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DNA study to investigate the other 99% of Romans

Who were Rome’s 99%?  How did the common people experience life in the Imperial capital?  Dr. Kristina Killgrove of Vanderbilt University is filling in the gaps of history by studying the skeletons of Rome’s lower class denizens.   

Ancient Roman [Credit: Dr. Kristina Killgrove]
Since 2007, Dr. Killgrove has been employing biochemical analyses of human skeletal material to learn more about the diet, disease, and origins of people buried in two suburban Roman cemeteries.  Her research with stable isotopes has shown that men, women, and children immigrated to the city, that they ate many different kinds of food, and that several of them suffered from lead poisoning. 

The Roman DNA Project, which Dr. Killgrove launched at the beginning of November, is the next step in understanding the average inhabitants of the city.  With the collaboration of aDNA expert Dr. John Dudgeon of Idaho State University, Dr. Killgrove will examine the molecular structure of people who died nearly two millennia ago in Rome.  This project is the first to sequence DNA from the inhabitants of Imperial Rome and will reveal more about the origins of immigrants to the city. 

Dr. Kristina Killgrove at Pompeii [Credit: Dr. Kristina Killgrove]
Dr. Killgrove is seeking financing for this pilot project directly from the public.  As part of the SciFund Challenge, a collection of 49 scientists from around the world who are crowdfunding their research this winter, the Roman DNA Project has already raised nearly half of the $6,000 needed to undertake aDNA analysis.  Have you ever wanted to receive a letter from an ancient Roman?  Donors to this fund drive can choose from rewards that feature the skeletal remains of the ancient Romans themselves. 

Unlike the 99% in the U.S., who can make their voices heard via protests and media, Rome’s lower classes had almost no power to effect change in their society.  The Roman DNA Project seeks to adjust the balance of history and tell the stories of the commoners at Rome. 

Author/Source: Dr. Kristina Killgrove [November 11, 2011]

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