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Early Medieval South Tyrol: anthropological, paleopathological and stable isotope analysis of human skeletal remains

Since the Roman Empire era, the Alpine region was an important natural defense (limes), that starting from the 5th-6th century until the Charlemagne reign, was scene of migration processes of different populations. The Franks and Alemannic crossed the limes from the north-west (Venosta Valley); Longboards (569 A.D.) from the south (Trento duchy); Bavarians from the north (Inn Valley, high Isarco Valley) and Slavic populations from the east (Pusteria Valley). Therefore, at that time, the territory of South Tyrol had a key role, as an important strategic junction between Italy and the Northern part of the Alps. However, based on the few historical and archaeological records it remains unclear in what way and to what extent the German groups interacted with the local romans. Moreover, it is yet to be validated if the noted cultural changes were due to admixture or replacement events. Therefore, very little is known about the population dynamics in Early Medieval South Tyrol and almost no isotope analysis on human bones has been carried out in this region, with the exception being on the Iceman.

Therefore, in 2014, we started a PhD project in collaboration with the Ufficio 13.2, Beni archeologici Autonomous Province of Bolzano-Bozen and the Dept. for Anthropology at the University of Bern (Switzerland). A selection of above 150 skeletons found in 9 archaeological sites dated to the 5th-12th century AD and located in the Tyrolean Valleys will be analysed. The study of the human bones includes a detailed anthropological, paleopathological and stable isotopes analyses (Carbon, Nitrogen and Sulfur), that is an analytical approach not attempted before for the study of these remains, at least in a systematic way.  The primary aims of this project are to reconstruct the biological profile (i.e sex and age at death, metrics, paleopathology and activity markers) of human skeletons and to compare patterns of diet and mobility across Early Medieval valleys in South Tyrol.

PERIOD: 07.01.2014 - 31.12.2019


TEAM: Coia Valentina


  • Autonomous Province of Bolzano-Bozen, Department of Archaeological Heritage
  • Regierungspräsidium Stuttgart, Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Arbeitsstelle Konstanz, Osteologie
  • University of Bern, Department of Physical Anthropology, Institute of Forensic Medicine

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