Herodotus Returns

East Asian skeleton unearthed in Roman cemetery
January 28, 2010, 9:58 am
Filed under: Rome | Tags: , , ,

Archaeologists excavating the Roman cemetery of Vagnari were surprised to find remains of a man with East Asian ancestry. This is the first record of an East Asian man in Rome. Given the way he was buried – beneath another burial and with only one grave good – it appears he was a slave.

Vagnari was an imperial estate during this time. The emperor controlled it and at least some of the workers were slaves. One of the tiles found at Vagnari is marked “Gratus” which means “slave” of the emperor. The workers produced iron implements and textiles. The landscape around them was nearly treeless, making the Italian summer weather all the worse.

The man with East Asian ancestry may well have been a slave himself. He lived sometime in the first to second century AD, in the early days of the Roman Empire. Much of his skeleton (pictured here) has not survived. The man’s surviving grave goods consist of a single pot (which archaeologists used to date the burial). To top things off someone was buried on top of him – with a superior collection of grave goods.

Much of the cemetery has yet to be excavated, but indications so far suggest that his contemporaries were mostly local individuals. Archaeologists have dug up 70 skeletons from the Vagnari cemetery and oxygen isotope tests have shown that more than 80 per cent of the people were born at or near this estate.

More on the East Asian slave/ambassador to Rome.


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[…] East Asian skeleton unearthed in Roman cemetery […]

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