An isotopic perspective on the transport of Byzantine mining camp laborers into southwestern Jordan

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Abstract

The Byzantine Empire managed a complex administrative network that controlled the mining and processing of natural resources from within its boundaries. Scholars relying upon archeological and textual evidence debate the level of imperial involvement in these ventures, particularly in the provinces. Ancient sources note that many mining camps, for instance, purportedly contained criminal laborers and elite administrators transported from distant locales, indicating significant organization and expenditures by the imperial administration to run the mines. This analysis explores the presence of these nonlocal individuals in a cemetery associated with the third to seventh century A.D. mining camp of Phaeno (Faynan), located in modern Jordan. Strontium isotope analysis of 31 burials indicates that most spent their childhood in a similar geological region as Phaeno, implying that they were locally born. The δ18O results mirror the homogeneous 87Sr/86Sr values, confirming a local origin for most of the sample. Isotopic evidence therefore suggests that the Phaeno mining camp was largely a local operation, contrary to the picture presented in textual sources, although the profits surely padded imperial coffers. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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