Diet and Health in Imperial Rome: Isotopic and Elemental Analysis of Skeletal Remains

May 12, 2014

7:30 pm
Room 309L
UT Health Science Center, San Antonio School of Medicine   |   parking map here
7703 Floyd Curl Drive
San Antonio, Texas 78229

Dr. Kristina Killgrove, University of Western Florida

What did Romans eat, and how healthy were they? Recipe books, mosaics, and historical accounts demonstrate the variety of foods available to upper-class Romans. The diets of their slaves, foreigners, and the general poor, though, were rarely mentioned. And although the Romans took censuses and created tombstones, they did not keep mortality records. Using osteological and biochemical analysis of bones and enamel from skeletons buried in Imperial-period cemeteries in Rome, Dr. Killgrove has been able to glimpse what life was like for the Roman lower classes from the information written on their bodies.

Killgrove pic

Dr. Kristina Killgrove CV

Kristina Killgrove is an assistant professor of Bio-anthropology at the University of West Florida. She previously taught a variety of anthropology courses at Vanderbilt, UNC Chapel Hill, SUNY Cortland, and Durham Technical Community College. Her most recent research involves biochemical analysis of skeletal remains from Imperial Rome in order to answer questions about the health, diet, and living conditions of the Romans who are not known from historical records, namely the lower classes, slaves, immigrants, women, and children. Dr. Killgrove shares her interest in the human skeleton and the ancient Romans on her blog, Powered by Osteons.

 Dr. Killgrove is the Principal Investigator of  The Roman DNA Project . In collaboration with John Dudgeon of Idaho State University, Dr. Killgrove is undertaking the first DNA analysis of people from the city of Rome. The main goals of this project are: 1) to use mitochondrial DNA analysis to more fully understand the demographics of the population of Imperial Rome; 2) to investigate the genetic diversity of the population of Rome from the earlier Republican period; and 3) to use mitochondrial DNA analysis to learn more about female mobility in the Empire. Future phases of this project will involve: combining DNA, isotope, and palaeopathological analyses to answer questions about disease ecology in the Italian peninsula, particularly with respect to the frequency of malaria and the presence of genetic anemias (thalassemia, sickle cell, and G6PD or favism); and undertaking a full genomic analysis of one or more people from Rome. In essence, the results of this project will provide a glimpse into the physical and social ramifications of immigration in the Roman Empire. This is a new approach to understanding the lives of the plebeians and slaves who are rarely mentioned in the historical records of the Roman Empire.

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