Friday, September 2, 2011

Upsetting Archaeology: The murder of newborns

It's a reality in archaeology that we deal with death on a regular basis, but telling the story of a life passed can give it new meaning and recall a past once lost. Sometimes though, death can be too painful for an archaeologist to come to terms with. That's what happened to one excavator, A H Cocks, back in the 1912.

At Yewden Villa, a brothel was uncovered by Cocks. The chilling discovery of 97 skeletons of newborns, both boys and girls, went near-ignored by the archaeologist, who focused on the pottery finds. The remains of the children were classified 'various' and stored in cigarette boxes at the Aylesbury Museum. In 2008, Dr. Jill Eyers, director of Chiltern Archaeology, found the bones and immediately became unnerved as they were all the same age (38 to 40 weeks gestation) and showed marks of foul play. For three nights, she was kept awake by nightmares, disturbed by how the children had met their end. She believes that Cocks was unable to face the truth of his findings.

At the time, 150AD to 200AD, there was no viable form of abortion. The prostitutes had no place for the newborns, so they were immediately killed at birth. Simon Mays, a paleontologist, spent a year measuring the bones and confirmed Eyers suspicions, countering the notion that the site was a birthing centre.

Read more here

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