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A Global History of Child Death

Mortality, Burial, and Parental Attitudes

Amy J. Catalano

Drawing from primary research studies in archaeology, historical analysis, literature, and art this interdisciplinary look at the history of child funerary practices and other vehicles of parental mourning is the only book of its kind. The purpose of this work is to investigate the ways in which funerary behaviors and grieving differ between cultures and across time; from prehistory to modern history. Philippe Aries, the French childhood historian, argued that children were rarely mourned upon their deaths as child death was a frequent and expected event, especially in the Middle Ages. This book draws upon archaeological reports, secondary data analysis, and analysis of literature, photography and artwork to refute, and in some cases support, Aries’s claim. Organized in two parts, Part One begins with a chapter on the causes of childhood mortality and the steps taken to prevent it, followed by chapters on prehistory, ancient civilizations, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and the early modern and late modern eras. The chapters in Part Two discuss indicators of parental concern at a child’s death: naming practices, replacement strategy, baptism, consolation literature, and artwork. Students who focus on the psychological aspects of death, funeral practices, and childhood histories will find this book a useful and comprehensive tool for examining how children have been mourned since prehistory.
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3 Burials at Night: Children from Ancient Civilizations

Evidence of Parental Concern



Burials at Night

Children from Ancient Civilizations

Archaeological evidence excavated from what is known as Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, suggests that the Sumerians and Akkadians, the first civilized people, cared for their children; although evidence also suggests that first born children were often sacrificed. Further, the Sumerian code of laws, ana ittisu, which stated laws such as the fact that parents could give up children when it suited them, makes it difficult to interpret the ancient society’s concern for children. These contradictory ideals, which apply to many of the societies discussed here, illustrate the extent to which parental love is both dynamic and complex in the ancient world.

It is clear from the artifacts and writings left behind that Egyptian children were warmly cared for. Young children from all social classes were treated equally until school age. The tombs of children were often found with mummified pets to go with them on their journey to the afterlife. Premature infants, as well as their umbilicus, were also mummified. This practice leads historians to believe that Egyptian parents hoped that their infants would go on to be nourished through ← 37 | 38 → the umbilical cord, grow, and live the life they were meant to live. The Egyptians called the soul of a child ba, a bird with a human head.1

In ancient Egypt abandonment and infanticide were rare. In fact, the Egyptians were well known for rescuing...

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