Jawbone Found in Roman Catacombs Came From Beyond Empire

Person was born in what is now Sudan
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 30, 2021 1:27 PM CDT
Updated May 30, 2021 1:30 PM CDT
Jawbone Reveals Long Journey to Ancient Rome
Thousands of ancient skeletons have been found in Roman catacombs.   (Getty Images/Stefan Schottleitner)

It's not clear whether a jawbone found in a Roman catacomb belonged to a free man or slave, but testing has revealed that the individual traveled a very long way. Scientists say tests on bone, teeth, and DNA show the jawbone from the mass grave in catacombs of Saints Peter and Marcellinus belonged to a person from what is now Sudan. When the person was born around 1,700 years ago, the region was just south of the borders of the Roman Empire. In a study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, researchers say the person moved around the region early in life, possibly as a nomad, before making the 1,500-mile journey to Rome. The researchers say this is the first archaeological evidence of an African person born beyond the Empire's borders migrating to ancient Rome.

The researchers also say the find is evidence of the increasingly cosmopolitan nature of Rome at the time and is one of the few known cases of long-distance migration across the empire by a non-Roman. They believe the person probably underwent forced migration as a slave, but there are other possibilities. "While I agree that this person was certainly an immigrant, a person’s status as a free migrant or a Roman slave is still only a guess at this point,” Kristina Killgrove at the University of North Carolina tells the New Scientist. "The military recruited young men from the provinces during this time period," and the study data "could also be consistent with a new provincial recruit ending up at Rome,” she says.
(Read more ancient Rome stories.)

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