Family Resemblances Revealed in 2000-Year-Old Skulls

Editorials News | Jul-07-2017

Family Resemblances Revealed in 2000-Year-Old Skulls

Scientists have used geometric morphometrics, a statistical technique, to recognize similarities in 2000-year-old skulls from three Italian graveyards from the Roman Empire. This technique helps differentiate groups of humans by looking at their skull shapes and determining whether or not those resemble each other.

This technique is used by forensic anthropologists to solve modern homicide cases. It helps pin-point the ethnic ancestry of unidentified murder victims, and to determine the bone damage inflicted by a weapon’s blow.

They studied skulls from three different graveyards. The first graveyard situated on the tiny island of Isola Sacra, was that of middle-class people. The second one, located at Velia, was that of Greeks who colonized the area post the 8th century BC. And the third one located on the outskirts of Rome, was that of lower-class labourers who came from anywhere across the Roman Empire.  

Accurate three-dimensional measurements of dozens of skulls from the first two graveyards revealed clear-cut regional differences, while they couldn’t differentiate the third group from either of the other two burial sites. This indicates common ancestry among several people in the first two places, and lack of a common origin for the third.  


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