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Chapter One


Context and interpretation

When the archaeologists excavating South Shields Roman fort discovered that infants had
been buried in the late military barracks, what ought they to have made of this evidence? Are
the burials best understood in terms of family life, or ritual and religion, or surreptitious
behaviour, or perhaps the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, or some other process
entirely? What is the correct context for interpretation of these burials? The fort as a whole?
All Roman forts as a whole? All infant burials within Roman Britain? Or, all infant burials in
Roman Britain but of a comparable date? Or the entire mortuary record for Roman Britain?
Clearly the context one chooses will have fairly serious implications for the content of the
resulting interpretive narrative. Site-by-site interpretations of infant evidence will differ
qualitatively from those which are more broadly contextualized. A further related point is that
it has almost always been assumed that infant burials record direct behaviour, and the
evidence of infant burials from Roman forts in Britain is a case in point. The excavators of
Housesteads linked the presence of infant burials in the later phases of the structure to the
presence of artefacts with female associations, such as earrings, finger rings and hair pins,
and they further linked a restructuring of the barrack rooms to the presence of women -
soldiers wives - within the fort. This interpretation has now been fairly convincingly negated
by a recent study of small finds which reveals that such items with female associations are no
more common in the later levels of northern frontier forts than they were in the earlier levels
(Bidwell 1997, 64). However, the real problem with the original interpretation was that it did
nothing to explain the meaning of the infant burials. It was as though the postulated presence
of women was explanation enough in itself. This does not constitute visibility for women,
for their agency is given no purpose or structure - it is silent, hysterical and they are the
objects rather than the subjects of action. It is precisely these kinds of problems which this
book addresses.

Writing a study of infancy and infant death

This volume views archaeology as the study of the material remains of the human past in the
broadest sense, and so this particular archaeological study includes reference to ancient
documents as well as including two chapters which suggest that the deconstruction of our
own attitudes and biases towards infancy and infant death is crucial. Such deconstruction
necessitates awareness of our own current practices and ideologies as well as those of other
cultures. This book is therefore a wide-ranging archaeological description and analysis of
infancy, the social constructions of infancy, and the practices of infant care and social
reproduction through time and across space. The main themes of this book are the ways in
which infants have lived in and have been perceived by society, the burial of the infant dead,
and the meanings of domestic infanticide and infant sacrifice. And it is not solely a book
about infants; it examines infancy as a process with meanings which have varied between and
sometimes within societies, and it addresses the relationships between infants and adults. The
approach I have adopted is broadly thematic, with long and short case studies used to
examine particular contexts for infancy or infant death in prehistory and antiquity. The book
begins with an examination of the ways in which the infant is manipulated, idealised,
excluded and denigrated in modern society, and offers an assessment of the significance and
broader implications of this contradictory cultural response to infant life and infant death. The
contradictions which lie at the heart of attitudes to infants, and the exclusion of neonates from
communal life and communal burial, are recurrent themes of the book. The chapter on the
role of the infant in evolution looks at the particular debates which benefit from greater
visibility of the infant, and this is followed by other thematic chapters which also home in on
particular issues and case studies. Chapter Five, for example, looks at two key subject areas:
the infant during the transition from foraging-hunting to farming, and infant care as social
metaphor. The remainder of the book - a substantial portion - deals with infant death:
domestic infanticide, infant sacrifice, and the burial evidence for infants from the Neolithic
period through to Mediaeval times. The whole is rounded off with a short concluding chapter
which aims to establish some general statements about past attitudes to infancy and the
treatment of infants, whilst stressing the particularity and specificity of the various historical
contexts which have been examined.

