Isotope and DNA analyses of the Ephesian population

As part of the necropolis research, strontium isotopes and DNA analyses have been taking place in Ephesos since 2011 in order to more closely examine the Ephesian population or single individuals in regards to their origin and descent.

DNA-analyses of human remains have led to significant new discoveries over the course of the last three decades: on the one hand we have gained insights into population structures, migration behavior, and colonization of uninhabited areas and on the other it has provided snapshots of daily life situations, such as the spread of diseases and social relations. 


Within this context many individuals of different time periods and varying topographical association have been sampled in Ephesos. The maternal lineages have been determined through the analysis of the mitochondrial DNA and illustrate a highly complex picture of the Ephesian population. These analyses are supplemented by selective DNA-analyses of the nucleus that are being conducted in cooperation with J. Krause (Max Planck Institute, Jena).

The DNA-analyses are further complemented by analyses of the stable strontium isotopes. They provide information on the geographical origin of an individual. The values of these isotopes are unique markers in the geology of a landscape and have largely remained unchanged since antiquity. When samples are taken from the teeth of a human, ideally the location can be determined where an individual grew up or where he spent the rest of his life.

In summer 2016 modern plant samples as well as snail shells were collected in Ephesos and its surroundings in order to obtain reference values for the strontium isotopes and the actual absorption through food consumption. The isotope analyses are being carried out in cooperation with M. Richards and M. Wong (Simon Fraser University, Canada). The research is also taking place in close collaboration with the Department for Bioarchaeology at the OeAI.

Preliminary results

Preliminary analyses of the human remains from the west necropolis demonstrate a highly complex distribution of maternal lineages within the Ephesian population. European lineages as well as those of Asian and/or African origin have been verified. This characterizes Roman Ephesos as a melting pot of people from near and far, as it were from ›all corners of the world‹.