New Book: Infancy and Earliest Childhood in the Roman World: ‘A Fragment of Time’

9780199687633Maureen Carroll’s new book is out tomorrow on infancy in the Roman world  (see this on Google Books and the Oxford University Press website).

  • Offers the first comprehensive study of infancy and earliest childhood in the Roman world, from conception and development in the womb to birth and milestone developments during the first year of life
  • Draws on a wide range of different types of evidence (archaeological, skeletal, textual, visual, legal) to provide fresh, interdisciplinary perspectives on this subject
  • Yields new insights through analysis of material culture in particular, placing the ancient texts traditionally used to understand perceptions of childhood in a broader context
  • Explores a wide chronological and geographic framing of the Roman evidence, covering roughly the fourth century BC to the third century AD and all regions throughout the Empire

Despite the developing emphasis in current scholarship on children in Roman culture, there has been relatively little research to date on the role and significance of the youngest children within the family and in society. This volume singles out this youngest age group, the under one-year-olds, in the first comprehensive study of infancy and earliest childhood to encompass the Roman Empire as a whole: integrating social and cultural history with archaeological evidence, funerary remains, material culture, and the iconography of infancy, it explores how the very particular historical circumstances into which Roman children were born affected their lives as well as prevailing attitudes towards them. Examination of these varied strands of evidence, drawn from throughout the Roman world from the fourth century BC to the third century AD, allows the rhetoric about earliest childhood in Roman texts to be more broadly contextualized and reveals the socio-cultural developments that took place in parent-child relationships over this period. Presenting a fresh perspective on archaeological and historical debates, the volume refutes the notion that high infant mortality conditioned Roman parents not to engage in the early life of their children or to view them, or their deaths, with indifference, and concludes that even within the first weeks and months of life Roman children were invested with social and gendered identities and were perceived as having both personhood and value within society.

Author information:

Maureen Carroll, Professor of Roman Archaeology, University of Sheffield

Maureen Carroll is Professor of Roman Archaeology at the University of Sheffield and is also a founding member of its Centre for the Archaeology of Childhood. She studied Classical Archaeology in Canada, the USA, and Germany, and was the recipient of the prestigious Balsdon Fellowship and the Hugh Last Fellowship at the British School at Rome in 2008 and 2016 respectively. She has published widely on infant death and burial in Roman Italy, on Roman funerary commemoration, and on Roman gardens, and has conducted excavations at major sites in the Roman world, including Pompeii and Vagnari in Italy and Cologne in Germany.

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Stunted near the start of life: Evidence for severe deprivation from London’s poorest 19th century parish — The Bioarchaeology of Childhood | Sian Halcrow

New research has uncovered the extent of the impact of ill health on the urban underprivileged during the Victorian era with finds of severe growth retardation of infant and child bones. The authors show that the social deprivation at Bethnal Green in London, UK, was so extreme that this affected the growth of the long […]

via Stunted near the start of life: Evidence for severe deprivation from London’s poorest 19th century parish — The Bioarchaeology of Childhood | Sian Halcrow

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Happy New Year from SSCIP on its 10 year anniversary, and a special interview with Grete Lillehammer

Happy New Year. 2017 marked the 10 year anniversary of SSCIP and I have the pleasure of talking with one of the founders of the Society and the social archaeology of childhood, Professor Grete Lillehammer from the Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger, Norway.

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Tell me a little bit about your research?

My main field of research is children and childhood studies. This broadly covers several topics on the past and the present through the lens of social archaeology, including gender, burial rituals, cultural heritage, and museum archaeology/museology. I am a participant in the research program BEVARES – Biological EnVironmental and Archaeological inter-disciplinary RESearch on life-course, material and materiality in human depositions. The program seeks to address issues surrounding the recovery and curation of organic materials from archaeological contexts, and in particular, our understanding of in- and ex-situ preservation from previously excavated material in the museum’s stores and material recovered during ongoing excavations. One of the projects on this program focuses on previously excavated material in the museum’s collections which has either not been analysed, or has not been analysed using up-to-day techniques/standards. I work together on this project with a bioarchaeologist and an archaeologist. We focus the research on two age categories in the human life cycle – the young and the old, and in particular their biological and cultural relationships in the past. At the SSCIP 2015 conference in Chicago, Eileen Murphy and I decided to organize a session at the EAA 2016 conference in Vilnius, eventually on “Giving New Meaning to Cultural Heritage: The Old and the Young in Past Societies”,

How did you get into your field of research and why?

