of Isola Sacra (First to Third centuries AD) near Rome, Italy. We compare these analyses with data for deciduous teeth of modern Roman children. Approximately one-third of the archaeological sample has first molar (M1) values outside the modern range, implying a large rate of population turnover at that time, consistent with historical data. Delta (18)O(ap) values suggest that a group within the sample migrated to the area before the third molar (M3) crown had completely formed (i.e., between 10 and 17.5 years of age). This is the first quantitative assessment of population mobility in Classical antiquity. This study demonstrates that migration was not limited to predominantly single adult males, as suggested by historical sources, but rather a complex phenomenon involving families. We hypothesize that migrants most likely came from higher elevations to the East and North of Rome. One individual with a higher delta(18)O value may have come (as a child) from an area isotopically similar to North Africa.