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Keywords:

  • skeletal occupational markers;
  • diet;
  • Roman Italy;
  • carbon;
  • nitrogen

Abstract

The reconstruction of dietary patterns in the two Roman imperial age coastal communities of Portus and Velia (I–III AD) by means of stable isotope analysis of bone remains has exposed a certain degree of heterogeneity between and within the two samples. Results do not correlate with any discernible mortuary practices at either site, which might have pointed to differential social status. The present study tests the hypothesis of a possible connection between dietary habits and occupational activities in the two communities. Among skeletal markers of occupation, external auricular exostosis (EAE) has proved to be very informative. Clinical and retrospective epidemiological surveys have revealed a strong positive correlation between EAE development and habitual exposure to cold water. In this study, we show that there is a high rate of occurrence of EAE among adult males in both skeletal samples (21.1% in Portus and 35.3% in Velia). Further, there is a statistically significant higher prevalence of EAE among those individuals at Velia with very high nitrogen isotopic values. This points to fishing (coastal, low-water fishing) as the sea-related occupation most responsible for the onset of the ear pathology. For Portus, where the consumption of foods from sea and river seems to be more widespread through the population, and where the scenario of seaport and fluvial activities was much more complex than in Velia, a close correlation between EAE and fish consumption by fishermen is less easy to establish. Am J Phys Anthropol 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.