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One of the best preserved skeletons from the mid-Byzantine cemetery to the south of the church belonging to a small child (not an infant)

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

Biological Anthropology: July 30-August 3, 2006

This week, Dr. Fr. X. Ricaut (currently of the University of Cambridge, but recently appointed to the Center for Archaeological Sciences at K. U. Leuven) continued his study of the skeletons excavated last year in a mid-Byzantine cemetery (probably tenth-twelfth centuries A.D.) They were laid out to the south of the then-restored late fifth to early sixth century basilica, built on the same spot as the former Temple of Apollo Klarios. Perhaps the latter had been abandoned during the late fourth century A.D. This new church was destroyed, or at least heavily damaged, by the earthquake of the 640s, and may have been abandoned for a time shortly afterwards (see Apollo Klarios Sanctuary: July 30-August 3, 2006). Previously, it was assumed that a small graveyard was in use to the east of the church even before this seismic catastrophe. Later, over fifty tombs were laid out in the debris from the seventh century earthquake, attributed to the last inhabitants of Sagalassos who had survived the catastrophe and continued to live for a while in parts of the settlement. As these tombs contained almost no jewelry or other datable material evidence, we could only guess that they all belonged to single and continuous phase of the cemetery. The discovery of a mid-Byzantine occupation at at least three places within the former Roman city, however, raised questions about a possible date for the tombs (see Biological Anthropology: July 22-26, 2006). These doubts increased when DNA analysis of the bones conducted by R. Decorte (Center for Human Genetics, K. U. Leuven) suggested that the corpses buried in the southern part of the Lower Agora, on the spot where the Southwest Gate once stood, belonged to an older and more mixed population than that in the northwest corner of the square. The Lower Agora corpses included those with with Italian (many of the veterans established in the area by Augustus came from Southern Italy) and Balkan (Macedonians were established here in Hellenistic times) ancestry. Conversely, the northwest corner's corpses seem to have been from a more homogeneous population and might represent post seventh century A.D. newcomers. Although further research is needed, a mid-Byzantine date, corresponding with the second phase of the church and the cemetery to its south, is a possibility.

It is striking that whereas the tombs on the Lower Agora did not contain any infants (0 to 3 years), the corpses found to the south of the mid-Byzantine basilica contained at least two. At first sight, this could point to different burial practices: at the time of the older tombs, infants were buried in separate areas. Yet, they are absent in both sections of the Lower Agora cemetery, and also in the northern section, so that it is again too soon to draw final conclusions.

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