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You are here: Home / Library / RBINS Staff Publications 2020 / Mobility and origin of camels in the Roman Empire through serial stable carbon and oxygen isotopes variations in tooth enamel

S. G. Habinger, Bea De Cupere, F. Dövener, E. Pucher and Hervé Bocherens (2020)

Mobility and origin of camels in the Roman Empire through serial stable carbon and oxygen isotopes variations in tooth enamel

Quaternary International, 557:80-91.

Although camels are not indigenous to Europe, they have been found at several sites from several Roman provinces dating from the beginning of the 1st century AD onwards. It must have been beneficial to bring them there. Based on finds of remains from juvenile individuals (e.g. from Tanais), it has been suggested that the Romans might have systematically bred camels within Europe. For this study, we took serial samples of the enamel of four camels from European sites (Innsbruck-Wilten, Mamer-Bertrange, Tongeren, and Trier) dating to the 2nd - 4th century AD. We measured the relative abundances of carbon and oxygen isotopes of the carbonate fraction from the tooth enamel. The continuous record of oxygen and carbon isotopic composition of the intra-tooth enamel serial samples reflects the climate and habitat in which an individual lived during the time of tooth mineralization. We used these data to make a rough evaluation of the areas of origin consistent with the relative abundances of the isotopes from the enamel of the camels and attempt to reconstruct their life history and mobility behavior based on the different ecological characteristics of the habitats represented in the isotopic data. Furthermore, the data can function as an additional proxy for species determination, due to the different habitats of Camelus bactrianus and Camelus dromedarius. This work also yields interesting insights on the similarities in the mobility pattern of the camels from Mamer-Bertrange and Trier. In combination with archaeological evidence, it was possible to tentatively connect them with specific military units, i.e. the detachments of the Legio VIII Augusta.
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