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DNA Analysis Of Four Skeletons Reveals London Was Ethnically Diverse 2000 Years Ago


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

3935 DNA Analysis Of Four Skeletons Reveals London Was Ethnically Diverse 2000 Years Ago
London was cosmopolitan right from its start. olavs/Shutterstock

A fascinating new study looking into the DNA of the ancient denizens of England's capital – one of the most diverse cities in the world – is offering us a unique glimpse into London life throughout history. The researchers at the Museum of London have announced that, in fact, London was a cosmopolitan city from its very beginning over 2,000 years ago, as reported by BBC News.

The initial results of the study come from four very different people who inhabited London soon after the Roman invasion, some 2,000 years ago. They represent the beginning of a wider study aiming to document the life of city-dwellers in ancient tmes.


The Museum of London, in collaboration with Durham University and McMaster University in Canada, plan to look at the DNA of 20,000 human remains from the city and its surroundings across 5,500 years of history. By comparing this information with the genetic records of both modern humans and other ancient people, scientists are able to reconstruct migration patterns, ancestry, and health statuses. 

The “Gladiator” is so named as he was found in a pit, along with the heads of 38 other middle-aged men, with severe skull injuries to his head – many of which showed signs of healing, indicating he lived a very violent life. His ancestry appears to be both Eastern European and Middle Eastern. His head may have been removed from his body after he met his end and displayed in this pit for people to look down at.




The “Lant Street teenager” was one of the most complete skeletons in the record: it belonged to a 14-year-old girl of partly Eastern European descent, although chemicals in her teeth show she grew up in North Africa. Researchers even managed to determine that she had blue eyes.



The “Mansell Street man” was perhaps the most ambiguous, as he was found with no artefacts to help identify him. DNA analysis showed he was over 45, had very dark hair and brown eyes. His mitochondrial DNA line (only passed down from the mother) revealed he had North African ancestry, but the chemistry of his teeth – strongly affected by diet – shows he grew up in London.




Perhaps most remarkably, the “Harper Road woman” was a first-generation Londoner found with Roman pottery, indicating that she adapted to a Roman lifestyle immediately after the invasion. “What this is telling us is that people's identities were very, very fluid,” said Caroline McDonald, a senior curator at the museum, as reported by BBC News. Curiously, her chromosomes also show that she was genetically male, even though she had the physical features of a woman.



Already, these four humans show that ancient London was remarkably diverse. “Every first-generation Londoner was from somewhere else. So the stories we can tell about our ancient population are absolutely relevant to modern contemporary London because these are our stories – these are people just like us.”

[H/T: BBC News]

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  • genetics,

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  • history,

  • Roman,

  • North Africa,

  • ethnically diverse,

  • ancient london,

  • eastern european