Museum outreach, curation, and excavation have been my gateways to approach children and childhood in the past. During the preparation for an exhibition on the Vikings early in the 1970s I noticed the small size of an arm ring from a female grave inventory, which prompted me to start thinking about the young ones. Later being a mother of three, I pondered on transmission of learning and stone technology while processing material from stone-age sites. UN’s Year of the Child in 1979 gave me the opportunity to think and do something more. I organized an exhibition and wrote together some pieces about small-scale archaeology and the hidden and forgotten children in the past. Then I brought one of my children on a dig. Looking at the excavation of a hearth in an Iron Age house, the little one noticed some small stones identical to the skipping stones that the child played with on the shores of a nearby lake. I wrote a piece about that event too. These experiences became eyes openers to what to me was a shadowland, and according to the archaeological narratives of the past, a foreign country where everyone is adult and preferably male. Children form bridges between the past and the future. I wanted to fill in gaps in the picture however difficult, and I have been travelling on the road ever since.



As one of the founders of SSCIP, and a supporter of the idea for a society from the very start, I remember the great optimism partaking in the events. The initiative emerged at a conference organized by the archaeologist Mike Lally at the University of Kent in 2005, (see Mike Lally and Alison Moore (eds.) 2011. (Re)Thinking the Little Ancestor: New Perspectives on the Archaeology of Infancy and Childhood. BAR International Series 2271). There was an agreement among participants that the time was ripe to get a move on the issue of children and childhood in the past. This resulted in an important and constructive meeting between enthusiasts with interests in the issue at the Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, organized by Carenza Lewis in 2006, which led to the foundation of SSCIP in 2007, and the running of a new journal – Childhood in the Past – in 2008. The timing was good. The short period it took to establish a multidisciplinary forum and seeing the outcome of the Kent conference and the Cambridge meeting today is really something to be proud of in retrospect. It shows also members of the British academia being great organizers.

What is on the future horizon for your research?

First, I will settle down to the challenges and duties of a professor emerita. One of the jobs is to get the EAA 2016 session published together with Eileen. Another job is to get my project “Let us draw the past” finished properly. I have been engaged in this piece of work for several years in between other projects researching a collection of children’s drawings. I analyse the material, which is great fun and very stimulating to the logic of scientific thinking. I am going to continue my study and writing on children and childhood, and depending on the funding, I will also participate further in the BEVARES program.


Figure: Meet the ancient humans – Grete Lillehammer (left) in dialog with a class of schoolchildren at the Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger. Photo: Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger.


Figure: Pebbles and/or skipping stones? Photo: Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger.


Children’s drawings. From “Children’s exhibition” at the Museum of Archaeology in 2006. Photo: Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger.
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Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past recent outreach activities

October was a busy month for the Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past. On Saturday 14th October 2017, the society held a stall at The Big Biology Day at Staffordshire University. This annual event runs as part of the Royal Society of Biology’s “Biology Week”, which champions Life Sciences and was established to get the general public involved in biological sciences. This year, PhD student Esme Hookway and Dr Kirsty Squires (both based at Staffordshire University) ran several activities around childhood development (such as dental development and eruption and epiphyseal fusion of bones) and palaeopathological conditions associated with juvenile remains (e.g. rickets). Children and adults alike were particularly fascinated to learn about how the skeleton changes during childhood. The day attracted over 350 visitors and the Society has been invited to return next year.


Big Biology Day 2017

Image above: Esme Hookway ready and waiting for visitors at the Big Biology Day at Staffordshire University

On Wednesday 25th October, the Society’s first biannual lecture took place at Staffordshire University. Dr Farah Medlesohn delivered a fascinating presentation titled “excavating literature for signs of childness”. Farah has authored several books include: The Inter-galactic Playground: A Critical Study of Children’s and Teens’ Science Fiction, Diane Wynne Jones: The Fantastic Tradition and Children’s Literature, and Children’s Fantasy Literature: An Introduction, which she wrote with colleague Professor Michael M. Levy. She won a Hugo with Edward James in 2005 for The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature. Farah also convenes the Historical Fictions Research Network. Farah explored texts written for children and teens from the early 19th century to the present day, all of which were written to propound a certain take on the English Civil Wars. These pieces of literature were designed to “grow” a particular type of child. Some books were designed as career books whilst others highlighted inter-generational duties versus tensions, of which romance was frequently employed as a means of legitimizing rebellion (a trait most commonly observed amongst teenagers in literature). Some provisional trends identified in the data presented illustrated that the theme of “rebellion” started to appear after the 1890’s whereas the theme of “duty” appears in children’s literature from 1720. I eagerly anticipate reading about Farah’s research upon its completion.

Farah is currently working on a book that will explore children’s literature, memory, and the English Civil War. Follow Farah on Twitter at @effjayem for up to date information about her research.