The power of the contradictory infant

Infancy, whilst a biological stage of human development, is also a social construct. In many
cultures the infant was not considered to be a full member of society, and it was treated
differently from adults in both life and death. The very word infant comes from the Latin
infantia, which means unable to speak (Richards 1980, 4) and reveals how in this cultural
tradition the infant was categorized conceptually according to its lack of language. A further
categorization of the infant existed in Roman culture, and this was the general acceptance that
an infant under 40 days old was not fully human and therefore could be excluded from the
law that burial should not take place within a town or settlement. Indeed in Rome itself and
its hinterland, the normal practice was to bury newborn infants underneath the eaves of
houses. It was within this initial 40 day period that the head of the Roman family, the
paterfamilias, could expose the infant - abandon it outside - with impunity. As we shall later
see, the Romans were horrified that the Phoenicians could sacrifice older infants, sometimes
aged two and three, precisely because to the Roman way of thinking these infants were in the
process of becoming young children, able to speak, walk, eat and understand that they were
members of families. For some cultures the naming of the infant, usually within the first few
months of its life, was the key transitional point when it was accepted by its kin and its
community. That the infant is sometimes considered to be different after it has been given a
name is demonstrated by the case of the Kafirs of Afghanistan, for whom the word to name
means literally to pour into; the infants name is believed to be connected to the infants
soul and gives it an identity which is linked to its ontological status (Aria and Dunham 1991,
157; Rogers 1989). The Romans were not so concerned with the act of naming, and instead
established the 40 day cutoff point, probably because their significant nomen names derived
from family names and were therefore fixed at birth. Men could be given one of only about a
dozen forenames (such as Lucius and Sextus), and there were none for women. The
cognomen, a kind of additional surname, was an important distinguishing feature for a
person, but the cognomen was not usually added until later childhood or adulthood.

In other cultures, however, the infant was imbued with a different set of characteristics. In
ancient Egypt the newborn infant was seen as an embodiment of the god Horus. Many of the
spells designed to protect the Egyptian newborn identify it with Horus the child (Robins
1993, 86), Horus being the deity traditionally depicted sitting on his mother Isiss lap in one
of the earliest madonna-and-child iconographic poses. Infant as god was also a feature of the
Greek and Roman pantheon, with Eros and Cupid being transformed during the renaissance
into extraordinary, lasciviously corporeal and morally ambivalent cupids and cherubs in
paintings such as van Nieulandts Rest on the Flight from Egypt, itself part of the narrative
testament to the perceived power of the infant Jesus (fig 1).

Defining infancy

In our own society, pregnant women are instructed about the stages of infant development
which are perceived as being partly physical and partly behavioural-cognitive, the whole tied
in to biological age within a medicalized context. Thus, according to standard guide issued to
all first time mothers by the Health Education Authority (HEA), any infant not reaching
certain milestones by certain ages should be taken to see a doctor (HEA 1994b, 28-19).
What are deemed to be the important milestones are divided into four categories: movement,
handling things, hearing and talking, and seeing, and these are reinforced by Health Visitors
who visit the infant in its home to engage it in the performance of required tasks, such as the
18 month visit where the infant is expected to build towers with small bricks and respond
appropriately to various audiovisual stimuli. Whilst most baby care guides actually do
acknowledge that infants develop in certain motor and cognitive areas at very different rates,
nevertheless the general pattern of time-based skill learning is relentlessly used as a
framework for description of and advice on the infant-parent relationship. Penelope Leach
has been especially influential here, using her professional background in child
developmental psychology to inform her categorisation of infant stages as follows: the
newborn (the first few days of life); the settled baby (the first six months); the older baby
(from six months to one year); the toddler (from one year to two and a half); the pre-school
child (from two and a half to five) (Leach 1988, 6-7). But of course science is not objective,
and developmental psychology is no exception. Many baby care books have been deservedly
criticized for being wish lists of middle class expectations of the social and cultural
development of the child, rather than impartial descriptions of physiological norms. Leach,
for example, despite her neutral tone, is quite prescriptive on some purely cultural
phenomena, such as infants eating with cutlery, and in two separate books gives her opinions
on the desirability of the infant being given a spoon as early as possible (1983, 331-2; 1988,

All this begins to suggest to us how different social practices and values, and differences in
various perspectives, affect attitudes towards and interpretation of infants and infancy. This
includes archaeologists views about evidence from the past, particularly where - to us -
emotive subjects such as the killing of infants are concerned. The Romans saw nothing wrong
with killing infants per se, as long as they were extremely young indeed. We, on the other
hand, whilst condemning all killings of infants, tend to equate extreme youth with extreme
innocence and current media narratives strongly suggest that as a society we particularly
abhor the abandonment and deliberate killing of newborn and very young infants. But
modern concepts such as cruelty and wrongdoing become fairly meaningless when
discussing the cultural practices of past societies, and what I wish to demonstrate in this work
is that it is much more productive to look at the relationships between infants and their
families and communities and the relationships between infancy and other cultural processes
and categories if we are to understand the power of the infant and the manipulation of the
infant as a key factor in cultural expressions of social, symbolic and economic systems.

