First inhabitants of London were multi-ethnic mix, museum says

LONDON (AFP) - A DNA analysis of four ancient Roman skeletons found in London shows that the first inhabitants of the city were a multi-ethnic mix similar to contemporary Londoners, the Museum of London said on Monday (Nov 23).

Two of the skeletons were of people born outside Britain - one of a man linked genealogically to eastern Europe and the Near East, the other of a teenage girl with blue eyes from north Africa.

The injuries to the man's skull suggest that he may have been killed in the city's amphitheatre before his head was dumped into an open pit.

Both the man and the girl were suffering from periodontal disease, a type of gum disease.


One of the four ancient Roman skeletons on display. PHOTO: AFP

The other two skeletons of people believed to have been born in Britain were of a woman with maternal ancestry from northern Europe and of a man also with links through his mother to Europe or north Africa.

"We have always understood that Roman London was a culturally diverse place and now science is giving us certainty," said Caroline McDonald, senior curator of Roman London at the museum.

"People born in Londinium lived alongside people from across the Roman Empire exchanging ideas and cultures, much like the London we know today," she said.

The museum said in a statement that this was "the first multidisciplinary study of the inhabitants of a city anywhere in the Roman Empire".

The Romans founded Britain's capital city in the middle of the first century AD, under the emperor Claudius.

Britain's University of Durham researched stable isotopes from tooth enamel to determine migration patterns.

A tooth from each skeleton was also sent to McMaster University in Canada for DNA analysis that established the hair and eye colour of each individual and identified the diseases they were suffering from.

McMaster University also examined the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) to identify maternal ancestry.

The exhibition of the four skeletons, entitled "Written in Bone", opens on Friday (Nov 27).