By circa 700 AD, the Western Roman Empire had collapsed for over two centuries, and yet remnants of the Gallo-Roman culture were found in many parts of western Europe. Some of these Gallo-Romans inspired the sustenance of early Christianity in the Frankish lands of the 8th century. And as it turns out, some also made their presence felt in what is now Switzerland.
Pertaining to the latter, researchers, led by reconstruction specialist Oscar Nilsson, have recreated the face of one Adelasius Ebalchus, a presumably Gallo-Roman resident who lived in the northern part of the mountainous realm. His intact grave was one among 47, and it was excavated back in 2014 in the town of Grenchen, Canton Solothurn. Consequently, the facial reconstruction is based on an accurate 3D printed version of Adelasius’ original skull.
Adelasius, having a conspicuous Latinized name (given by an archaeological team), lived during a mercurial period when northern Switzerland was overrun by the Germanic Alemanni tribe. According to Angela Kummer, director of Grenchen Cultural-Historical Museum (where both his remains and reconstruction are being exhibited till June 9) –
Adelasius was a young man, about 20 years old, who lived around AD 700. He was a descendant of the Gallo-Roman population who lived in the region when the Germanic tribes came into the central Swiss plateau in the 7th century. We know very little about this epoch. There are no written sources – people didn’t write anything down – so we have to read what we can from the cemeteries, the skeletons and the remains in the burial sites.
She added –
Because he was buried in an expensive, walled grave, he probably belonged to the richer classes. He’s also got an excellent set of teeth! Back then people very often ate hard grains – gruel was a staple food – but their milling wasn’t that good, so it was quite gritty and ruined many people’s back teeth. Adelasius’s teeth are very healthy – no plaque or rotting or missing teeth – and they are nicely positioned, although they are also slightly worn down by the grains.
Complementing his diet, the man’s height at 173 cm (5’ 7”) was also pretty tall for the era, which suggests a pattern of good nourishment. Furthermore, his Roman-style burial in a grave lined with rocks hints at his higher social status than most of the inhabitants of the area during the early 8th century.
However, while some of the physical pieces of evidence paint the picture of Adelasius’ status and bearing, the Gallo-Roman also had his fair share of health troubles. To that end, he may have suffered from both chronic osteomyelitis (a bone infection) and vitamin deficiencies – which might have led to his early demise at the age of 20 (19 – 22), when life expectancy was around 30 to 40 years.
Lastly, as for history, Mirjam Wullschleger, the leader of the archaeological team that gave Adelasius his name, mentioned how the people living in this area were predominantly of Celtic ethnicity who had taken up the Roman ‘way of life’. In that regard, Adelasius was a Gallo-Roman who probably even spoke a dialect of Latin.
Featured Image Credit: Oscar Nilsson