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Concept: Ancient Rome


The Syrian armed conflict has been ongoing since 2011 and has already caused thousands of deaths. The analysis of death tolls helps to understand the dynamics of the conflict and to better allocate resources and aid to the affected areas. In this article, we use information on the daily number of deaths to study temporal and spatial correlations in the data, and exploit this information to forecast events of deaths. We found that the number of violent deaths per day in Syria varies more widely than that in England in which non-violent deaths dominate. We have identified strong positive auto-correlations in Syrian cities and non-trivial cross-correlations across some of them. The results indicate synchronization in the number of deaths at different times and locations, suggesting respectively that local attacks are followed by more attacks at subsequent days and that coordinated attacks may also take place across different locations. Thus the analysis of high temporal resolution data across multiple cities makes it possible to infer attack strategies, warn potential occurrence of future events, and hopefully avoid further deaths.

Concepts: Time, Death, Future, Logic, Golan Heights, Resource allocation, Ancient Rome, Syrian


While Phoenician culture and trade networks had a significant impact on Western civilizations, we know little about the Phoenicians themselves. In 1994, a Punic burial crypt was discovered on Byrsa Hill, near the entry to the National Museum of Carthage in Tunisia. Inside this crypt were the remains of a young man along with a range of burial goods, all dating to the late 6th century BCE. Here we describe the complete mitochondrial genome recovered from the Young Man of Byrsa and identify that he carried a rare European haplogroup, likely linking his maternal ancestry to Phoenician influenced locations somewhere on the North Mediterranean coast, the islands of the Mediterranean or the Iberian Peninsula. This result not only provides the first direct ancient DNA evidence of a Phoenician individual but the earliest evidence of a European mitochondrial haplogroup, U5b2c1, in North Africa.

Concepts: Mediterranean Sea, Iberian Peninsula, Spain, Tunisia, Morocco, Ancient Rome, Carthage, Phoenicia


Migration within the Roman Empire occurred at multiple scales and was engaged in both voluntarily and involuntarily. Because of the lengthy tradition of classical studies, bioarchaeological analyses must be fully contextualized within the bounds of history, material culture, and epigraphy. In order to assess migration to Rome within an updated contextual framework, strontium isotope analysis was performed on 105 individuals from two cemeteries associated with Imperial Rome-Casal Bertone and Castellaccio Europarco-and oxygen and carbon isotope analyses were performed on a subset of 55 individuals. Statistical analysis and comparisons with expected local ranges found several outliers who likely immigrated to Rome from elsewhere. Demographics of the immigrants show men and children migrated, and a comparison of carbon isotopes from teeth and bone samples suggests the immigrants may have significantly changed their diet. These data represent the first physical evidence of individual migrants to Imperial Rome. This case study demonstrates the importance of employing bioarchaeology to generate a deeper understanding of a complex ancient urban center.

Concepts: Europe, Immigration, Human migration, Emigration, Ancient Rome, Roman Empire, Roman Republic, Augustus


Hundreds of papyrus rolls, buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and belonging to the only library passed on from Antiquity, were discovered 260 years ago at Herculaneum. These carbonized papyri are extremely fragile and are inevitably damaged or destroyed in the process of trying to open them to read their contents. In recent years, new imaging techniques have been developed to read the texts without unwrapping the rolls. Until now, specialists have been unable to view the carbon-based ink of these papyri, even when they could penetrate the different layers of their spiral structure. Here for the first time, we show that X-ray phase-contrast tomography can reveal various letters hidden inside the precious papyri without unrolling them. This attempt opens up new opportunities to read many Herculaneum papyri, which are still rolled up, thus enhancing our knowledge of ancient Greek literature and philosophy.

Concepts: Medical imaging, Greek language, Pompeii, Ancient Rome, Mount Vesuvius, Herculaneum, 79


The historical record attests to the devastation malaria exacted on ancient civilizations, particularly the Roman Empire [1]. However, evidence for the presence of malaria during the Imperial period in Italy (1st-5th century CE) is based on indirect sources, such as historical, epigraphic, or skeletal evidence. Although these sources are crucial for revealing the context of this disease, they cannot establish the causative species of Plasmodium. Importantly, definitive evidence for the presence of malaria is now possible through the implementation of ancient DNA technology. As malaria is presumed to have been at its zenith during the Imperial period [1], we selected first or second molars from 58 adults from three cemeteries from this time: Isola Sacra (associated with Portus Romae, 1st-3rd century CE), Velia (1st-2nd century CE), and Vagnari (1st-4th century CE). We performed hybridization capture using baits designed from the mitochondrial (mtDNA) genomes of Plasmodium spp. on a prioritized subset of 11 adults (informed by metagenomic sequencing). The mtDNA sequences generated provided compelling phylogenetic evidence for the presence of P. falciparum in two individuals. This is the first genomic data directly implicating P. falciparum in Imperial period southern Italy in adults.

