Researchers at the University of Bradford have shown a link between the diet of Roman Britons and their mortality rates for the first time, overturning a previously-held belief about the quality of the Roman diet.
Using a new method of analysis, the researchers examined stable isotope data (the ratios of particular chemicals in human tissue) from the bone collagen of hundreds of Roman Britons, together with the individuals' age-of-death estimates and an established mortality model.
The data sample included over 650 individuals from various published archaeological sites throughout England.
The researchers - from institutions including the Museum of London, Durham University and the University of South Carolina - found that higher nitrogen isotope ratios in the bones were associated with a higher risk of mortality, while higher carbon isotope ratios were associated with a lower risk of mortality.
Romano-British urban archaeological populations are characterized by higher nitrogen isotope ratios, which have been thought previously to indicate a better, or high-status, diet. But taking carbon isotope ratios, as well as death rates, into account showed that the nitrogen could also be recording long-term nutritional stress, such as deprivation or starvation.