Looking for Londoners

This was an important exhibition for me, the ideas of information held within bones long after someone had died.

This small exhibition is the culmination of a significant research project.

Ground-breaking scientific research at the Museum of London has, for the first time ever, created a detailed “picture” of the inhabitants of Roman London. Using evidence “written” in their teeth, bones, DNA and burial, we’ve uncovered the extraordinary diversity of these ancient Londoners.

 Three Roman skeletons and one skull were selected for this research. Several techniques were used to discover the amazing detail held within these skeletons.

aDNA (ancient DNA) – was used to determine Hair and eye color, chromosomal sex and what diseases the person suffered.

mDNA (Mitochondrial DNA) – family and ancestry.

Mobility isotopes – these are chemical elements found in drinking water that are captured within teeth, and can tell us the person’s origins.

Dietary isotopes – these are chemical elements found in food and were used to determine where the person was when they shifted from breastfeeding to an adult diet, as well as what they were eating later in life.

Through all this research fascinating facts were revealed about each of the Roman skeletons.


A dark-haired and dark-eyed European, she was between 26 and 35 years old when she died, around AD 50-70. We can see she was high status due to her valuable grave goods, but the aDNA analysis reveals a secret even she may not have known: although physically female, her chromosomes are male. This is in line with modern scientific suggestions biological sex is a spectrum between male and female.


A fourteen year old girl, known as the “Lant Street Teenager”. She had blue eyes, and her maternal ancestry can be traced to south-eastern Europe and west Eurasia, at the eastern fringes of the Roman Empire. However, stable isotope evidence shows that she was born in north Africa, and travelled to Londinium at least four years before she died- proof the cosmopolitan and diverse nature of ancient London. Her burial is unique in London, and has parallels to north Africa and elsewhere in Europe. Many soldiers from these parts of the Empire were stationed in Londinium. Perhaps she was a soldier’s daughter, his wife, or even a beloved female slave.

Carved bone inlay from the coffin.

The information still held within these bones and this research is very resonant with my research and ideas about our memory being held within items, captured and taken to our graves. I found this small exhibition so exciting,  it has fueled new ideas and further exploration.


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