Hemmaberg/Globasnitz: Living Environments

A bioarchaeological characterization of the health status and living conditions at the transition from late antiquity to the early Middle Ages

The project if financed by a Hertha Firnberg grant of the FWF and its intent is the bioarchaeological investigation of the human skeletal remains from the late antique-early medieval burial grounds of the Hemmaberg and Globasnitz. A comparison of the groups with different cultural backgrounds is intended to provide information about the living conditions during the time of transition from late antiquity to the early Middle Ages.

The 5th/6th century CE: Changes and a new beginning

Shaped by the migration of barbaric people from the north and east into the heart of the Roman Empire and the advent of Christianity, the transitional period from antiquity to the early Middle Ages in the 5th and 6th century influenced the development of the cultural, religious, and political map of Europe as we know it today. Despite the existence of numerous historical and archaeological sources from this period, many questions regarding the development and structure of the early medieval population remain unanswered. 

Human skeletal remains as a source of information 

Human skeletal remains from archaeological excavations are our most direct source about life in the past. Through scientific study aspects such as age, sex, sicknesses, diet, origin, family connections, and physical activity can still be recognized on the bones several hundred years after the death of the individual. As part of this project questions regarding the living conditions during this transitional period will be studied. 

The data: the human skeletons from the Hemmaberg and from Globasnitz

The data is based on the human skeletal remains from the two large burial grounds on the Hemmaberg and from Globasnitz located at the foot of the Hemmaberg in southern Carinthia. The archaeological finds indicate that the successor settlement of the local population from the nearby road station is located on the Hemmaberg. In contrast the grave goods and historical sources suggest that at least some of the burials from Globasnitz are of Ostrogoth military units that had been settled in the area by the Ostrogoth king Theoderic in order to secure the northern border of his kingdom along the main Alpine ridge. Thus, the two settlements are an ideal case study for researching the origin, living conditions, and cohabitation of populations of potentially different ethnicity. In addition to traditional methods for evaluating age at death, sex, and sickness, modern ones will also be employed, such as the analysis of ancient DNA, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and strontium isotopes in order to gain a detailed picture of the nutrition and the geographical origin of the people. This will clarify whether there were differences between the possibly culturally different groups in health, diet, or origin.

Project aims

Through this study it will be possible to capture a comprehensive picture of the life of the people in the eastern Alps at the transition from the Roman domination to the early Middle Ages. Knowledge about the quality of the living conditions, diet but also the occurrence of sicknesses, such as the plague, or violent conflicts is a central element for understanding the behavior of people and groups. Embedded in the historical and archaeological context, the results of these studies will fundamentally contribute to the exploration of one of the most important periods in the history of Europe.