A Death on the Imperial Frontier: an osteobiography of Roman burial from Oglanqala, Azerbaijan

by Selin Elizabeth Nugent

Institution: The Ohio State University
Department: Anthropology
Degree: MA
Year: 2013
Keywords: Ancient History; Ancient Civilizations; Archaeology; Classical Studies; Physical Anthropology; Osteobiography, Roman Empire, Azerbaijan, Caucasus, Bioarchaeology
Record ID: 2020175
Full text PDF: http://rave.ohiolink.edu/etdc/view?acc_num=osu1385283801


In 2011, excavations at the Iron Age archaeological site of Oglanqala in Naxcivan, Azerbaijan uncovered unexpected human remains dating to the early Roman period (2 B.C. - c. 14 A.D.). At Oglanqala, numerous post-Iron Age interments from the early 20th century have been recovered. However, the early Roman burial represents the only Roman interment discovered at the site as well as in the South Caucasus. Burial WWE.1 was situated at the base of the Oglanqala Iron Age citadel and consisted of a single individual (Individual 21) placed in a seated position inside a large pithos, or urn. While urn burial is a common practice in the Caucasus, the individual was accompanied by a large quantity of fine Roman material objects rarely found in this region, including Augustan denarii, glass unguentaria, gold inlayed intaglio rings on the fingers, a ceramic round bottom vessel, and a large glass bead. This paper presents a detailed analysis of the bioarchaeological identity of Individual 21, focusing on age, stress, status, and mobility and how these factors relate to the unusual burial style. Osteological and oxygen (18O /16O) stable isotope analysis, archaeological context of the burial, and the historical record provide the basis to identify the individual. The result is a detailed osteobiography of the individual that reflects aspects of their life history, and how death in foreign territories alters traditional mortuary conventions. Furthermore, the individual’s relationship with the broader historical context of Rome and the Caucasus reflects the lesser-known aspects of imperial interaction and life in the eastern frontier.