This also raises the point that there can be no prescriptive definition of infant. We can only
ever have a social understanding of biology. At a bland level, infancy equates to babyhood,
but exactly when an infant ceases to be an infant and becomes a child is open to debate and
varies from culture to culture. We like to think that we in the modern west have arrived at a
biological definition of infancy, although this itself is debated and has undergone rapid
change in the last few decades, and our definitions may have little bearing on how past
societies perceived infancy or stages of infancy. In 1980 child psychologist Martin Richards
viewed the end of infancy as being at around the end of the second year, based on physical
characteristics such as being able to talk and move around independently from adults
(Richards 1980, 114), whereas in Leachs 1988 edition of Baby and Child sees the transition
from older baby (toddler) to child as a gradual behavioural shift, occurring at any time from
two and a half to four years. For Lansdown and Walker, the transition from baby to toddler to
child is also a gradual process, but they see the main shift from infancy to childhood
occurring between eighteen months and three years (1991). Real confusion over the end of
infancy manifests itself in the breastfeeding debate, where pressure to breastfeed the
newborn, and to continue for six months, is followed by pressure to stop once the baby is
older. The newscaster Pamela Armstrong memorably appeared on television in January
1998 to talk about her plans to breastfeed her son until the age of four, and she observed that
she had been vilified for this decision. This then gives us another measure of the end of
infancy: when the infant is old enough to be aware of breasts. Coercive advice to start and
stop breastfeeding within a prescribed chronology is probably a current fad of the middle
class childcare literature, but there are echoes of it as well in Health Education Authority
literature which is aimed predominantly at younger and working class mothers (eg HEA
1994b, 6-13, 70). Some authorities are happy to see babies breastfed as long as the mother
and baby want to continue to do so, but the advice for bottlefed babies is to be introduced to a
cup at 4-5 months (eg Leach 1988, 203, 204), creating, in effect, a two-tier system of infancy
which is articulated not just through concepts but also through material culture, and which
impacts on gender and class relations.

I do not therefore have a cutoff point for infancy. I do give biological ages of infants
wherever known, and I use a kind of shorthand to describe some roughly distinguishable
chronological stages of infancy: perinatal describes infants around the age of birth;
neonatal is used for the newborn; very young infants are those about one year and under;
and older infants are those aged from around two to three. This is an artefact of the
published material from excavations. There are horrendous problems with ageing infant
skeletal material, and rarely can excavators be more precise than this. Other excavators are
simply not concerned with the infant data. All infants and children and young juveniles may
even be lumped in together in one category.

The evidence discussed in this book does indicate that societies distinguished infancy from
childhood to some degree, and, moreover, than the perinatal/neonatal period was frequently
recognized as a particular and different stage of infancy. For example, we will encounter
large-scale cemetery exclusion of neonates in a variety of cultural contexts. Also, a wide
range of archaeological and historical evidence strongly suggests that the infant was
frequently excluded from society - considered a stranger - and that this is articulated through
ritual and collective memory. Thus periods of postnatal seclusion might be followed by a
formalized introduction of the infant to the family and wider community, and gradually the
new stranger becomes a member of society (Aria and Dunham 1991, 122, 150-70).
Surprisingly perhaps, given our societys current obsession with babies, baby care and baby
marketing, this separation of the infant from adult society lingers for an especially long time
in western culture, possibly because we no longer have formal rituals for introducing the
infant to its community. This separation of the infant from the adult world is especially
articulated through the use of material culture and space, such as the prams and pushchairs
which distance the infant from its parent who is constantly pushing the infant away, the cots
and playpens which confine the infant to a discrete space, and the much-desired separate
bedrooms which place physical distance between the parent and the infant. The use of wet
nurses and nurseries known from cultures as varied as dynastic Egypt and Mediaeval England
also brings in to play the concept of rank and class, and we must consider whether stranger-
infancy has been used a mechanism by some higher ranks to reinforce their difference from
those beneath them in the social hierarchy. The attempted creation of distance, whether it be
spatial, conceptual or emotional, is a common motif in societies in which are undergoing
tension and change.

