Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

DNA testing on 2,000-year-old bones in Italy reveal East Asian ancestry

Date:
February 2, 2010
Source:
McMaster University
Summary:
Researchers excavating an ancient Roman cemetery were surprised when DNA testing on a set of bones revealed East Asian ancestry.

Image of the burial site.
Credit: Image courtesy of McMaster University

Researchers excavating an ancient Roman cemetery made a surprising discovery when they extracted ancient mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from one of the skeletons buried at the site: the 2,000-year-old bones revealed a maternal East Asian ancestry.

The results will be presented at the Roman Archeology Conference at Oxford, England, in March, and published in the Journal of Roman Archaeology.

According to Tracy Prowse, assistant professor of Anthropology, and the lead author on the study, the isotopic evidence indicates that about 20% of the sample analyzed to-date was not born in the area around Vagnari. The mtDNA is another line of evidence that indicates at least one individual was of East Asian descent.

"These preliminary isotopic and mtDNA data provide tantalizing evidence that some of the people who lived and died at Vagnari were foreigners, and that they may have come to Vagnari from beyond the borders of the Roman Empire," says Prowse. "This research addresses broader issues relating to globalization, human mobility, identity, and diversity in Roman Italy."

Based on her work in the region, she thinks the East Asian man, who lived sometime between the first to second centuries AD -- the early Roman Empire -- was a slave or worker on the site. His surviving grave goods consist of a single pot (which archaeologists used to date the burial). What's more, his burial was disturbed in antiquity and someone was buried on top of him.

Prowse's team cannot say how recently he, or his ancestors, left East Asia: he could have made the journey alone, or his East Asian genes might have come from a distant maternal ancestor. However, the oxygen isotope evidence indicates that he was definitely not born in Italy and likely came here from elsewhere in the Roman Empire.

During this era, Vagnari was an Imperial estate owned by the emperor in Rome and controlled by a local administrator. Workers were employed in industrial activities on the site, including iron smelting and tile production. These tiles were used for roofing buildings on the site and were also used as grave covers for the people buried in the cemetery. Fragmentary tiles found in and around Vagnari are marked "Gratus Caesaris," which translates into "slave of the emperor."

In addition to the mystery the find uncovers, Prowse sees the broader scientific impact for archaeologists, physical anthropologists, and classicists: The grave goods from this individual's burial gave no indication that he was foreign-born or of East Asian descent.

"This multi-faceted research demonstrates that human skeletal remains can provide another layer of evidence in conjunction with archaeological and historical information," says Prowse.

For the last seven years, Prowse has been digging the cemetery at the site of Vagnari, just west of the city of Bari in southern Italy. The cemetery was first discovered in 2002 by her colleague, Alastair Small (University of Edinburgh), who directs the excavations at Vagnari and continues to excavate other areas of the site. Prowse's research focuses on the bioarchaeological analysis of the people buried in the cemetery, including isotopic, palaeopathological, and aDNA analysis. The ancient DNA analyses were conducted by her coauthors on the paper, Jodi Barta and Tanya vonHunnius, at McMaster University.

The research was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by McMaster University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

McMaster University. "DNA testing on 2,000-year-old bones in Italy reveal East Asian ancestry." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 February 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100201171756.htm>.
McMaster University. (2010, February 2). DNA testing on 2,000-year-old bones in Italy reveal East Asian ancestry. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100201171756.htm
McMaster University. "DNA testing on 2,000-year-old bones in Italy reveal East Asian ancestry." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100201171756.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Fossils & Ruins News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Mint Gives JFK Coin a Face-Lift

Mint Gives JFK Coin a Face-Lift

AP (July 24, 2014) The U.S. Mint has re-designed the John F. Kennedy half dollar coin to better match the former president's likeness. (July 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: MD Church Built in 1773 Ravaged by Fire

Raw: MD Church Built in 1773 Ravaged by Fire

AP (July 22, 2014) Authorities say a 241-year-old church on the National Register of Historic Places has been ravaged by fire in Maryland. (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Neil Armstrong's Post-Apollo 11 Life

Neil Armstrong's Post-Apollo 11 Life

Newsy (July 19, 2014) Neil Armstrong gained international fame after becoming the first man to walk on the moon in 1969. But what was his life like after the historic trip? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
A Centuries' Old British Tradition Is Far from a Swan Song

A Centuries' Old British Tradition Is Far from a Swan Song

AFP (July 19, 2014) As if it weren't enough that the Queen is the Sovereign of the UK and 15 other Commonwealth realms, she is also the owner of all Britain's unmarked swans. Duration: 02:18 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

    Health News

      Environment News

        Technology News



          Save/Print:
          Share:

          Free Subscriptions


          Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

          Get Social & Mobile


          Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

          Have Feedback?


          Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
          Mobile: iPhone Android Web
          Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
          Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
          Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins