Solving the mystery of the young man who sailed from the Black Sea to Britannia 2,000 years ago

2000-year-old skeleton of a young man from Sarmayatian

The mystery of a young man born around the Black Sea in Roman times (43-410 AD) who traveled thousands of miles to Britain is being solved.

Using DNA analysis methods, researchers have revealed that the late man belonged to a nomadic group known as the Sarmatians.

Archaeologists have discovered a complete, well-preserved skeleton of a man they have named Offord Cluny 203645. The skeleton was found during excavations to improve the A14 road between Cambridge and Huntingdon. The skeleton had no belongings with it, making it a mystery.

Dr. Marina Silva of the Laboratory of Ancient Genomics at the Francis Crick Institute in London extracted and decoded Offord’s ancient DNA from a small bone taken from his inner ear, the best-preserved part of the entire skeleton.

“It’s not like testing the DNA of someone who is alive,” she explained.

“The DNA is very fragmented and damaged. However, we were able to (decode) enough.

“The first thing we saw was that it was genetically very different from other Romano-British individuals that have been studied so far.”

DNA analysis showed that the young man came to Britain from the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire in southern Russia, Armenia and Ukraine. The man was from Sarmayatian.

The aDNA test alone could not confirm whether the man was born outside Britain.

The mystery continued with this result. But what had the young man with the sarmayat traveled thousands of miles for? What had brought him to Britain.

The mystery continued with this result. But what had the young man with the sarmayat traveled thousands of miles for? What had brought him to Britain.

Roma Empire_Sarmatian
Source: Francis Crick Institute

To find the answer, archaeologists at Durham University analyzed his teeth.

Archaeologists analyzed isotopes (forms of the elements carbon, nitrogen, strontium and oxygen) from the teeth of individuals excavated during the project.

This individual stood out because the data showed that he did not grow up in Britain, but in a much colder or continental location.

In addition, he had experienced two major dietary changes in his childhood, which would be linked to a migration westwards towards England.

Until he was five or six years old, he lived in an arid area in eastern continental Europe, where he ate a lot of C4 crops that were not native to Europe, such as millet and sorghum.

As he grew older, he migrated west and these plants disappeared from his diet.

Sarmatian young man
Source: MOLA HEADLAND INFRASTRUCTURE

They were replaced by C3 crops such as wheat, barley, rye and all the fruits and vegetables we eat today.

Isotopes can rarely pinpoint the exact place of origin and this is where Ancient DNA (aDNA) can help.

In conclusion, previous burial evidence from Britain suggests that entire families may have joined the Sarmatian Cavalry sent to Britain by Marcus Aurelius, so it is possible that the person found in Cambridgeshire was linked to the cavalry.

Whatever the reasons for his extraordinary journey, his burial highlights how the entire Roman Empire was deeply connected, from the Caucasus to rural Cambridgeshire.

Cover Photo: Sarmatian young man/MOLA HEADLAND INFRASTRUCTURE

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