Immigration is a hot topic in the UK. Dr Hella Eckardt is uncovering the truth behind ancient migration to Britain by analysing Romano-British skeletons to determine their origin.

Working with fellow Reading archaeologist’s Dr Mary Lewis and Dr Gundula Müldner, Dr Hella Eckardt has been applying innovative scientific techniques to skeletons to explore just how diverse the Romano-British population was.

The research uses isotope analysis to determine chemical signatures in teeth and bones. These signatures reflect the water and food that a person consumes in childhood, which helps us to trace where they originally came from.

This work shows that, even in Roman times, Britain had a diverse population, challenging preconceptions about British identity, nationality and migration. These incomers were not just soldiers and administrators, but also women and children.

Hella’s commitment to the study of social and cultural identity saw her receive the acclaimed title of Archaeologist of the Year 2018.

Hella's research feeds directly into her third-year undergraduate module, ‘Objects and identities in the Roman Empire’. It has also helped to shape a number of dissertation projects on Africans in Roman Britain and museum exhibitions that relate to diverse populations.

Teaching staff on specific courses or modules and specific areas of research may be subject to change.

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University of Reading

It's important to remember that migration is not a new issue and, by looking at isotopes to determine origin, we can prove this. This research serves as a timely reminder that Britain has had a rich, diverse social fabric since at least Roman times.

Dr Hella Eckardt, School of Archaeology Geography & Environmental Science
University of Reading