November 14, 2011

Former Dryden resident analyzing ancient Roman bones

Dryden residents past and present are doing all kinds of amazing things, but it's not every day that I click on a link at the CNN site and find a familiar-looking picture and name:

The remaining [Romans] - commoners, slaves and others - are largely silent. They could not afford tombstones to record their names, and they were buried with little in the way of fancy pottery or jewellery. Their lives were documented by the elites, but they left few documents of their own.

Now, Kristina Killgrove, an archaeologist from Vanderbilt University, wants to tell their story by sequencing their DNA, and she is raising donations to do it. "Their DNA will tell me where these people, who aren't in histories, were coming from," she says. "They were quite literally the 99% of Rome."

...Since 2007, Killgrove has been studying 200 skeletons recovered from lower-class graves excavated outside Rome's city walls. As they went about their lives, these Romans incorporated chemical isotopes from their water, food and environment into their bones and teeth. By measuring the levels of these isotopes, Killgrove could reconstruct the lives of her subjects.

Amazing stuff, all worth reading. I took Latin in high school and always found the Romans amazing - but figured that even though it was one of the calmer times in human history, there were only a few people really enjoying it.

(Killgrove taught archeology at SUNY Cortland while she was here, and is apparently at Vanderbilt now.)

Posted by simon at November 14, 2011 12:14 PM in
Note on photos


Patrick Reynolds said:

Kristina spent most of 2007 in Rome, while I lived in Dryden, gathering samples from anonymous Roman skeletons. The isotope and DNA work profiled in the CNN piece are part of her ongoing analysis of those samples.

She's using crowd-sourced funding for the DNA work, which means she's seeking and getting a lot of public interest in the project. The idea of studying the non-elite 99% really resonates right now.

She's at Vanderbilt only for this semester while she looks for more permanent academic employment. There's some chance we'll return to Central NY, as one of the places she applied was Ithaca College.