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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Research Postgraduates

Publication details for Professor Rebecca Gowland

Redfern, Rebecca, DeWitte, Sharon, Montgomery, Janet & Gowland, Rebecca (2018). A Novel Investigation into Migrant and Local Health-Statuses in the Past: A Case Study from Roman Britain. Bioarchaeology International 2(1): 20-43.

Author(s) from Durham


Migration continues to be a central theme in archaeology, and bioarchaeology has made significant contributions toward understanding the disease and demographic consequences of migration in different periods and places. These studies have been enhanced by stable isotope studies of mobility and diet, which have revealed further complexities.

This study integrates osteological, palaeopathological and stable isotope evidence to investigate the interrelationship between migrant and local population disease frequencies in Roman Britain. Previous analyses have identified migrants from across the Roman Empire, along with increases in the prevalence rates of infectious and metabolic diseases, poor dental health, and non-specific indicators of stress. This study aims to explore the extent to which migrants and people born in Britain differed in terms of mortality risk and the frequencies of disease variables. Osteological and dental data from 151 individuals excavated from 24 Romano-British cemetery sites with mobility isotope data were statistically analyzed. The results reveal significant differences between migrant and local populations for periosteal new bone formation, rib lesions, residual rickets, and dental health variables. When data were pooled for both sexes, a statistically significant difference in mortality between the two groups was also observed.

Overall, the results of this study suggest that migrants transformed patterns of disease in the Romano-British period and, combined with the changes to settlement patterns and environment, created new disease risks for both groups. The results also show that many of the key bioarchaeological indicators of change following the Roman conquest may actually reveal more about disease and health experienced in the wider Empire.