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July 2003-July 2010InteractiveDig Sagalassos
Frontal bone of a child with the sutura frontalis unfused
The caries located at the top of the root of the second premolar diffused to the first molar and finally caused and abcess in the jaw.
a-Tarter located at the border between the crown and the roots of the incisors of the maxillar. b-Infection of the bone tissue causing recession of the alveolar bone.
Osteoarthritis resulting from the destruction of the articular cartilage and formation of adjacent bone located on the right side of the vertebral body.

Photos courtesy Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project. Click on images to enlarge.
by Marc Waelkens

Biological Anthropology: July 22-26, 2006

A physical anthropologist has been appointed to the Center for Archaeological Sciences (CAS, K. U. Leuven), and will start his work on January 1, 2007. Fortunately, he was already able to spend two weeks on the site this year (July 2-August 3, 2006). He is Dr. J. Fr. Ricaut, presently at the University of Cambridge. Biological anthropology is the study of human skeletal remains through the determination of sex, age, pathology (disease, trauma, etc.), and morphological and genetic features (analysis of the DNA contents in bone and teeth).

The scientific goals of the anthropological study of Sagalassos' ancient population are:

  • the world of the dead (age, sex, funeral practices, sepulchral organization, etc.)
  • the world of the living (through a reconstruction of the life and environmental conditions, as well as the palaeo-demography of ancient populations)
  • the population history (origin and evolution of populations): to investigate their origin and their interaction with modern and ancient populations living in this area

The first week (July 22-27) of work allowed for the anthropological study of 70% of the human remains excavated during the 2005 campaign. These remains were excavated in a mid-Byzantine cemetery (ninth-eleventh century A.D.) belonging to a hamlet, which had developed around the Basilica of St. Michael. During this period, as in many other previously abandoned Roman cities in Anatolia, hamlets developed around restored churches within the ruins of the Roman cities, one of which was fortified--in our case, located within the Shrine of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius--and called a kastron. A third hamlet seems to have existed on the Alexander Hill. One of the major questions to be answered by future DNA comparison will be to establish whether this mid-Byzantine population originated from the original Pisidians that once inhabited Sagalassos or if they represented newcomers. In this context, the content of a large Christian cemetery established inside the earthquake debris from the seventh century A. D., and previously attributed completely to the seventh century, should be restudied again. In fact, it is possible that the southern part of this cemetery, located at and around the Southwest Gate of the Lower Agora, was older (seventh century), whereas the tombs higher on the slope, in the northwest corner of the Lower Agora, could be mid-Byzantine.

The later remains had been moved and at some point were put together into one grave, when a dwelling to the south of the church was expanded. Preliminary study suggests that around ten individuals were buried in this area, but the fact that the tombs are disturbed makes it difficult to determine the exact number. This sample is composed of immature infants (one to three years old), children (three to 12 years old; figure 1 shows the frontal bone of a child with the sutura frontalis unfused, which is usually fused before it becomes eight years of age), young adults (20 to 35 years old), and middle-aged adults (35 to 50 years old). The sex determination study shows that the adult individuals are all female. Determining the sex of individuals under 20 is not possible with morphological study, but can be determined later through DNA analysis; bone and tooth samples have been selected for this purpose. Similarly, the incomplete and fragmented nature of these skeletons does not allow us to determine a putative kinship between the individuals based on sharing specific morphological features. Again, only DNA analysis will allow us to determine if this "marginal" burial area had a special function; for example, dedicated to the inhumation of mothers and children from one family. For now, it seems that only women, infants and children were buried together around the mid-Byzantine church.

The pathology and trauma study produced two main results. First, the majority of these individuals display a pathology caused by dietary and disease stress, probably as a consequence of relatively poor hygiene during their lifetime. This can be seen through the numerous dental pathologies observed, such as cavities and abscesses, defects in enamel development, mineralized plaque on the tooth surface, or the inflammation of the bone tissues around the teeth. Secondly, several individuals have bone pathology, such as arthrosis, mainly located on the vertebrae. We also noticed that some bones show traces of strong muscular insertion, which result from frequent exertion and suggest that these individuals spent much of their time doing hard physical work.

From these preliminary results, we can suggest that this sample of women and children had difficult lives, and they probably did not belong to the upper classes. Still, we do not know yet if this sample is representative of the population of Sagalassos living at this period. Only the excavation of more tombs will allow us to confirm or reject these hypotheses.

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