The Via Gabina Villas
Sites 10, 11 and 13
Back to Home

 

Appendix II

The Human Skeletons From Site 10

The excavation of an horreum by a team from Rice University produced an unusual discovery for which no parallel is now known. This extremely large building was found to have a number of inhumations directly outside of, but immediately adjacent to the foundations. Excavation around the northern end of the structure located these burials at nearly every locus tested. The distribution appears uneven, and in many cases later graves intrude into earlier examples. In some cases at least three and possibly four burials were made in the same small area with previous burials being disturbed and redisturbed in the process.

Although no absolute date nor religious affiliation can be assigned to any of these graves due to a nearly complete absence of artifacts, all appear to postdate the construction of the building. A single vessel found with Burial 5 may date from the fifth or sixth century A.D.75 Metal artifacts with this skeleton and with other individuals excavated lack diagnostic traits which would aid in dating. The number of times which burials are made at a single locus and the fact that earlier burials are disturbed by the later indicates that the use of the periphery of this building as a burial area continued for at least 100 years and probably longer. No formal chambers (ossuries, cysts, etc.) for the redeposition of disturbed bones were found. Instead the dislodged tenants of the earlier graves appear to have been gathered up and redeposited near the legs of the last persons interred, generally on the side opposite that against which the foundation walls were pressed. Since the heads appear to have been oriented toward the north, bones from earlier graves tend to be collected and lodged toward the south end of the «hole». Burials on the east side of the structure have the disturbed bones to the southeast while burials on the west side tend to have replaced material to the southwest.

This pattern suggests that the locations of individual graves were not well marked and possibly not permanently indicated with stone markers. Thus the interval between interments at the same locus may reflect a span of time not longer than the individual recall of specific burial sites.

The extraordinary complexity of these successive interments posed considerable archaeological problems for the excavators and some confusion arose in the assignment of «Skeleton» numbers during the early phases of work. In 1980 the author began a review of all of the human skeleton material from the site.76 This was coordinated with the removal of Burials 22A through 24, an activity which provided the necessary data to determine the pattern of interment described above. This information enabled the field notes from previous seasons to be understood more clearly and dictated an analytical approach which produced the data of Table 1.

A survey of the locations of the burials relative to the overall excavation indicates that five separate clusters (I-V) of two or more individuals could be identified. In addition to these five units three areas appeared to have been the resting place of but one burial each. Each of these five clusters as well as each «separate» burial was then treated as a unit for analysis.

A total of 29 individuals have been identified in these excavations. Of these 29 only 5 are children, all of whom died between the ages of 4 and 8 years. The youngest adult is estimated to have died between 20 and 25 years of age, and an unusual number of people were clearly over 50 years of age at the time of death (7 minimum). The complete absence of infants or children under 4 years of age in this sample cannot be explained on the basis of preservation. Quite probably children under 5 years of age in this population from the Early Christian period were buried in separate (possibly mass) graves, which must reflect a cultural attitude toward them. At one site in nominally Christian southern Turkey about this same time children under the age of 5 years were buried in a communal crypt (Becker, ms.), and similar situations are documented from numerous other sites.

The absence of skeletons representing deaths of individuals between the ages of 9 and 20, and the presence of but a single individual who may have been between 20 and 25 at death, particularly since this is a male, leaves a great question in this study. The high expected morbidity among women ages 15 to 25 (primaparae and victims of puerperal fever) is not in evidence. Once again the contemporary population from Anemur (Becker, ms.) may provide some answers. Large numbers of young women in this age bracket appear to have been interred in the hallowed grounds of a church dedicated to the patron saint of childbearing in Anemur.

Whatever the circumstances surrounding the selection of a final resting place for these people, the entire population living at that time appears not to be represented. No concentration of individuals by age or sex occurs. In fact, the distribution by age and sex appears perfectly random. Were the sample larger, one might suspect that family burial areas were represented.

Of the 24 adults present only 10 can be identified as male. The proportion of males to females (10/14) does not approximate the expected ratio, which would be more nearly equal. This could result from the small size of the sample but more likely reflects an observer bias. The lack of strong sexual dimorphism renders difficult the evaluation of gender and in a gracile population such as this could lead to a skewed evaluation.

Both males and females appear in the category of individuals who had attained at least 50 years of age. In -general this population appears to have a considerable number of senior individuals reflecting both general good health as well as a peculiar absence of young people in the sample.

Stature: A limited test of the Manouvrier tables.

Physical anthropologists in the New World generally calculate stature using the formulas calculated by Mildred Trotter and G. Gleser in 1952, and partially revised in 1958. These formulas are specific to American blacks, American whites, and Mexicans as well as being subdivided by sex. Many European scholars, including C. Corrain (e.g. Corrain and Nalin 1966), prefer the tables worked out many years ago by Manouvrier and ofter presented in more recent works (Hrdli&a 1939; Krogman 1962: 155).

A test of the differing formulas can be derived from archaeological contexts in which human skeletons in a supine position can be measured in situ and the long bones later measured for use in the various formulas. The in situ measurements should provide a relatively accurate indication of stature. The outstanding preservation of the Via Gabina material enables us to test these formulas. Unfortunately, field drawings prior to 1980 were made at a scale of 7:20, which allows too much freedom to permit a cross check. Skeletons 22 through 24 were tested specifically for this problem, but only 24 had not been disturbed prior to excavation.

The stature of Skeleton 24 as calculated from a measurement prior to excavation correlates most closely with the tables provided by Manouvrier. Furthermore, the long bones of the forearm provided more accurate indicators than those bones of the legs or of the upper arm in this single available case (Sk. 24). Therefore, the entire Via Gabina series stature estimates derive from the use of the radius (right preferred), when available, utilizing the tables of Manouvrier. The Trotter and Gleser (1958) formulas were found to be much closer to the stature calculated for Sk. 14, but the controls are not secure. Since this test consists of but a single firm example the results must be considered with caution.