Concepts: Malaria, Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium, Plasmodium vivax, Anopheles, Quinine, Ancient Rome, Roman Empire


The Etruscan culture is documented in Etruria, Central Italy, from the 8(th) to the 1(st) century BC. For more than 2,000 years there has been disagreement on the Etruscans' biological origins, whether local or in Anatolia. Genetic affinities with both Tuscan and Anatolian populations have been reported, but so far all attempts have failed to fit the Etruscans' and modern populations in the same genealogy. We extracted and typed the hypervariable region of mitochondrial DNA of 14 individuals buried in two Etruscan necropoleis, analyzing them along with other Etruscan and Medieval samples, and 4,910 contemporary individuals from the Mediterranean basin. Comparing ancient (30 Etruscans, 27 Medieval individuals) and modern DNA sequences (370 Tuscans), with the results of millions of computer simulations, we show that the Etruscans can be considered ancestral, with a high degree of confidence, to the current inhabitants of Casentino and Volterra, but not to the general contemporary population of the former Etruscan homeland. By further considering two Anatolian samples (35 and 123 individuals) we could estimate that the genetic links between Tuscany and Anatolia date back to at least 5,000 years ago, strongly suggesting that the Etruscan culture developed locally, and not as an immediate consequence of immigration from the Eastern Mediterranean shores.

Concepts: DNA, Italy, Ancient Rome, Tuscany, Rome, Etruscan civilization, Etruria, Populonia


We sequenced the genomes of a ∼7,000-year-old farmer from Germany and eight ∼8,000-year-old hunter-gatherers from Luxembourg and Sweden. We analysed these and other ancient genomes with 2,345 contemporary humans to show that most present-day Europeans derive from at least three highly differentiated populations: west European hunter-gatherers, who contributed ancestry to all Europeans but not to Near Easterners; ancient north Eurasians related to Upper Palaeolithic Siberians, who contributed to both Europeans and Near Easterners; and early European farmers, who were mainly of Near Eastern origin but also harboured west European hunter-gatherer related ancestry. We model these populations' deep relationships and show that early European farmers had ∼44% ancestry from a ‘basal Eurasian’ population that split before the diversification of other non-African lineages.

Concepts: European Union, Europe, Germany, Netherlands, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Stone Age, Ancient Rome


It is now universally accepted that utilization of lead for domestic purposes and water distribution presents a major health hazard. The ancient Roman world was unaware of these risks. How far the gigantic network of lead pipes used in ancient Rome compromised public health in the city is unknown. Lead isotopes in sediments from the harbor of Imperial Rome register the presence of a strong anthropogenic component during the beginning of the Common Era and the Early Middle Ages. They demonstrate that the lead pipes of the water distribution system increased Pb contents in drinking water of the capital city by up to two orders of magnitude over the natural background. The Pb isotope record shows that the discontinuities in the pollution of the Tiber by lead are intimately entwined with the major issues affecting Late Antique Rome and its water distribution system.

Concepts: Middle Ages, Western Europe, Decline of the Roman Empire, Ancient Rome, Roman Empire, Rome, Classical antiquity, Roman Republic


The archaeological evidence for parasites in the Roman era is presented in order to demonstrate the species present at that time, and highlight the health consequences for people living under Roman rule. Despite their large multi-seat public latrines with washing facilities, sewer systems, sanitation legislation, fountains and piped drinking water from aqueducts, we see the widespread presence of whipworm (Trichuris trichiura), roundworm (Ascaris lumbricoides) and Entamoeba histolytica that causes dysentery. This would suggest that the public sanitation measures were insufficient to protect the population from parasites spread by fecal contamination. Ectoparasites such as fleas, head lice, body lice, pubic lice and bed bugs were also present, and delousing combs have been found. The evidence fails to demonstrate that the Roman culture of regular bathing in the public baths reduced the prevalence of these parasites. Fish tapeworm was noted to be widely present, and was more common than in Bronze and Iron Age Europe. It is possible that the Roman enthusiasm for fermented, uncooked fish sauce (garum) may have facilitated the spread of this helminth. Roman medical practitioners such as Galen were aware of intestinal worms, explaining their existence and planning treatment using the humoural theory of the period.

Concepts: Parasites, Ancient Rome, Roman Empire


Chronic osteomyelitis (COM) causes major physical disability. In situations of limited resources and war zones, western world treatments are neither affordable nor sustainable. The International Committee of the Red Cross has established a COM treatment project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with emphasis on affordability and sustainability.

Concepts: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic, United Nations, Cold War, Russia, Soviet Union, Ancient Rome, International Committee of the Red Cross