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”, http://eaavilnius2016.lt/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/67.pdf

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 (Kirsty.Squires@staffs.ac.uk)

    Register here for free.

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    The 10th anniversary edition of Childhood in the Past is out now!

    Take a look at the contents of Childhood in the Past – Volume 10.1 – 2017:

    Editorial – Ten Years of Childhood in the Past

    Eileen M. Murphy

    Invited paper

    SSCIP: The First Ten Years

    Sally Crawford

    Research papers

    Landscapes of Childhood: Places and Material Culture

    Margarita Sánchez Romero

    Child Bioarchaeology: Perspectives on the Past Ten Years

    Simon Mays, Rebecca Gowland, Siân Halcrow and Eileen Murphy

    Reflections on Interdisciplinarity in the Study of Childhood in the Past

    Jane Eva Baxter, Shauna Vey, Erin Halstad McGuire, Suzanne Conway and Deborah E. Blom

    Homo faber juvenalis: A Multidisciplinary Survey of Children as Tool Makers/Users

    David F. Lancy

    Book reviews, edited by Simon Mays

    The Archaeology of Childhood: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on an Archaeological Enigma. Edited by Güner Coşkunsu – reviewed by Siân E. Halcrow

    British Hymn Books for Children, 1800-1900. Re-Tuning the History of Childhood. By Alisa Clapp-Itnyre – reviewed by Siân Pooley

    Childhood, Youth and Emotions in Modern History: National, Colonial and Global Perspectives. Edited by Stephanie Olsen – reviewed by Leticia Fernández-Fontecha Rumeu

    The End of American Childhood: A History of Parenting from Life on the Frontier to the Managed Child. By Paula S. Fass – reviewed by Jane Eva Baxter

    Home Decoration. By Charles Franklin Warner – reviewed by Lynne McKerr

    Adolescence in Modern Irish History. Edited by Catherine Cox and Susannah Riordan – reviewed by Virginia Crossman


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    From Eileen Murphy’s Editorial – Ten Years of Childhood in the Past

    Volume 10.1 commences with an invited contribution by SSCIP President, Sally Crawford, in which she reviews the many and varied activities of the Society over the past 10 years. She provides an important account of the events that led to the formation of the Society and indeed Childhood in the Past. She ends by reflecting on the achievements the Society had made over the past 10 years and expresses a desire to continue supporting all those working in the field of past childhood studies.

    The volume also includes four research papers, each of which have been led and developed by members of the SSCIP Committee. As mentioned above, the first paper by Margarita Sánchez Romero investigates the historiography of research undertaken into past childhood through a review of the subjects dealt within the past issues of Childhood in the Past. Her approach uses bodies, places and material culture to examine a variety of landscapes of childhood – landscapes of care and affection, landscapes of learning, landscapes of socialization, landscapes of uncertainty and, finally, landscapes of research in which she identifies potential future avenues of research. The second paper by Simon Mays, Rebecca Gowland, Siân Halcrow and I reviews key developments that have been made in the field of child bioarchaeology over the past 10 years. The paper includes a bibliometric study of publications in physical anthropology/osteoarchaeological journals over a 10-year period to assess the general trends that have occurred in relation to the study of the skeletal remains of children. It then proceeds to examine the social bioarchaeology of the child, in which a number of important theoretical frameworks used for positioning children in past societies, in particular the life course approach, are discussed. The bibliometrical study indicated that many of the publications with a focus on child bioarchaeology have concentrated on diet and palaeopathology and innovations in these areas are also explored. The paper concludes with the observation that bioarchaeological studies that integrate children and adults will contribute to a more complete view of past societies.

    In their paper, Jane Eva Baxter and colleagues provide their personal reflections on interdisciplinarity in the study of childhood in the past. They start with the observation that a key characteristic of studies of childhood in the past is their interdisciplinary nature and suggest this situation has arisen for two main reasons; interest in the field is a relatively recent phenomenon and the study of past childhood has been largely marginalized in traditional disciplinary approaches. They are of the view that spaces that allow scholars to come together to address past childhood as an area of study, such as those provided through SSCIP conferences or in the pages of Childhood in the Past, are essential. Four reflective essays are written by scholars from different backgrounds – theatre history (Shauna Vey), art history (Suzanne Conway), archaeology/teaching (Erin Halstad McGuire) and bioarchaeology (Deborah E. Blom). Each reflective essay considers the development and significance of interdisciplinary thinking in their work and also provides insights in relation to the discipline in which they practice.

    David Lancy’s paper provides a multidisciplinary survey of children as tool makers/users with the overall goal of deriving a set of generalizations that might characterize children as the makers/users of tools in early hominin societies. His information is derived from lithic archaeology, studies of juvenile chimps as novice tool users, recent laboratory work in human infant and child cognition in relation to the use of objects as tools and the ethnographic study of children learning about the tools used by their communities. He argues that this multidisciplinary approach has the potential to provide greater insights in relation to the development of children as tool makers and users than has previously been available to scholars working within narrow disciplinary constraints.

    The journal ends with 6 book reviews compiled by Simon Mays. The first reviews Güner Coşkunsu’s edited volume on interdisciplinary perspectives on the archaeology of childhood. Four of the other books are historical in nature and deal with a variety of diverse topics including, 19th-century British hymn books, childhood, youth and emotions, a history of parenting in America and adolescence in modern Irish history. Lynne McKerr’s review on Charles Franklin Warner’s book on Home Decoration was chosen for the special issue because, as she describes, it is one of a series of culturally significant ‘Forgotten Books’ which are out of copyright and have been subsequently digitized and made freely available. First published in 1911, it offers a fascinating insight into contemporary aspirations and ambitions for children living in early 20th-century America.



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    Children, Death and Burials assembles a panorama of studies with a focus on juvenile burials; the 16 papers have a wide geographic and temporal breadth and represent a range of methodological approaches. All have a similar objective in mind, however, namely to understand how children were treated in death by different cultures in the past; to gain
    insights concerning the roles of children of different ages in their respective societies,
    and to find evidence of the nature of past adult–child relationships and interactions across the life course.

    The contextualisation and integration of the data collected, both in the field and in the laboratory, enables more nuanced understandings to be gained in relation to the experiences of the young in the past. A broad range of issues are addressed within the volume, including the inclusion/exclusion of children in particular burial environments and the impact of age in relation to the place of children in society.

    Child burials clearly embody identity and ‘the domestic child’, ‘the vulnerable child’, ‘the high status child’, ‘the cherished child’, ‘the potential child’, ‘the ritual child’ and the ‘political child’, and combinations thereof, are evident throughout the narratives. Investigation of the burial practices afforded to children is pivotal to enlightenment in relation to key facets of past life, including the emotional responses shown towards children during life and in death, as well as an understanding of their place within the social strata and ritual activities of their societies.
    9781785707124 | OXBOW BOOKS | PAPERBACK | £40.00

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