Stable isotopic evidence for diet at the Imperial Roman coastal site of Velia (1st and 2nd Centuries AD) in Southern Italy



Here we report on a stable isotope palaeodietary study of a Imperial Roman population interred near the port of Velia in Southern Italy during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. Carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analyses were performed on collagen extracted from 117 adult humans as well as a range of fauna to reconstruct individual dietary histories. For the majority of individuals, we found that stable isotope data were consistent with a diet high in cereals, with relatively modest contributions of meat and only minor contributions of marine fish. However, substantial isotopic variation was found within the population, indicating that diets were not uniform. We suggest that a number of individuals, mainly but not exclusively males, had greater access to marine resources, especially high trophic level fish. However, the observed dietary variation did not correlate with burial type, number of grave goods, nor age at death. Also, individuals buried at the necropolis at Velia ate much less fish overall compared with the contemporaneous population from the necropolis of Portus at Isola Sacra, located on the coast close to Rome. Marine and riverine transport and commerce dominated the economy of Portus, and its people were in a position to supplement their own stocks of fish with imported goods in transit to Rome, whereas at Velia marine exploitation existed side-by-side with land-based economic activities. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.