The ‘Headless Romans’ : multi-isotope investigations of an unusual burial ground from Roman Britain

Muldner, Gundula; Chenery, Carolyn; Eckardt, Hella. 2011 The ‘Headless Romans’ : multi-isotope investigations of an unusual burial ground from Roman Britain. Journal of Archaeological Science, 38 (2). 280-290.

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Recent excavations at Driffield Terrace in York (Northern England) revealed an extremely unusual Romano-British cemetery of probably all-male composition, more than half of the individuals decapitated and with high incidence of other peri- and antemortem trauma. This paper presents the results of multi- (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and strontium) isotopic analyses of bone and dentine collagen (n = 68) and tooth enamel (n = 18) which were conducted to obtain further information on the identity of these individuals and, more generally, in order to investigate the relationship between burial rite and geographical origin in a Roman provincial capital. The results show that the childhood origins of the “Headless Romans” were significantly more diverse than those of humans from other cemeteries in Roman York, but they demonstrate also that similar, unusual burial rites do not necessarily indicate a common geographical origin. Of particular interest were two individuals whose diet contained a significant proportion of C4 plant (probably millet)-based protein. These are the first such isotope values observed in Britain from any archaeological time-period. Millet was not cultivated in the British Isles in antiquity and the results therefore demonstrate the value of palaeodietary data for assisting in isotopic mobility studies.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: BGS Programmes 2010 > NERC Isotope Geoscience Laboratory
ISSN: 0305-4403
Date made live: 18 Jan 2011 13:16 +0 (UTC)

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