A century after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Germanic People of Scandinavian origin known as Longobards raided from the North-East and settled in Italy for several decades (between 568 and 774 AD), strongly interacting and partly integrating with the local populations. The passage from being a military cast to the gradual fusion with the Romans laid the foundations for the birth and development of the Italian society in the following centuries. This project aims to apply a bioarchaeological and biomolecular investigation to frame the pattern of population biology, social organization, health status, and mobility at the transition between the Roman times and the early Middle Ages in Italy. We plan to assess the interactions between the Roman world and the later post-classical phases through the investigation of both Roman and Longobard skeletal series across the Peninsula. We will apply a bioarchaeological investigations coupled with isotopic and aDNA studies. Our understanding of the cultural background and underlying medical practices at the times will constitute the backbone of our analysis. In this perspective, the bioarchaeological investigation is able to examine levels of considerable complexity within our understanding of past human societies.
There is a growing literature on skeletal, isotopic and aDNA investigations on Barbaric communities in Central Europe (Alt et al., 2014; Geary and Veeramah, 2016), however very little has been done in Italy (Amorin et al., 2018). This represents an enormous void in the literature, especially considering how central is the role of Italy in the transition between the roman times and the post-classical phases. If the decline of the Western Roman Empire represents a strong political and cultural reset, no place like Italy deserves to be investigated in the assessment of how this political shift has an impact on the local populations in their interaction with the new "invading" peoples.
Where the historical sources are rich of information (i.e. the agreements between a Longobard king and the other authorities in Italy, or the presence of laws on marriages), our understanding of the biological background of local and non-local populations with the transition to the Middle Ages is still lacking. Moreover, the study of the paleogenomics of pathologies from the past in Italy is still at its infancy, with only a handful of comparison elsewhere in Europe (see the project "After the plague project" carried out by the University of Cambridge for Medieval populations in Cambridgeshire).
Our research project aims precisely at filling this void by a true integration - possibly for the first time for these geographical and chronological horizons - of biological proxies and cultural information. First step of the analysis will be the collection of the complete archaeological background. Especially, the analysis of the grave goods found in the burials and clearly associated with a single individual will help in framing the social status, according with the historical period and the limitations of the representation of the dead by the relative living community.
Secondly, the osteological data will help us the biological profile of the individual, especially in the framework of pathocenosis of each population. The comparison between paleopathologies thanks to gross morphology will guide the genetic analysis that will be also devoted to the reconstruction of possible kinship with each group. The combined interpretation of strontium and oxygen ratios will allow us to identify locals vs. non-local individuals within the human groups studied. We will associate the isotopic evidence with osteological data on sex, age at death and general health conditions, together with DNA results on pathologies of the skeletons examined, conveying information on individual biographies and population dynamics. The archaeological background will provide a cultural profundity to the emerging data.
Alt K.W. et al. (2014). Lombards on the move¿an integrative study of the migration period cemetery at Szólád, Hungary. PloS one 9.11: e110793.
Amorim C.E.G. et al. (2018). Understanding 6th-Century Barbarian Social Organization and Migration through Paleogenomics. bioRxiv 2018: 268250.
Geary, P. J. and Veeramah K. (2016). Mapping European population movement through genomic research. Medieval Worlds 4: 65-78.