Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Robert H. Tykot, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jonathan D. Bethard, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Andrea Vianello, Ph.D.


bioarchaeology, migration, paleodiet, stable isotope analysis


This research project evaluates the effects of increased mobility and culture contact on dietary practices, and on dietary variation among people buried at two northern Italian sites, Chiunsano di Ficarolo and Chiesazza di Ficarolo, located near the ancient Roman capital of Ravenna and dating 4th to 7th century CE. The Early Medieval period was a time of change, political instability, migration and invasion of the “barbarian” tribes, and diet was not unaffected. In particular, it is hypothesized that a new staple crop, millet, was introduced and that meat consumption had increased. The goal of this research is to use stable isotope analysis to reconstruct the diet of people at the Ficarolo sites, evaluate the presence and role of millet and animal protein, and assess potential influences of mobility and culture contact on dietary practices at the sites in the transitional period between Late Roman and Early Medieval times.

In this study, 49 human bone samples from Chiunsano di Ficarolo and Chiesazza di Ficarolo were used for stable isotope analyses of bone apatite and collagen. Carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen isotopes were analyzed to understand diet and mobility patterns at the sites. Additionally, 3 animal bone samples were used for baseline analysis. Previous paleodietary studies indicate that Roman diet of the Imperial period was based on C3 plants and consumption of terrestrial protein, while one of the major incoming groups in this periods, the Langobards, consumed high amounts of C4 plants, such as millet, after migrating into northern Italy. Therefore, the diet at the Ravenna countryside was compared to the traditional Roman diet and dietary practices across the Italian peninsula during these transitional times.

The results of this study show that a mix of C3 plants, such as barley, rye, wheat, oats, and rice, and C4 plants, such as millet and sorghum, was detected in the diet of most individuals tested, as well as a mix of terrestrial and aquatic protein. A full reliance on millet, as was previously detected at the Langobard sites in northern Italy was not detected. On average, diet in the Ravenna countryside appeared to be similar to the traditional Roman diet, however, a higher variation in miller consumption was observed at the Ficarolo sites. Furthermore, a high number of non-local individuals have been detected at the sites. The majority of non-locals appear to have originated from the east and south coastal regions of Italy, with a few coming from drier and hotter environments, potentially North Africa. Dietary difference between local and non-local individuals was identified, with local individuals consuming more C3 plants and freshwater fish and less millet, possibly due to difference in status and access to resources. This research is significant as it fills the gap in knowledge on the diet in the Ravenna countryside during the Migration period.