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Posted: 16 days ago
Updated: 11 days ago by JENNINGS, BR
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Elizabeth Craig-Atkins
University of Sheffield
The role of infant life histories in the construction of identities in death: An incremental isotope study of dietary and physiological status among children afforded differential burial.

In this study, conducted by Dr Elizabeth Craig-Atkins (University of Sheffield), Dr Julia Beaumont (University of Bradford) and Dr Jacqueline Towers (University of Bradford) incremental isotope analysis was used to characterize short-term change in physiological status (comprising both dietary status and biological stress) across the life course of a group of children afforded special funerary treatment in death. Incremental isotope profiles for delta15N and delta13C were obtained from tooth dentine of 86 perinates, infants and young children from four English cemeteries dating to the 8th to 12th centuries AD. Thirty-one of these individuals had been buried in clusters which comprised mainly child burials, and the remainder alongside adults in other areas of the cemetery. The isotope profiles were assigned to categories representing four distinct trends in dietary and health status during the period between the final prenatal months and death. A significantly greater proportion of individuals from the burial clusters had isotope profiles indicating they struggled to successfully breastfeed. This relationship was not simply a factor of differential age at death between cohorts. There was no association between burial location and the stage of weaning at death, nor with isotopic evidence of biological stress in the form of catabolism of bodily tissues. This study is the first to identify a relationship between the extent of breastfeeding and the provision of child-specific funerary rites. Lack of breastfeeding may indicate the mother had died during or soon after birth, or was unable to feed due to illness. Infants who were not breastfed will have experienced a significantly higher risk of malnutrition, under-nutrition and infection. It is suggested here that these sickly and motherless children received differential care to attempt to nourish them during early life, and were similarly provided with special treatment in death.


University of Bradford