Despite this exclusion - and possibly contingent upon it - the infant was given special
associations with ritual in life and in death. These rituals can act as significant cultural
markers, as we shall see in Chapters Eight and Nine in particular. For example, Marshall
Becker (1997) has recently suggested that differences in infant burial rite articulated a
perceived Etruscan ethnic identity in the later Roman period. Whereas the Romans buried
their infants under house eaves, the inhabitants of Etruria buried their infants in small
cemeteries, sometimes in the ruins of disused farmhouses. Infants are found in an remarkable
variety of burial contexts: as single dedicatory burials in building foundations, at the bases of
totemic posts from temple precincts, burned and buried in their thousands at Phoenician
tophets, in farmyards, under house floors and sometimes in ordinary cemeteries. However, a
common theme running though these contexts from various periods and locations is the
tendency for infants, more than any other demographic group, to be excluded from communal
burial grounds and to be diverted to other contexts - often contexts apparently linked with
domestic settings such as houses. Whilst we must resist the tendency to automatically dismiss
these infant burials as a simple reflection of the fact that they were tied to the feminine
domestic realm, we should certainly be exploring the light that they might shed on womens
agency in the past. This in turn impacts upon our understanding of the significance of
womens involvement in the other main context for infant burials - the agricultural realm.
This book also tackles some of the ideas which seem to be implicit in prehistoric and historic
social narratives, such as the notion that domestic infanticide tended toward the killing of the
unvalued female, whilst infant sacrifice tended toward the killing of the valued male, and the
systems, processes and tensions which determine the value of infants of a particular sex or
rank are placed under scrutiny.

The infant embodies a number of contradictory forces which make it a powerful symbol
within human culture. Images of the infant, and the infant dead (see Chapters 3 & 6-9), can
be manipulated to make statements, to reflect cultural beliefs, to affect existing ideological
schemes and to articulate social and political tensions and concerns. In relation to this, I have
previously suggested (1992, 82; and see figs 2-7) that is possible to suggest a set of
contradictions relating to the infant which looks something like this:

Even the most cursory examination of the earlier twentieth century baby care books reveals
the essential tension governing the rationale and content of such works: are babies
manipulative or not? In the immediate pre-war period, expert Sir F Truby King was quite
clear about the results of feeding a baby simply because it was crying with hunger: there is
no surer way of ruining a babys digestion and converting him into a fretful, exacting little
tyrant, who knows he can get his way by merely crying (1937, 184). However, in the past-
war period, from Spock and Piaget onwards, the idea that infants were manipulative was
reconstituted. Advice such as it is better to leave a baby to cry rather than spoil him ... is
unworthy of consideration (Nash 1980, 124). Babies never cry for nothing (Leach 1988,
94). But the apparent change in attitudes towards crying infants has had the effect of adding
to the duties and burdens of mothers in relation to volume of work and expectations of
domestic and familial harmony. Rather than being manipulated by the infant, women are now
manipulated by the idealisation of infancy. Because they are permitted to be comforting,
they are concomitantly expected to be calm, organized, nurturing, competent and attractive.
When it is time to get up, bath or shower, and dress immediately, rather than give way to the
temptation to struggle into a dressing gown (Nash 1980, 122). Daily life with a baby ... is
made up of hundreds of minutes of minutiae. The more smoothly those minutes roll by, the
more easily his hair gets washed, his meal gets prepared or he is settled to sleep ... (Leach
1988, 15). Practise relaxation techniques; [The] changes need not be permanent. A saggy
tummy can be tightened up with exercise, and weight gain will gradually drop off if you eat
and exercise sensibly...if it makes you feel good to paint your toe nails, then make time to do
it (HEA 1994b, 5, 107).

The issue of the possible manipulative abilities of infants and the process of the idealisation
of infancy breaks down to a number of other concerns, especially about keeping the infant
clean, separate and quiet, because the infant is always potentially a vehicle of immense
pollution, from its unpredictable and therefore uncontrolled production of urine, faeces and
vomit, to its intense relationship with its mothers breasts and its capacity to cry loudly and
piercingly. It is not just the infant which has to be controlled, but also adult reactions to
infants. Leach fears adult repulsion by or exploitation of infant sexuality (ie infant
masturbation) (1988, 220, 434), and suggests that mothers have the primary responsibility
for controlling their infants crying (1983, 242). It is in these startling contradictions that the
power of the infant lies, as this book attempts to demonstrate with reference to not only the
present, but also to the past.

Identifying the gap in archaeology: why an interest in infancy?

