Who were the miners of Allumiere? A multidisciplinary approach to reconstruct the osteobiography of an Italian worker community

Marica Baldoni, Gabriele Scorrano, Angelo Gismondi, Alessia D'Agostino, Michelle Marie Alexander, Luca Gaspari, Fabrizio Vallelonga, Antonella Canini, Olga Rickards, Cristina Martínez-Labarga

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This research presents an in-depth study of the skeletal remains collected from the archaeological site of Allumiere (15th-16th centuries CE; Rome, Italy). A multidisciplinary approach was used, combining skeletal biology, molecular anthropology and archaeobotany with the aim of reconstructing the osteobiography of the alum miners buried at the site. Since 1460, the area of the Tolfa Mountains was significant for the exploitation of alum which was used for a wide range of purposes in the Middle Ages, ranging from woven production to medical practice. A total of 70 individuals (63 adults and 7 juveniles) were studied. The sex ratio of the community indicated a higher prevalence of males with respect to females. Morphological examination indicated occupational musculoskeletal stress markers, which might reflect the specific phase of alum production that each individual was occupied in. Dietary reconstruction was primarily performed through carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analysis with integration of the results obtained by microscopic, genetic and GC-MS investigations on dental calculus. The diet was omnivorous, indicating a reliance on C3-terrestrial protein and evidence for limited C4 consumption by some individuals. Herbivores, such as sheep and cattle, appear to have contributed to the diet more than pigs and chickens. Consumption of Fagaceae and Poaceae species was predominant; moreover, indicators of Brassicaceae and milk and its derivatives were abundantly recurrent in the population, followed by plant oils and theophylline. Furthermore, the detection of pharmacological alkaloids indicated the knowledge and application of medicinal plants by the community. The novel use of multiple techniques based on cutting-edge technologies has provided a unique window on the lifestyles of individuals from one of the first Italian settlements of alum workers.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0205362
Number of pages29
JournalPLOS one
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 11 Oct 2018

Bibliographical note

© 2018 Baldoni et al.


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