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Blind to Chains? The Potential of Bioarchaeology for Identifying the Enslaved of Roman Britain

  • Rebecca C. Redfern (a1)

Abstract

This research explores the contribution bioarchaeology can make to the study of slavery in Roman Britain, responding to the calls by Webster and colleagues for the greater use of osteological and scientific techniques in this endeavour. It reviews the evidence for the bodies of the enslaved in the primary sources and bioarchaeological evidence from the New World and the Roman Empire. The paper aims to establish patterns of physiological stress and disease, which could be used to reconstruct osteobiographies of these individuals, and applies these findings to bioarchaeological evidence from Britain. It concludes that at the present time, it may not be possible for us to successfully separate out the enslaved from the poor or bonded labourers, because their life experiences were very similar. Nevertheless, these people are overlooked in the archaeological record, so unless we attempt to search for them in the extant evidence, the life experiences of the majority of the Romano-British population who were vital to its economy will remain lost to us.

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