Recent finds have yet again shown why it would have been hard being a kid in the past, and I’m not talking about the lack of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Two excavations from England have found remains of children who died under not so pleasant circumstances, as well as one from Turkey.
In Norththumberland at the Roman site of Vindolanda, a child aged 8 to 10 years has been found. The site dates back 1,800 years. What makes this burial unique is that the grave site was found within the corner of one of the barracks, and consists only of a shallow grave. Burials in domestic settings were strictly forbidden, leading experts to suspect that this was related to a crime since concealment of a burial alone was a criminal act. The relative positioning of the arm and leg bones also suggest the child had been tied up (BBC 2010). The remains have been sent to University of Durham for further analysis that may be able to reveal more information on the child and the cause of death.
200 years before this murder, children’s burials were found in association with sacrificed animals outside of an Iron Age or Roman settlement site south of London. However, it is unclear from the article as to the conditions of the burials and what relationship the animal and children’s remains have to one another. (Press Assication 2010).
Even earlier, approximately 8,500 years ago, 2 adults and 3 children under 5 years old, were found in a burial mound near Bursa, Turkey. Given their arrangement it is likely that their arms were tied behind their backs, and one of the children was possibly hog-tied. They hope they can determine whether this group represents a family, and future research will enlighten on the Neolithic people of Turkey.
Children are a difficult topic in mortuary studies since the definition of childhood is so culturally variable. In a society where the average age at death is 30, it wouldn’t be odd for 10 to be considered adult. The question is how to interpret these burials in the correct contextual framework. Was the ‘murder’ in Northumberland adult vs. adult? It is also difficult to pin down age and sex in childhood cases, as often the bones are missing or degraded. It is also important to consider our own biases and reactions. We must carefully read the evidence presented, and beware our own bias.
BBC News. 2010. Northumberland roman fort’s child murder mystery. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-11324607
Press Association. 2010. Iron age human remains found on school site. http://www.google.com/hostednews/ukpress/article/ALeqM5jOrCJpXglAovpLnVQEV4Y6ar0qkA