The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

"Immortal, though he lies under the ground": Osteobiographies of three individuals from the first Battle of Himera (480 BCE)


1Department of Anthropology, University of Georgia, 2Department of Anthropology, University of Northern Colorado, 3Archaeological Heritage Section, Superintendency of Palermo

April 16, 2020 , Platinum Ballroom Add to calendar

The term “osteobiography” refers to an individualized approach that emphasizes the identity and life histories of ancient persons. For a field that typically takes population level approaches and gained its earliest positions by focusing on biology and health, osteobiographies enrich bioarchaeology by providing a more intimate view of individual past lives in social contexts. The ancient Greek world is frequently studied through historical documents that shine a light on individuals, especially the elite. Osteobiographies are eminently compatible with these accounts, yet are underexplored. Bioarchaeology of the ancient Mediterranean continues to utilize bioarchaeology’s strengths in population studies and is well suited to consider less-visible individuals of past societies.

The Battles of Himera were two violent conflicts between Greeks and Carthaginians in Sicily and the mass graves from the battles have been well studied in terms of historical narrative, mortuary archaeology, and osteology. In this study, we present osteobiographies of three individuals who died in the 480 BCE Battle of Himera, reporting their unusual lead, strontium, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen isotopic and paleopathological data. We contextualize the data in a rich framework of historical records of the battles and indicators of health and trauma among Himera’s general populace and other soldiers. All three individuals have non-local signatures, and we explore variations in their diet and childhood stress. Osteobiographies more deeply engage researchers and audiences with lived experiences of ancient war veterans, discovering who they were as individuals, in addition to being members of the armies with which they fought and died.

NSF REU award numbers 1560227 and 1560158, the University of Georgia, the University of Northern Colorado, UGA Innovative and Interdisciplinary Research Grant, UGA OVPR Faculty Research Grant

Slides/Poster (pdf)