Thursday, March 04, 2010

African origin of Roman York's rich lady with the ivory bangle


African origin of Roman York's rich lady with the ivory bangle

Re-examination of skeletons shows greater population mix than expected

The Guardian, Friday 26 February 2010

One of the richest inhabitants of fourth century Roman York, buried in a stone sarcophagus with luxury imports including jewellery made of elephant ivory, a mirror and a blue glass perfume jar, was a woman of black African ancestry, a re-examination of her skeleton has shown.

Now, 16 centuries after her death, her skeleton is helping prove the startling diversity of the society in which she lived.

"We're looking at a population mix which is much closer to contemporary Britain than previous historians had suspected," Hella Eckhardt, senior lecturer at the department of archaeology at Reading University, said. "In the case of York, the Roman population may have had more diverse origins than the city has now."

Eckhardt's work with a team of scientists and archaeologists, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and published today in Antiquity magazine, involved re-examining skeletons excavated over a century ago.

Isotope evidence suggests that up to 20% were probably long distance migrants. Some were African or had African ancestors, including the woman dubbed "the ivory bangle lady", whose bone analysis shows she was brought up in a warmer climate, and whose skull shape suggests mixed ancestry including black features.

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