London, Jan 25: Though ancient Romans indeed preferred boys, it does not appear that they went as far as infanticide to skew the sex ratio, say archaeologists.
Infant girls were apparently not killed more often than baby boys in the Roman world, researchers said after studying a cache of baby bones discovered in Britain.
“Very often, societies have preferred male offspring, so when they practice infanticide, it tends to be the male babies that are kept, and the female babies that are killed,” Simon Mays, a skeletal biologist for english heritage – a non-government organisation – was quoted as saying.
Mays and his team used a technique called ancient DNA analysis to study infant bones found at a site called Yewden Villa, near Hambleden, in England.
They tested 33 of the 35 most complete remains, but because DNA does not preserve well in old bones, the researchers were able to tease out sequences for only 12 of the 33.
Of those, seven were female and five were male, a relatively even sex ratio, said the study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
The researchers published a study of the bones suggesting the babies were victims of infanticide, based on the fact that measurements of the long bones of the arms and legs suggested that all of the babies died at the same age, right at the time of birth.
“It seems as though they were not using infanticide to manipulate the sex ratio,” Mays said.
“Now that we can use DNA to tell whether the babies were male or female, we’re starting to revise the commonly held assumptions about infanticide in the Roman world,” Kristina Killgrove, a bioarchaeologist at University of West Florida, was quoted as saying on LiveScience.com.