One of the key findings of the work undertaken on the St Augustine’s skeletons is that their age at death profiles and physical attributes suggest a population that was highly mobile and comprised local and non-local individuals of mixed ancestry. This was especially evident in the bone chemistry (stable isotopes) of bone and tooth samples and assessment of ancestry from the skulls, of which skeleton 22989 is a good example.
This female’s skull was quite different in appearance to the skulls of other skeletons from the site and closer examination found that several of their features (the nasal bone area in particular) were consistent with Sub-Saharan African individuals. In addition, isotope analysis suggested that the individual had not originated from Ipswich or the local area, but precisely where they were from cannot presently be determined by the science. Interestingly, the isotope values possibly point to the south-east Devonshire coast, Eastern Ireland or, more likely, the Netherlands, or Southern France. If correct, this would mean that the individual was a second-generation migrant.
Skeleton 22989 is among several skeletons from the site to have been identified as a non-local and/or to have ancestral traits which are not typical of western populations. This finding is not surprising for a large medieval port, characterised by high levels of people movement.
Disease is also characteristic of a medieval port, whereby incomers were exposed to new diseases and they, themselves, introduced new diseases into the population. One such disease is tuberculosis and was identified on 20 skeletons, including the spine of skeleton 22989. The individual had clearly had the disease for some years, because the changes were severe and had caused an excessive outward curve of the spine, which in life would have resulted in an abnormal rounding of the upper back.