Monday, August 06, 2012

A new approach to the study of Romanization in Britain

This is the first study of Romanization to use the Siler and Gompertz-Makeham models of mortality in order to investigate the health consequences of the 43 AD conquest of Britain. The study examined late Iron Age and Romano-British populations (N=518) from Dorset, England, which is the only region of Britain to display continuity in inhumation burial practice and cemetery use throughout the two periods. Skeletal evidence for frailty was assessed using cribra orbitalia, porotic hyperostosis, periosteal lesions, enamel hypoplasia, dental caries, tuberculosis, and rickets. These health variables were chosen for analysis because they are reliable indicators of general health for diachronic comparison and are associated with the introduction of urbanism in Britain during the Roman period.

The results show that levels of frailty and mortality were lower in the late Iron Age period, and no sex differences in mortality were present. However, post-conquest, mortality risk increased for children and the elderly, and particularly for males. The latter finding challenges received wisdom concerning the benefits of Romanization and the higher status of the male body in the Roman world. Therefore, we conclude that the consequences of urbanism, changes in diet and increased population heterogeneity negatively impacted health, to the extent that the enhanced cultural buffering of males did not out-weigh underlying sex differences in biology that advantage females.