Ancient London may not have been so different from contemporary London in terms of ethnic diversity after all, a new study revealed.
A genetic analysis of four sets of ancient skeletal remains unraveled how the first Londoners must have looked like, their eye and hair color, the disease that afflicted them and where they were from.
Senior Curator Caroline McDonald of the Museum of London, where the remains are currently kept, said London had been cosmopolitan ever since the invasion of Romans about 2,000 years ago.
McDonald explained that most of the first Londoners were not born in the city, as every first-generation Londoner came from somewhere else. They might have been from somewhere else in Britain, somewhere else in Europe, the Mediterranean or Africa.
"So the stories we can tell about our ancient population are absolutely relevant to modern contemporary London because these are our stories - these are people just like us," said McDonald.
Museum researchers, together with scientists from Durham University and McMaster University in Canada, reconstructed the DNA of the four ancient individuals. These skeletons were part of 20,000 human remains that came from about 5,500 years back.
Researchers found that two of the four skeletons were of people who were born outside of Britain. Of these two, one was of a man who was genealogically connected to Eastern Europe and the Middle East, while the other was of a teenage girl with blue eyes from North Africa, researchers said. One of the four skeletons was of a Briton native.
The Eastern Europe man had injuries to his skull which may suggest that he had been killed at an amphitheater in London before his head was dumped into a pit. He may have been a gladiator in his lifetime, scientists said.
The girl may have been about 14 years old when she died. Her remains were found in a Roman cemetery at Lant Street in Southwark. Researchers said the girl suffered from rickets, a childhood disease caused by deficiency in vitamin D.
The third skeleton was that of a woman, and she may have died shortly after the Romans came to London. She was buried with Roman pottery, and she may have been a native Briton who adopted the Roman lifestyle.
Researchers typically drew up the life of the ancient individual by taking note of the belongings with which they were buried in, but the fourth skeleton had none. This man may have been 45 years old when he died, had very dark brown eyes and hair. His DNA linked him to North Africa and he may have grown up in London, experts said.
Meanwhile, more skeletal remains in the Museum of London are awaiting further study. Among this list is a group of Napoleonic soldiers and marines, as well as more Roman Londoners.
In the meantime, the skeletal remains of the four individuals will be on display at the museum starting Nov. 27 this year.