There is no archaeology of infancy. But infants are not outside of culture: infancy has agency,
and is a process which is affected by human culture - including human ideas of nature. But
infancy, potentially a fascinating subject of study, has been neglected. One suspects that this
is because infants are seen as womens work, itself erroneously viewed as static, one-
dimensional and unimportant. Yet infant care is dynamic social reproduction, and the study of
infant care is vital to an understanding of cultural structures and change. Included in such a
study must be an examination of infanticide, infant sacrifice and infant burial. For example,
there is an implicit belief that excess female infant mortality has always been the norm in
human history, predominantly as result of the widespread practice of preferential female
infanticide, yet the evidence for and the implications of this proposition have never before
been seriously addressed.
It is the social conditioning of infants by parents or other carers which produce the families,
kinship groups, communities, societies and civilizations which archaeologists study. It is
differences in the socialization of infants which produces the astounding variety of social
structures on our planet as well as the infinite variety of individual agents. Ironically, then, it
has been the world of the adult male which has been most investigated in the search for the
causes of culture change, rather than the realm of socialization. The infant has been subsumed
by the problemmatical concept of the mother-infant pair, perceived as a somewhat static
component of the narratives of the human past, whereas adult male been written as hunter,
shamen, farmer, craft specialist, tribal chieftain, general and emperor. Women, until
remarkably recently, have been defined very much in terms of their reproductive role. This
volume too is concerned with matters of maternity and infancy, but it seeks to examine how
the various roles attributed to adults and infants in different societies in the past were used to
shape and define not just the lives of women and infants but also the lives of men, as well as
being affected by and in turn impacting upon prevailing cultural ideas about humanity,
pollution, sexuality and innocence. Such abstract concepts are the glue which hold societies
together, and tension between abstractions and human actors can lead to cultural change. For
example, a sense of unease about the infants physical contact with the sexualized breast
prevents many women from breastfeeding in the west today, and for a whole host of reasons
it is now class which is the best predictor of which method of feeding a woman will choose.

Child psychologists have long sought to understand the natural and the social processes
involved in infant development, yet, in terms of providing a long-term historical context for
infancy, they are in some ways little further along the road from the time when Burton White
in exasperation wrote:

The most appropriate word I can think of to describe our progress toward our
professional goals during the last 70 years is pitiful.
(1971, 133).

And, despite a huge surge of scientific interest in foetal and infant development and the
ethology of infancy, and even a little modern historical interest in childbirth, there is still no
archaeology of infancy and, where discussion of infancy take place, it is assumed to belong in
the realm of womens archaeology - in other words, a fringe interest within a fringe subject.

This book will challenge many of the assumptions of archaeologists about what are the
important categories of study. It will also critically examine many of the assumptions of
evolutionary biologists and prehistorians about the development of human nature and sexual
behaviour, and will demonstrate to archaeologists that infants and infancy is a category of
evidence which should be reclaimed from the academic store-cupboard. Much of the
discussion will be aided by deconstruction of many modern ideas and biases concerning
pregnancy, birth, infancy and parenting, whilst examining how these processes and events
occurred in the past. The infant, and the parenting processes of infant socialization, will be
made visible.

Some theoretical considerations

Age and gender processes and cultural transmission

The first thing which needs to be said is that this book is not predicated on a particular body
of core theory, nor does it follow a path dictated by a particular thrust of feminist or gender
theory. I dont believe that it is possible to apply an overarching gender theory to
archaeological data. I am in agreement with Boyd (1997) who pointed out that there are
uncertainties about the analytical procedures of an engendered archaeology. But,
nevertheless, gendered theory does permit and encourage a greater degree of theoretical
coherence in the sense that women, and the social processes which construct and define
women, are included in archaeological research programmes not by default but by design.
Thus this project does attempt to provide a gender-informed discussion of archaeological and
ancient historical evidence for infancy and to provide a narrative which recognises the
centrality not just of women as active agents within societies but also of gender as a major
process in cultural transmission and the living of lives.

There needs to be a similar programme of thinking with regard to children, not least in
respect of infants who are especially marginalized from discourse. Even within feminist
research infants and children have been assigned, probably unconsciously, a residual status
(eg see Scott 1997, 7). This situation is theoretically intolerable, because, far from infants
being cultural baggage, it is through the social reproduction of infants and children that
cultural transmission and cultural change actually occur. This idea might seem at odds with
prevailing archaeological theory which holds that cultural transmission can only be explained
through examination of adult social institutions and by means of paradigmatic analogies with
Darwinian evolutionary theory (eg Shennan 1989); but, as this book will suggest, there is
great scope within the archaeological record to examine the status and identities of infants,
and to ask how these were understood through the body, through memory and through the
setting up of tensions; for example, what was the relationship betwen infants and men and
women and the power structure of the family in particular societies (and how can we know)?
There is also the possibility of increasing awareness and understanding the role of infants in
cultural change, and of examining what in broad terms I would refer to as childrens
cultures: human processes transmitted from child to child through social contact which
become prime movers in intra- and inter-generational linguistic and cultural change. One
generation is not destined simply to repeat the thoughts and actions of the previous generation
because children are not enculturated in a simple way: they challenge and rebel against the
routines being taught them; they alter language and develop pidgins into creoles; and they
acquire knowledge, skills and values through many routes and via many relationships.
Change these relationships and cultural transmission itself is changed - and the result is
cultural change.

