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, 11 (2), e0147585

All Roads Lead to Rome: Exploring Human Migration to the Eternal City Through Biochemistry of Skeletons From Two Imperial-Era Cemeteries (1st-3rd C AD)


All Roads Lead to Rome: Exploring Human Migration to the Eternal City Through Biochemistry of Skeletons From Two Imperial-Era Cemeteries (1st-3rd C AD)

Kristina Killgrove et al. PLoS One.


Migration within the Roman Empire occurred at multiple scales and was engaged in both voluntarily and involuntarily. Because of the lengthy tradition of classical studies, bioarchaeological analyses must be fully contextualized within the bounds of history, material culture, and epigraphy. In order to assess migration to Rome within an updated contextual framework, strontium isotope analysis was performed on 105 individuals from two cemeteries associated with Imperial Rome-Casal Bertone and Castellaccio Europarco-and oxygen and carbon isotope analyses were performed on a subset of 55 individuals. Statistical analysis and comparisons with expected local ranges found several outliers who likely immigrated to Rome from elsewhere. Demographics of the immigrants show men and children migrated, and a comparison of carbon isotopes from teeth and bone samples suggests the immigrants may have significantly changed their diet. These data represent the first physical evidence of individual migrants to Imperial Rome. This case study demonstrates the importance of employing bioarchaeology to generate a deeper understanding of a complex ancient urban center.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Fig 1
Fig 1. Imperial Roman and Suburban Cemeteries.
Public domain map via Wikimedia Commons, modified to include archaeological sites.
Fig 2
Fig 2. Geological Map of Rome.
Public domain image of the geological map of Italy by H. de Collegno, 1844. Bibliothèque nationale de France, dèpartment Cartes et plans, GE DL 1844-126, modified to include an inset of Rome and a legend for the geology.
Fig 3
Fig 3. Strontium Isotope Ratios of All Imperial Period Individuals.
Fig 4
Fig 4. Oxygen Isotope Ratios of All Imperial Period Individuals.
Fig 5
Fig 5. Histogram of Oxygen Isotope Ratios from Imperial Rome and from Portus Romae.
Portus Romae data are from [76].
Fig 6
Fig 6. Strontium versus Oxygen Isotope Ratios from Imperial Rome.
Fig 7
Fig 7. Hierarchical Cluster Analysis Results.
Dendrogram shows average linkage based on Sr and O isotopic parameters for individuals with both (n = 55). Boxes represent the seven clusters that displayed the highest statistical significance using one-way ANOVA.
Fig 8
Fig 8. Enamel and Bone δ13Cap Measurements.
Bold, underlined sample IDs indicate individuals identified as immigrants to Rome. Dashed line represents the 2 stdev range of bone isotope ratios for each archaeological population.

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Grant support

Data collection in Rome and carbon and oxygen isotope analyses were funded by a Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation (BCS-0622452) awarded to KK ( Strontium isotope analyses were funded by a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant awarded to KK ( Internal grants from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill awarded to KK also helped fund oxygen isotope analyses ( The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.