Determining the sex of infanticide victims from the late roman era through ancient DNA analysis

Marina Faerman*, Gila Kahila, Dvora Filon, Charles L. Greenblatt, Lawrence Stager, Ariella Oppenheim, Patricia Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Infanticide has since time immemorial been an accepted practice for disposing of unwanted infants. Archaeological evidence for infanticide was obtained in Ashkelon, where skeletal remains of some 100 neonates were discovered in a sewer, beneath a Roman bathhouse, which might have also served as a brothel. Written sources indicate that in ancient Roman society infanticide, especially of females, was commonly practised, but that females were occasionally saved and reared as courtesans. We performed DNA-based sex identification of the infant remains. Out of 43 left femurs tested 19 specimens provided results: 14 were found to be males and 5 females. The high frequency of males suggests selective preservation of females and that the infants may have been offspring of courtesans, serving in the bathhouse, supporting its use as a brothel.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)861-865
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1998

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation, administered by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and by the National Center for Cooperation between Science and Archaeology. The archaeological excavations were sponsored by the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon (Israel) and by the Semitic Museum, Harvard University. We also acknowledge the comments of two anonymous referees.


  • Ancient DNA
  • Ashkelon
  • Infanticide
  • Israel
  • Late Roman Period
  • Sex Determination


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