This article outlines a new method for comparing proxy data for the health and well-being of Late Roman populations through the statistical analysis of skeletal remains and material culture. A multistage statistical approach is applied to a sample of published Late Romano-British cemeteries. A battery of health indicators are compared using multidimensional scaling, and patterns in the provision of grave inclusions are analyzed using the Gini coefficient of inequality. The results of these analyses yield two principal findings. First, patterns are often strongly conditioned by settlement type, with individuals in cemeteries from urban locations exhibiting better health than their nonurban counterparts, contrary to historical models stressing the disadvantages of urban environments. Second, urban cemeteries feature both higher levels of grave furnishings and greater equality in their intracemetery distributions than nonurban cemeteries. Such findings suggest entrenched differences in the quality of living conditions and social relations between urban and rural communities in Late Roman Britain, potentially mirroring the observed modern relationship between high levels of social inequality and poor health.
By Martin Pitts and Rebecca Griffin
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 116, No. 2 (April 2012), pp. 253–276
© 2012 Archaeological Institute of America