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Humanizing Antiquity: Biocultural Approaches to Identity Formation in Ancient Boeotia, central Greece

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - HumAn (Humanizing Antiquity: Biocultural Approaches to Identity Formation in Ancient Boeotia, central Greece)

Reporting period: 2016-08-01 to 2018-07-31

HumAn aims at exploring the dynamic negotiation and diachronic evolution of identity at the level of the household (oikos), city (polis) and nation (ethnos) in ancient Boeotia (central Greece) by combining osteoarchaeological evidence on genetic affiliation and life quality osteobiographical markers with mortuary data and historical information. Ancient Boeotia is an ideal case study for the examination of the construction and negotiation of identities at different regional and inter-regional levels. Boeotian ethnic self-awareness was promoted by a set of common cults and myths dating from the late 8th c. BC. In the late 6th c. the Boeotian League was formed as the first Greek attempt to create a federal state. Through their contact with each other and the rest of the Hellenic world, Boeotian cities also advanced their identity as citizens (polis identity). Despite their parallel evolution, the relationship between ethnos and polis was often contentious, but the implications of such conflict regarding marriage and social mobility are unknown from the historical record and archaeological evidence.

The specific research objectives of HumAn are:

RO1: To explore genetic kinship and human mobility across Archaic to Roman-era Boeotia in order to assess whether belonging to a specific group hindered gene flow in the form of intermarriage with members of other groups. Subsequently, the aim is to identify the level at which such restrictions potentially applied (family, city, nation) and whether there are patterns correlating with major historical events.

RO2: To understand the social structure in different Boeotian poleis diachronically through mortuary evidence and osteobiographic markers of activity, stress and disease.

The proposed project will have major implications for our understanding of the biological dimensions of identity formation and negotiation in ancient Boeotia at the level of the oikos, polis and ethnos. The topic of fluid and dynamic identities in ancient Greece, coupled with social stratification and mobility, has been extensively discussed employing material culture and literary sources. Introducing osteoarchaeological analysis into this debate will provide an independent line of evidence for social stratification and human mobility through marital patterns or other mechanisms, such as group relocations after warfare, and it will present a unique potential to challenge traditional views of the evolutionary trajectory of regional and inter-regional identities in antiquity. Besides its contribution to archaeology and Classical studies, the thematic of this project is relevant to contemporary developments regarding the role of Greece within the European Union. Ancient Boeotia is an area where belonging to a specific polis often contradicted being a member of a bigger formation, the Boeotian League. Exploring the complementarity and competition between different identities that past people assumed in different contexts and communicating the results to the broader public can offer a significant time depth to the understanding of the contemporary roles of Greeks as a nation and as European citizens.
During the first year of the project a number of important milestones relating to personal training and academic development, data collection, as well as student teaching and supervision, were achieved, as outlined in more detail below. However, the fellowship had to be terminated at the end of September 2017, due to the fact that the fellow has been offered a tenured position as Assistant Professor of Bioarchaeology at the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia, Cyprus.

Training: During the first year of the project, the fellow received training on three-dimensional surface scanning of human bones and dental microwear analysis at the University of Sheffield, and dental calculus microdebris analysis at the University of York. In addition, she collaborated on a project focused on the use of bone histomorphometry in age estimation led by colleagues at the University of Edinburgh. Finally, she attended a training course on Finite Element Analysis for Biosciences (Spain, July 2018).

Research/publications: During her stay in Sheffield for her training, the fellow had the opportunity to complete data collection on a research project regarding the osteobiographic study of material from central England dating from 500 to 1500 AD. She presented selected results of this project as a keynote speaker at the Hellenic Association of Biology Annual Meeting (May 2017). In addition, she published a textbook by Elsevier (Nikita E. 2017. Osteoarchaeology: A Guide to the Macroscopic Study of Human Skeletal Remains. San Diego: Academic Press), two book chapters and six papers (Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, International Journal of Legal Medicine, Journal of Hellenic Studies, Forensic Science International, HOMO-Journal of Comparative Human Biology). Regarding data collection, she has so far completed the study of approximately 300 skeletons from the cemetery at ancient Acraiphia and presented preliminary results of the project in a number of talks at the University of Sheffield (Tuesday Lunchtime Lecture Series, invited lecture to Classics graduate students, and seminar organized by the Medieval and Ancient Research Center).

Teaching: The fellow taught the module Biological Anthropology I to 28 Masters Students of the Department of Archaeology and supervised the dissertations of two MSc students. Furthermore, she has been co-supervising the dissertations of two undergraduate students from the University of Sheffield, one student from the National University at Athens and one from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
HumAn has so far generated a large bioarchaeological database for Classical antiquity in the Eastern Mediterranean, it actively engaged Master's and undergraduate students in skeletal analysis and provided them the opportunity to work in Greece, and it allowed the fellow to expand upon her existing network of collaborators as well as set the foundations for larger projects in the future. The fellow just applied for an ERC Starting Grant with the aim of exploring physical and social mobility in the Greco-Roman Eastern Mediterranean, encompassing material from Greece, Cyprus, Lebanon, and Italy, largely adopting the methodological approaches implemented in HumAn but corroborating these with ancient DNA and isotopic analyses. In the following months, despite the official termination of the fellowship, further analyses on dental microwear and dental calculus microdebris will be performed on the material from ancient Acraephia and the results of the already completed macroscopic and the pending microscopic analyses will be submitted for publication. In addition, different results of the project will be presented in two separate sessions in the upcoming 19th International Congress of Classical Archaeology in Cologne/Bonn. For the broader public, selected results will be presented in the Researcher's Night event taking place in September 2018 in Nicosia. As stated above, the results of the project, but most importantly the results of the fellow's ongoing research overall, cross the boundaries between physical anthropology, archaeology and Classics, and are expected to have major implications regarding our understanding of humans as biological and social beings.
material prior to curation
dental microwear image
dental microwear casting
data collection by the Fellow
cleaned and bagged skeletal material
data collection by MSc student