Camels In the Roman Empire? There’s Evidence for That!

Hot on the heels of our questioning of a claim over at Gizmodo (Camels in Greece? Really Gizmodo? Source? comes news of a paper on archaeological evidence for camel use in the Roman Empire in — of all places — Belgium! I first saw it in USA Today, but the abstract for the source article is available at the Journal of Archaeological Science page at Elsevier:

Fabienne Pigièrea, Denis Henrotay, Camels in the northern provinces of the Roman Empire

Abstract

This paper describes the camel bones discovered in two Late Roman contexts from Arlon (Belgium). The morphological and metrical analyses identify the animal as a dromedary.

The goal of this paper is also to provide an inventory of all camel finds published for the northern provinces of the Roman Empire. Based on a review of twenty-two archaeological sites with camel bones, it is shown that both the dromedary and Bactrian camel were imported to the northern Roman provinces and that the camels were present throughout the whole Roman period. This study also demonstrates that the camel discoveries cannot be linked exclusively with military contexts, as traditionally postulated. Indeed, several finds derive from civilian settlements (villas and cities). All sites with camel remains are located close to roads and are widespread throughout the Roman road network. It is suggested that the camels imported to the northern provinces might have been originally pack animals linked with both military and civilian traffic.
Highlights

► We describe the remains of a Late Roman dromedary from a site in Belgium.

► A review of camel finds from 22 sites in the northern Roman provinces is provided.

► Both dromedary and Bactrian camel were imported throughout the whole Roman period.

► Camel discoveries derive from both military and civilian settlements.

► They might have been pack animals linked with the traffic on the Roman road.

As might be expected, if you want to read the whole thing you have to shell out 30+ dollars … that said, for no particular reason except this is one of those things that stuck in my head from grade school when we were studying the assorted gold rushes in British Columbia (or maybe I saw a picture in a museum): some enterprising guy back in the 1860s brought 23 camels to B.C. to serve as pack animals

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