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Wednesday, 29 November 2017

A Female Burial: The Specialist Studies

Continuing on from last week’s blog about my favourite lady, this week’s blog is about the specialist studies conducted on the two burials from Walcot Street. Stable isotope analysis and DNA studies were carried out on both individuals in order to learn more about these burials.

The excavation of my favourite lady

In order to learn about an individual’s diet, bone collagen can be used for isotope analysis. The term “you are what you eat” often rings true! Our body tissues have been formed using components from the food we have consumed over our lifetimes and these affect the ratio of stable isotopes in our bodies. These ratios can be measured to determine what food types a human consumed in their lifetime. This can reveal a huge amount of information about their diet and status.

The preservation of my favourite lady’s bone collagen was incredible and the results from the isotope analysis show that she was getting around 10-20% of her dietary protein from marine sources. The isotope analysis results were compared to the Romano-British population of Poundbury, Dorset where marine foods indicated high status. 

Although my favourite lady was obtaining around 10-20% of her protein from marine sources, that still did not place her within the ‘elite’ groups from the comparative site. She also was not placed within the ‘normal’ group of individuals so it can be assumed that her status was somewhere in between these. The results were compared to those at Poundbury because as far as we can tell, my favourite lady was Roman. However, ‘Roman’ covers a long period of time, and sadly we don’t have enough information to pinpoint her date more accurately.

Results from the isotope analysis of bone collagen from the male and female burials, created by M.P. Richards from the University of Bradford, 2001

The male from Syria is closely linked with my favourite lady as they were found at the same time. Studies were conducted into investigating whether these two individuals were related, and DNA analysis can potentially answer these questions. Teeth were extracted from both the Syrian man and my favourite lady in order to establish any kinship links through mitochondrial DNA (which is passed down from mother to child through generations). 

The result from these studies suggests that the male is from North Africa/Middle East and that my favourite lady has a maternal lineage of British/Scandinavian origin. It is emphasised in the report that these results only rule out the fact that these individuals are not related through maternal heritage, but does not rule out any other kinship links!

My favourite lady's teeth, used to study the mitochondrial DNA

Although we have been able to learn a huge amount of information about my favourite lady from her skeleton and specialist studies, there is still a sense of mystery surrounding her! Maybe one day these questions can be answered…

Dulcie Newbury

Collections Intern

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