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Women at the Edge of Empire: Female Social Identity in the Lower Danube in 4th-6th Centuries AD

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - WAEE (Women at the Edge of Empire: Female Social Identity in the Lower Danube in 4th-6th Centuries AD)

Reporting period: 2018-08-28 to 2020-08-27

The influence of migration and intercultural contact on identity formation is a topic of significant contemporary concern, yet it also took place in the past. Women at the Edge of Empire (WAEE) examines how the identities of migrant women, and local women married to migrant men, responded to intercultural contact at the eastern border of the Late Roman Empire (4th-6th centuries AD). The Danube frontier is conventionally seen as a highly militarised environment and to-date women have been largely invisible, yet women were integral to the cultural melting pot that formed between Romans and nomadic peoples at this critical crossroads in human history. This innovative project draws together human osteology, stable isotopes, mortuary behaviour, material culture and epigraphy to focus on the people themselves. It employs a series of analytical scales in order to integrate population-wide patterns with information about specific individuals to determine how large-scale transformations had an impact on individual lives by i) creating large regional datasets to identify both regional patterns in gender ideals and diversity in social practice ii) distinguishing non-local (migrant) and local women (of nomadic affiliation and Roman) iii) drilling down into the data to tell the stories of specific individual women through the construction of detailed osteobiographies in order to create individual understandings of the effect of migration and intercultural contact on female identities on both sides of the border of the late Roman empire from the Danube Delta to the Iron Gates. Project findings are disseminated to a range of target audiences including through peer-reviewed journal articles, conference presentations, and the facial reconstruction of women studied in the project to communicate the project to the public.
Work performed in the project addressed the primary research question: How did the identities of migrant women, and local women married to migrant men, respond to intercultural contact. This was achieved through the following objectives, reflecting a series of analytical scales in order to integrate population-wide patterns with information about specific individuals to determine how large-scale transformations had an impact on individual lives:
1. Synthesis and statistical analysis of large scale regional mortuary, skeletal and epigraphic data sets to identify regional patterns in i) gender ideals and ii) the diversity in the expression of identity in social practice for Roman and nomadic men and women. This forms the baseline data to which migrant women and men can be compared.
2. Distinguish non-local (migrant) and local individuals using a combination of mortuary, epigraphic, and isotope (Sr, O, C, N) data.
3. Generate osteobiographies for specific selected women to create detailed individual understandings of the effect of migration on female identities.
WAEE has yielded an exceptional quantity of significant original high-quality data. In particular, it has resulted in important regional data sets for mortuary, skeletal and epigraphic data, substantial isotope data for diet and mobility, and high-resolution information on individual people at a level of detail far beyond that hitherto available in the region. These draw together material from all countries in the Lower Danube region for the first time, allowing a trans-national understanding of the people who lived there during the 4th-6th Centuries AD. The results of WAEE research have been presented at international conferences and will be published in a series of journal articles. An international project workshop brought together researchers to discuss female identities in the past. Public outreach activities included the facial reconstruction of women studied within the project in order to inspire and engage people today.
The benefits of the project are primarily in terms of new knowledge and the development of a reflective society, creating awareness and understanding of the impact of a rich history of migration in Europe. Project data sets form the foundation for a series of publications that push understandings beyond the state of the art by creating more nuanced and complex insights than can be achieved by analyses focusing on one line of evidence alone. WAEE research thus sheds new light on dynamics of plural societies and human responses to movement and intercultural contact in the past. It offers more nuanced and personal understandings of social relations in a critical region and phase of human history than hitherto possible. The data sets and interpretations generated by WAEE provide the scientific community with a new basis from which to further insights into the nature and impact of migration in the Roman period and beyond. They offer the public new understandings of the lives of people in the past and the ways in which they were both similar and different to people today.