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The disposal of dead infants in the Roman world

7 March 2013

A year or so back a local archaeologist reinvestigated a Roman villa at Yewdon, near Hambleden, Buckinghamshire, after coming across several dozen infant remains in the County Museum in Aylesbury. These had been carefully put away in an archive by an archaeologist who had dug at the Roman site in the early 20th century – without much of a comment. Presumably he didn't know why so many infant burials had been made and left it for others to interpret. The villa was at Mill End within yards from the Hambleden weir and lock, on the Thames, a few mile from Henley. After redigging the site it was suggested the infant burials were the remains of still births of prostitutes but the problem with this idea is that no known Roman garrison was located anywhere near the site. Now, at Poggio Civitate in Italy another cache of infant burials has been found – see http://phys.org/print281786425.html. Here, the conjecture is they were still born children of slaves. The complex was an upmarket area ten miles south of Tuscan Seina and dates between 900-550BC (belonging to the Etruscans rather than Romans). Were slaves liable to have lots of still born children? Why were they tossed out with other garbage as if they were of no consequence. Was there something in Roman and Etruscan religion that regarded still birth as afflicted on the mothers by the gods?

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