Farah Mendlesohn lecture

Image above: Dr Farah Mendlesohn delivering a lecture on texts written for children in

The Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past’s 10th International Conference will be taking place in Mexico City from Monday 6th November to Friday 10th November. The theme of the conference is “The Life and Death of Children in the Past” and will feature papers by researchers from around the world. This will be the first conference to take place in Mexico that focuses on children in the past. Stay tuned for updates about the conference on our webpage.

This piece is contributed by Dr Kirsty Squires (SSCIP Outreach Officer)

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2018 Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past Conference in Vienna

The 11th annual conference of the Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past will be jointly organised by the Institute of Oriental and European Archaeology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the Department of Anthropology of the Natural History Museum in Vienna. The conference will be held at the Museum of Natural History from Thursday the 20th of September to Saturday the 22nd of September 2018.

The main conference theme is: Pregnancy, birth, early infancy and childhood: life’s greatest transitions in the past. The theme emerges from Katharina Rebay-Salisbury’s European Research Council project: “The Value of Mothers to Society: responses to motherhood and child rearing practices in prehistoric Europe.” The conference aims to bring together scholars across multiple disciplines, including childhood studies, history, archaeology, biological anthropology and social anthropology.

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We particularly invite papers addressing:

– how and when life is considered to begin in past societies

– the dangers of birth to mothers and children

– cultural factors that influence infant and childhood mortality

– the recognition of developmental stages in the past

– marking and celebrating childhood transitions.

For any questions and queries, please get in touch with Katharina Rebay-Salisbury, the local organiser. She is looking forward to welcoming you in Vienna next year! The deadline for abstracts is the 30th of June, 2018

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Childhood in the Past, Part 2, Vol. 10 is out now!

Welcome to Part 2 of Volume 10 of Childhood in the Past, the journal of the Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past (SSCIP). This issue includes two research papers and five book reviews.

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In the first of the research papers Jennifer Bengtson highlights the lack of infant-focused research that has been undertaken in pre-Columbian North America. Her paper deals with the Mississippian cultural tradition and involves an exploration of an unusual structure referred to as ‘House 1’ from the Hunze-Evans village site in Southeast Missouri. Previous interpretations of the structure have identified its special association with women but Bengtson’s work enables a deeper level of interpretation to be gained through the exploration of issues related to womanhood, including fertility, childbirth and infancy. She concludes that the structure represents a unique, local expression of Mississippian cosmological themes related to gender and fertility that were expressed through infant-focused activity, including mortuary ceremonialism, childbirth and associated ritual seclusion.

Héctor Hernández Álvarez’s study focuses on the experience of childhood during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in the State of Yucatán, Mexico. His study explores the material culture used by children who would have lived at San Pedro Cholul, a hacienda devoted to the cultivation and processing of henequen fibre for export. Yucatán’s Gilded Age (1873–1925) is characterized by an industrial revolution based on the exploitation of henequen and the evidence derived from the site enabled an understanding to be gained about the role of children in these productive processes as well as the nature of child labour at this time. The diversity of artefacts recovered from the site also allowed insights to be gleaned in relation to play, work and child health, while distribution patterns of the material remains demonstrated that children both played and worked inside their house lots. Mechanisms for the socialization of children ensured continuity for the production and reproduction of cultural knowledge that took into account the diverse roles and obligations they had within their families and broader communities.

The journal ends with a collection of book reviews edited by Simon Mays. The reviews cover an eclectic array of books on the topics of care in the past, children and everyday life in the Roman and Late Antique World, emotional responses in the wake of childhood death in premodern Europe, the relation of literacy and property to childhood in nineteenth-century America, and religious childhoods in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Anglo-World and British Colonial contexts. As always, we express our gratitude to all of the contributors and reviewers whose support has enabled our journal to continue to thrive.

    Text taken from the Editorial by Eileen M. Murphy.
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    Register now – 1st SSCIP Biannual Lecture “Excavating Literature for Signs of Childness”

    The first SSCIP biannual lecture will be taking place on 25th October 2017 at Staffordshire University. 

    “Excavating Literature for Signs of Childness”

    Dr Farah Mendlesohn


    In this paper I will discuss how narratives around significant historical events–in this case the English Civil War–have triple layered constructions of childhood, sometimes (but not always) attempting to depict historical childhood and historical relationships to events, but always depicting contemporary childhood and ideologies of childhood. The paper looks at texts written for children and teens from the early nineteenth century to the present day, all of which were written at least in part to propound a particular take on the Civil Wars and to grow a particular type of child.

    Additional details

    This presentation will last one hour and will be followed by a 15 minute slot for questions and refreshments.

    For further enquiries please contact Dr Kirsty Squires (

    Register here for free.

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