2023-12-20 – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-67755415?at_medium=RSS&at_campaign=KARANGA

Raw: [Research on a skeleton dug up during road works have shed light on the history of Roman Britain.] BBC HomepageSkip to contentAccessibility HelpYour accountHomeNewsSportEarthReelWorklifeTravelMore menuMore menuSearch BBCHomeNewsSportEarthReelWorklifeTravelCultureFutureMusicTVWeatherSoundsClose menuBBC NewsMenuHomeIsrael-Gaza warWar in UkraineClimateVideoWorldUS & CanadaUKBusinessTechMoreScienceEntertainment & ArtsHealthIn PicturesBBC VerifyWorld News TVNewsbeatScienceDNA sleuths solve mystery of the 2,000-year old corpsePublished17 hours agoShareclose panelShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, ©MOLA Headland InfrastructureImage caption, DNA analysis showed that this young man travelled to Cambridgeshire from the furthest reaches of the Roman Empire 2,000 years agoBy Pallab GhoshScience correspondentHow did a young man born 2,000 years ago near what is now southern Russia, end up in the English countryside?DNA sleuths have retraced his steps while shedding light on a key episode in the history of Roman Britain.Research shows that the skeleton found in Cambridgeshire is of a man from a nomadic group known as Sarmatians.It is the first biological proof that these people came to Britain from the furthest reaches of the Roman empire and that some lived in the countryside.The remains were discovered during excavations to improve the A14 road between Cambridge and Huntingdon.The scientific techniques used will help reveal the usually untold stories of ordinary people behind great historical events.They include reading the genetic code in fossilised bone fragments that are hundreds of thousands of years old, which shows an individual's ethnic origin.Gold coin proves 'fake' Roman emperor was realImage source, Pontus SkoglundImage caption, Dr Marina Silva extracted the ancient DNA and then made sense of its genetic codeArchaeologists discovered a complete, well-preserved skeleton of a man, they named Offord Cluny 203645 – a combination of the Cambridgeshire village he was found in and his specimen number. He was buried by himself without any personal possessions in a ditch, so there was little to go on to establish his identity.Dr Marina Silva of the Ancient Genomics Laboratory at the Francis Crick Institute, in London, extracted and decoded Offord's ancient DNA from a tiny bone taken from his inner ear, which was the best preserved part of the entire skeleton. “This is not like testing the DNA of someone who is alive,” she explained. “The DNA is very fragmented and damaged. However, we were able to (decode) enough of it.”The first thing we saw was that genetically he was very different to the other Romano-British individuals studied so far.” The latest ancient DNA analysis methods are now able to flesh out the human stories behind events that, until recently, have been reconstructed only by documents and archaeological evidence.These largely tell the tales of the wealthy and powerful.The latest research is a detective story which uses cutting edge forensic science to unravel the mystery of an ordinary person – a young man buried in a ditch in Cambridgeshire between 126 and 228 AD, during the Roman occupation of Britain.At first, archaeologists thought Offord to be an unremarkable discovery of a local man. But DNA analysis at Dr Silva's lab showed that he was from the furthest reaches of the Roman Empire, an area that is currently southern Russia, Armenia, and Ukraine.The analysis showed him to be a Sarmatian, who are Iranian-speaking people, renowned for their horse-riding skills.So how did he end up in a sleepy backwater of the empire so far from home?To find the answers, a team from the archaeology department of Durham University used another exciting analysis technique to examine his fossilised teeth, which have chemical traces of what he ate. Image source, MOLA Headland InfrastructureImage caption, Analysis of his teeth showed that his diet had gradually changed since the age of fiveTeeth develop over time, so just like tree rings, each layer records a snapshot of the chemicals that surrounded them at that moment in time.The analysis showed that until the age of six he ate millets and sorghum grains, known scientifically as C4 crops, which are plentiful in the region where Sarmatians were known to have lived. But over time, analysis showed a gradual decrease in his consumption of these grains and more wheat, found in western Europe, according to Prof Janet Montgomery.”The (analysis) tells us that he, and not his ancestors, made the journey to Britain. As he grew up, he migrated west, and these plants disappeared from his diet.” Image source, Conrad CichoriusImage caption, A scene depicting the defeat of the Sarmatian army by Roman forces in 175 ADHistorical records indicate that Offord could have been a cavalry man's son, or possibly his slave. They show that around the time he lived, a unit of the Sarmatian cavalry incorporated into the Roman army was posted to Britain.The DNA evidence confirms this picture, according to Dr Alex Smith of MOLA Headland Infrastructure, the company that led the excavation.”This is the first biological evidence,” he told BBC News.”The availability of these DNA and chemical analysis techniques means that we can now ask different questions and look at how societies formed, their make-up and how they evolved in the Roman period. “It suggests that there was much greater movement, not just in the cities but also the countryside.”Image source, ©MOLA Headland InfrastructureImage caption, The remains were discovered as part of excavations undertaken as part of the A14 road improvement scheme between Cambridge and HuntingdonDr Pontus Skoglund, who heads the ancient genomics laboratory at the Crick, told BBC News that the new technology is transforming our understanding of the past.”The main impact of ancient DNA to date has been improving our understanding of the Stone and Bronze Ages, but with better techniques, we are also starting to transform our understanding of the Roman and later periods.”The details have been published in the journal, Current Biology.Follow Pallab on X, formally known as Twitter.Related TopicsArchaeologyDNAMore on this storyGold coin proves 'fake' Roman emperor was realPublished24 November 2022Top StoriesTrump disqualified from 2024 ballot in ColoradoPublished2 hours agoLive. Hamas leader in Cairo for talks as pressure for Gaza truce mountsUS citizens jailed in Russia left hostage to a dealPublished3 hours agoFeaturesUS citizens jailed in Russia left hostage to a dealThe legal bid to take Trump off ballot, explainedKenya's leader compared to biblical tax collectorCash rules in India despite digital payment boomSpectacular photos of eruption in IcelandCould Biden impeachment backfire for Republicans?Deaths put spotlight on growing US homeless populationWhy this Iceland volcano won't cause flight chaosElsewhere on the BBCHow China's buses influenced the world's EVsThe permanently imperfect reality of hybrid workThe Greek island known for its nudityMost Read1Trump disqualified from 2024 ballot in Colorado2US judge orders 170 Epstein associates to be named3Students sue after exam ends 90 seconds early4French parliament passes controversial immigration law5Children die in fire while dad Christmas shopping6Dozens more dancers allege ballet body-shaming7Pair get life in Italy for daughter's 'honour killing'8End of an era for electronics giant Toshiba9DNA sleuths solve mystery of 2,000-year old corpse10Serial killer's ex-wife convicted for part in murdersBBC News ServicesOn your mobileOn smart speakersGet news alertsContact BBC NewsHomeNewsSportEarthReelWorklifeTravelCultureFutureMusicTVWeatherSoundsTerms of UseAbout the BBCPrivacy PolicyCookiesAccessibility HelpParental GuidanceContact the BBCGet Personalised NewslettersWhy you can trust the BBCAdvertise with us© 2023 BBC. 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