I also wish to give greater prominence to the evidence for infant burial and infanticide, and
assign it cultural meaning beyond casual disposal and the culling of unwanted females. As I
have previously argued with regards to the Roman period,

if we can get ourselves past the Victorian obsession with baby-dropping, we might be
able to detect complex patterns of ritual and ideological treatment of deceased infants,
and further be able to contextualize the evidence to understand more of gender
relations, power structures within the family and funerary practices in general.
(Scott 1997, 7-8).

The theoretical perspective which informed the writing of this work is therefore one which
goes beyond observation of the biological and examines the social construction of the
particular human age-stage known as infancy. Age, gender, class and race are structuring
principles which are found in most human societies: each person in every society is
recognised as having a place in a social hierarchy (rank or class), a racial or ethnic identity,
an age identity and a social sexuality (gender), and other members of that society use the
information to fix their own and each others positions within society. Not only is teaching
new members of society about their place an important part of infant and child
socialization, but these processes themselves form important components of social
reproduction and cultural change. It could thus probably be argued that age and gender are
two significant missing factors in archaeological research. Indeed, many works purporting to
be about prehistoric and ancient societies are actually studies of rank or class from an adult
male perspective (ibid., 1-12; Nelson 1997, 43), and while this is perhaps an understandable
approach, mimicking as it does the structures given importance in our own society, it
excludes more than it includes. The approach can hardly therefore be said to construct a
complete picture of any given society in the past, for where are age and gender - and
especially age?

Sex is to gender as biological age is to ...?

Anthropologists have long noted that variation in the social construction of age groups is a
significant factor in understanding the social structures of other cultures. The concept of
childhood varies enormously, for example, around the world. We might perceive the age of
seven to be an age of innocence and endless playtime, but this is the age at which a child is
expected to take on adult working responsibilities in other cultures.

How can archaeologists begin to recognize social age categories and processes? The idea of
mortuary practice as idealised social categorisation (Barrett 1988; Mizoguchi 1992, 46),
now a pretty standard idea in archaeological literature, should give us some clues about how
we might start to give consideration to age issues. The infant has a biological reality of being
different from adults and even different from children: it is helpless and lacks control of its
faculties. As we shall see later in this volume, societies add cultural definitions of the
nature of infants to this basic template: they are amoral, manipulative, innocent etc. And, as
we shall also see, infants are very frequently treated differently from adults and even from
children in idealised social spheres such as death and burial. Is it in the biological perception
of the infant that we might find the origins of its segregation, its apartness, in life and death?
We might compare the situation with that of sex and gender. As the cultural identification of
sex leads to the cultural identification of gender (Nordbladh and Yates 1990), so the cultural
identification of infancy leads to the cultural identification of some separate state. Are the
exclusionary treatments accorded to neonates and very young infants a result of perceptions
of, or a transformation of perceptions of, their biological physicality? Might we postulate that
just as sex, a biological reality, becomes socially constructed into gender, so infancy becomes
socially constructed into an age process, frequently manifested as apartness? This would not
necessitate any degree of biological determinism: to borrow from Moore on gender (1994,
71), the obvious fact of biological difference between infants and older humans are really
socially significant differences, and although human societies throughout the world recognise
biological differences between infants and adults and between infants and children, how they
record these differences materially (and therefore archaeologically) is variable and
extremely difficult to detect. And how we deal with this variability - how we observe it -
depends almost entirely upon our own ideas about which aspects of infancy are biological
and which are social. Archaeology is full of such tensions (Sofaer Derevenski 1997, 876),
especially concerning the interplay of method and theory in areas concerning age and gender
(ibid., 887).