Statures can be completed for 11 of the 14 adult women and 9 of the 10 men. The range for the women is 145.5 to 159.0 cm. (Avg 153.1 cm.); for the men it is 156.0 to 170.0 (avg. 163. 8 cm.). Complete listings of all metric data will appear in the excavation report.

Only a complete tabulation of the metric data and the non-metric traits will provide a means by which this small population might be characterized and then compared with other populations removed in time and/or space from this group. At present very little can be said which would provide a meaningful description of this population, but a brief summary points out traits which may prove to be significant.

Only a few notable features are evident. Shoveling is clearly evident on all lateral incisors, but appears as only a trace on all central incisors. Palatine tori appear as traces in two individuals, and third trochanters of very small size are common. Nothing else of note is evident. Periodontal disease is uniformly present but not extensive. Dental disease is moderate to heavy and increases with age, as would be expected. Yet the elder members of this sample do not exhibit a uniform total loss of teeth, reflecting adequate nutrition and relatively good dental health. Dental plaque is correspondingly moderate to heavy, and may be a significant factor or correlate to low tooth loss.

An interesting range of pathologies affected the bones of these people but no recurrence is evident and no endemic or prevalent disorder is suggested. In general this population appears to have been quite healthy, but the demographic peculiarities joined with what seems to be an unusual placement of the people over at least 100 to 200 years inhibits any urge to reach other conclusions about these people at this time.

Dating by Carbon 14.

Five samples of human bone excavated at the Via Gabina site were submitted for Carbon 14 analysis to the laboratories at Teledyne Isotopes (Westwood, New Jersey). The samples and the results are listed below, followed by a discussion of the evidence (see M.J. BECKER, Field Notes, 21 June 1982: p. 18b). Each sample submitted had a total weight of between 110 and 130 grams. To achieve the 100 gram weight needed for testing, samples 2, 4 and 5 were taken from more than one individual.

These evaluations are internally consistent and appear to correlate well with the inferred dates for cultural activity at this site. Skeleton 4A (Cluster II) probably dates from one of the early periods of use of the building around which these people were buried. Skeletons 23 and 24, the last burials of Cluster V, are dated from an extremely late period, nearly 800 years after the date assigned to Sk. 4A.

Samples 2 through 4, dating from 220 to 700 A.D., provide both evidence for the general span of activity at the site plus an internal agreement suggesting great reliability in the dating process. These three dates all derive from remains associated with Skeleton 12A. When excavated77 the individual identified as 12A was found associated with the remains of two earlier burials. The sample (No. 3) including fragments of Sk. 12A alone is the latest in date, 700 A.D. ±90. Fragments of the earlier skeletons, now identified as parts of Sk. 8A and Sk. 3, provide the earliest date, 200±90 A.D. (No. 4). As would be expected the sample (No. 2) including bits of all 3 individuals yielded an intermediate date of 500±100 A.D.

These dates suggest a long occupation and considerable cultural stability beginning, perhaps, as early as 220 A.D. and extending over 900 years. Although only a few samples have been tested the evidence provided appears consistent with other bits of evidence from this site on the outskirts of modern Rome.

-- MARSHALL J. BECKER

Notes

75. Burial 5 contained the undisturbed remains of a single adult female (age 24-27 years): Skeleton 5A. Within the fill of the grave, or perhaps a part of this burial, was a mandibular fragment of a mature adult female: Skeleton 5B. Since Skeleton 5A was interred in an area removed from any other burial (not in a cluster as are all but three burials: see Concordance), we can only conclude that the mandible must have been dislodged from an earlier interment some meters from Burial 5A and accidentally added to this grave.

76. The research for this project was supported entirely by a grant from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. My sincere thanks are due L. Mitchell for considerable aid in the preparation of this report.

77. Originally the author found Burial 12 to represent three individuals: «12A, 12B, and 12C». Only «12A» appeared to be a relatively intact skeleton, with the remains identified as «12B» and «12C» reflecting disturbed individuals buried at an earlier date in this area. The bones labeled «12C» (along with some labeled «8B») may be part of Skeleton 3. Those
bones labeled «12B» are probably the missing bits of Skeleton 8A, which was disturbed by the intrusion of «12A». This sequence is confirmed by the C14 data.

 

Bibliography

BECKER, MARSHALL J. - ms. An analysis of the human skeletal remains from Ancient Anemur, Turkey. «Appendix» to the Anemur Report by James Russell.

CORRAIN, CLETO and NALIN, GIUSEPPINA (1966) - Resti scheletrici umani della necropoli protostorica di Monte Saraceno presso Mattinata (Gargano), in Atti della X riunione scientifica dell'Istituto di Preistoria e Protostoria in memoria di Francesco Zorzi, Verona, Novembre 1965, pp. 309-338.

HRDLIČKA, ALES (1939) - Practical Anthropology, Wistar Institute, Philadelphia.

KROGMAN, WILTON M. (1962) - The Human Skeleton in Forensic Medicine, Charles C. Thomas: Springfield, Illinois.

TROTTER, MILDRED and GLESER G.C. (1952) - Estimation of stature from long bones of American Whites and Negroes, in
American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 10, pp. 463-514.

TROTTER, MILDRED and GLESER G.C. (1958) - A Reevaluation of Estimation of Stature Based on Measurements of Stature Taken during Life and of Long Bones after Death, in American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 16, pp. 79-123.

 

All text and images copyright © 2002 by Walter Widrig and Rice University. Last updated June 2005 by dmc-info@rice.edu.