|The great archway leading to the grand collonade in Roman Palmyra. Image|
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Hadrian renamed the oasis town "Palmyra Hadriana." Modest guys, those Roman emperors. The city's wealth faded with the decline of Roman influence in ancient Syria.
Starting in 1990, Japanese archaeologists began excavating the southeast necropolis of Palmyra and examined remains from the Roman era. Despite Palmyra's prosperity, "skeletal remains uncovered from the underground tombs of Palmyra have been found to retain an arthropathy of the joints, especially in the knee joint, bone fracture, marked bone lipping, spur formation, and eburnation (smoothed bone cavities)," reports the team led by Kiyohide Saito of the Archaeological Institute of Kashihara in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
|Funerary Portrait of Yarkhai, Son of Ogga and Balya his Daughter |
from Palmyra in Roman Syria 150-200 CE Limestone. Photographed at the
Portland (Oregon) Art Museum by Mary Harrsch © 2012.
Palmyrans drank, and still drink, water from wells tapped from ground water by long tunnels called "qanats" (an excellent Scrabble word). The area's geology and water table has been stable for about 7000 years, meaning water conditions now aren't greatly different from those during Roman times. In a bid to estimate the fluoride burden suffered by the town's ancient inhabitants, the researchers analyzed the water from these wells. Fluoride levels were as high as three parts per million in the water, a level that a National Academy of Sciences report in March warned could lead to fluorosis.
Archaeologists also ground up seven discolored teeth from tomb inhabitants, and compared them to seven others without discoloration, to reveal their fluoride concentration. In a chemical reaction, fluoride tends to replace some calcium in tooth enamel, making overexposure to fluoride particularly worrisome for children with growing teeth and bones. The ground-up teeth revealed that in the most discolored ones, about 22% of the calcium had been replaced by fluoride. "Thus, it was possible to directly verify that the ancient inhabitants of Palmyra did suffer from fluorosis," they conclude.
|Vesuvius still hovers threateningly over the remains|
of Herculaneum near Naples, Italy.
Photo by Mary Harrsch © 2007.
"This percentage is very low for both modern and ancient populations, in which values were between 8.5%, as in classic Magna Graecia and 11.4%, as in Roman Britain," the researchers stated.
However, the researchers also discovered a high percentage of individuals with calcium-deficient tooth enamel - a condition often resulting from starvation at an early age but also found in well nourished individuals suffering from fluorosis.
"To elucidate this hypothesis, we examined thin sections of permanent teeth enamel (first molar) from 8 individuals found in the Herculaneum arches site and from a present-day patient from Pisa without evidence of fluorosis, as control," the researchers explained, "Enamel was analysed by energy dispersion system (EDS) with an SEM (Jeol) 6400 connected to a microanalysis system (EDS) (Noran-Tracor) with a detection of Z-MAX 30. Enamel fluorine concentrations were greater than 10-fold higher than normal (1500-3600 parts per million [ppm]) were recorded in 6 individuals."
|Skeletal remains of 32 victims awaiting evacuation in the boat chambers of|
Herculaneum. Image courtesy of Tom Huesing via Flickr.
Researchers concluded that some of the sampled remains may have been visitors to the area, since the Roman aristocracy maintained vacation villas in the area.