Sharpening the visibility of women and children

Related to this theoretical concern is my desire to raise the profile of women and children
within the archaeological record. However, this is not based on some methodological quest to
recognise specific gender-related or age-related items of material culture from which lives
can somehow be read off (a failing, I feel, of many Women in ... types of book), but rather
it is predicated on the need for accessible theoretical discussions of the historical processes
behind the various dispositions of material culture (including texts) which incorporate women
as agents and recognises processes such as infancy and childhood as having agency. Indeed, it
is questionable whether in the archaeological record there are categories of material culture
which we could associate with the infant and childhood concepts we hold so dear in the
modern west, such as toys, play and baby care (see Chapter Five).

The general paucity of good quality archaeological writing on infants originates out of two
conditions: firstly, there is very limited evidence; and secondly, the infant has not been
attributed any functional or ontological importance in the story of human complexity. Yet we
have already seen that this position, in which the infant is largely invisible, is untenable. This
book aims to redress the balance and show that the infant was, in Mizoguchis words, a node
of past and future and a socially created category (1996, 16-17), but also a character in the
performance of archaeology with a role central to understanding the entire plot.

But archaeological textbooks on prehistory and other academic accounts of prehistory

invariably contain but passing mention of the existence of infants, and this is usually within
the context of womens tasks or the inevitability of very high infant mortality. For example,
Ehrenberg (1989, 43) sees motherhood in Lower Palaeolithic communities as being a
possible explanation of the origins of the sexual division of labour, and both she (ibid., 60-1),
Hoffer and Hull (1984, 3) and Hodder (1990, 37) are amongst those who believe that
Palaeolithic birth control may have involved the habitual use of infanticide. It has struck me
on a number of occasions how discussion of infants in the past, and especially infant burials,
invariably turns to discussion of infanticide. This seems problemmatical considering that the
main causes of high infant mortality rates have always been illness and accidents. It is for this
reason that I deliberately divide out the sections dealing with domestic infanticide, sacrifice
and burials into separate chapters; while there are clearly connections between these
somewhat arbitrary categories, there is nevertheless more to infant burials than speculation
about infanticide, and more to infant sacrifice than the disposal of unwanted infants. We must
beware of creating factoids - inaccurate statements and beliefs - about ancient babies,
particularly concerning infanticide.

In this volume the issues of time and texts become relevant. Am I writing about long-term
events and cultural change, or short-term social existences which give agency to individuals?
The answer is, both. This is a thematic book which centres the infant within archaeology, and
to some extent I have been able to dispense with the (false) duality of the long-term process
versus the short-term event, because of the explicit awareness that the infant is at the centre
of both, given its role in cultural transmission. The relationships between infants and adults
are sometimes visible in the short term, and I argue from these observable conditions that we
can sometimes see cultural continuity in action and that we can also sometimes see cultural
change being affected. Structure is, after all, both the medium and the outcome of the
production of practices (Giddens 1979; Giddens 1984; Shennan 1989, 284; Barrett 1994, 1-
The second issue, one of how I handle texts whilst writing archaeology, is also a matter of
dispensing with a false duality: texts are artefacts - material culture - and should be handled
in the same way as other artefacts, with attention paid to their context of production and
multiple meanings. Thus, just as archaeological theory has been moving towards an
understanding of material culture as text as part of a wider epistemological discourse (eg
Shanks and Tilley 1992, 16-21; Tilley 1991), so there has been developing a parallel
movement - particularly within classical archaeology - to view text as material culture. This is
an especially important development for archaeologists studying processes such as gender
and age, for the context of production of most of our surviving texts from the ancient world
was one of patriarchy and adult male literacy. One cannot simply read off the lives of
women and children (and other groups such as slaves) from the documents produced by the
male elite of Athens and Rome, for example: these texts have filtered and fragmented the
existences of women and children, and reconstructing them involves an acceptance of
ambiguity rather than being beguiled by documentary facts. There has been a great deal of
feminist writing about how texts silence the voices of women (eg Meijer 1993), writing
which concerns itself with the ways in which the text both reflects and produces
androcentrism. Cultural mechanisms and textual devices both enable and naturalise acts,
behaviours and values from the point of view of the male voice alone. This problem becomes
acutely apparent when looking at ancient texts dealing with the alleged prevalence of female
infanticide (see Chapter Six). Too much has either been taken for granted or treated
simplistically, not just in terms of the female infanticide question but also in terms of our
understanding of infant evidence in general; this project seeks to begin the uncovering of
infancy from the archaeological record and to demonstrate its significance in human culture.