New volume of Childhood in the Past

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Editorial by Eileen Murphy:

It is with much pleasure that I welcome you to the spring issue of Volume thirteen of Childhood in the Past, the journal of the Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past (SSCIP). The issue starts with a thought-provoking invited piece by Farah Mendlesohn which explores the genre of books for children in relation to historical fiction. Farah delivered the Society’s inaugural biennial lecture in 2017 in Staffordshire University, UK, and we are delighted that she was able to write this piece so that all those who could not attend the lecture can learn more about her interesting research.

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2019 was another busy year for SSCIP. The twelfth international SSCIP conference, was organized by Katie Hemer and Sophie Newman on 30th October to 1st November, and hosted by the Sheffield Centre for the Archaeology of Childhood in the University of Sheffield. The theme of the conference was ‘Adolescence’ with the aim of exploring how scholars from diverse fields of research can offer nuanced insight into the lives of those occupying this unique stage in the life course in the past. The conference commenced on the Wednesday evening with a keynote presentation by Jane Eva Baxter of DePaul University, USA, on the topic of the late nineteenth/ early twentieth-century invention of adolescence, followed by a wine reception. The following two action-packed days saw the delivery of some nineteen papers and five posters across six thematic sessions – What is Adolescence? Shifting Perceptions Over Time and Space; The Written Lives of Adolescents; The Material Culture of Adolescence; Little Adults? Rites of Passage from Childhood to Adulthood; Deviancy, Rebellion, and Punishment, and Advances in Accessing Adolescence in Bioarchaeology. On the Friday morning Mary Lewis of the University of Reading, UK, delivered a keynote talk on the topic of the bioarchaeology of adolescence. The conference also saw the introduction of a prize for the best student podium presentation kindly sponsored by the journal Antiquity. This was awarded to Katherine Woodhouse of Loughborough University, UK, for her paper entitled ‘Rebels With a Cause: Conversion and “Meaningful” Rebellion in Eighteenth-Century Methodist Narratives of Female Adolescence’. The conference was a truly international affair which brought together scholars from eight countries and crossed three continents. The Society is very grateful to the conference organizers for all their efforts in arranging the event on this fascinating theme within past childhood research.

In addition to the annual conference, a SSCIP-sponsored session entitled ‘Health and
Welfare of Children in the Past’ was organized by Esme Hookway and Kirsty Squires of Staffordshire University at the 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology which took place on the 10th–14th April in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Speakers from New Zealand, Mexico, and the UK came together to explore a range of topics, including childhood health and disease, the care of children, funerary treatment, and the welfare of children in the work-place. Ian Gonzalez Alaña (independent researcher), Mélie Le Roy and Eileen Murphy of Queen’s University Belfast, organized a SSCIP-sponsored session entitled ‘Systemic Approaches to Juvenile Funerary Rituals. Atypical, Deviant or Normative? Going Beyond Paradigms’ at the 25th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists that took place on the 4th–7th September in Bern, Switzerland. This was a very popular session, with twenty-two oral presentations
and four posters, that brought researchers from some thirteen countries together to
share their experiences of childhood burial from prehistory to early modern times across Europe and North Africa.

Changes are afoot with the Society’s monograph series which has moved to publication
with Archaeopress. We are delighted to have several volumes in the pipeline including, Ages and Abilities: The Stages of Childhood and Their Social Recognition in Prehistoric Europe and Beyond (edited by Katharina Rebay-Salisbury and Doris Pany-Kucera) and Normative, Atypical or Deviant? Interpreting Prehistoric and Protohistoric Child Burial Practices (edited by Eileen Murphy, Mélie Le Roy and Ian Gonzalez Alaña). Proposals for future monographs should be submitted to Lynne McKerr, Queen’s University Belfast, and details for submission may be found on the Society’s website.

The volume includes four research papers. In the first paper, Ana Solari and colleagues present a fascinating case-study of a premature infant (32–34 gestational weeks) of Middle Holocene date from northeastern Brazil. The infant died following delivery and was carefully interred in a multiple burial context that contained the remains of nine other individuals. The tiny body had been laid upon a mat made from plant fibres and associated grave goods included two necklaces, one made from perforated crab fox canines and the other from plant seeds, two blocks of ochre, as well as animal bone and antler. The elaborate nature of the burial enabled the authors to consider sociocultural aspects of fetal death amongst these prehistoric hunter-gatherers.

In their paper, Katie Hemer and Petra Verlinden also provide a case-study report of the burial of a young child, in this case a 2–3-year-old-child with rickets. The remains were discovered during excavations at St Patrick’s Chapel at Whitesands Bay, Pembrokeshire, Wales, and were Early Medieval in date. The study adopted a multi-methodological approach which involved osteological and radiographical analysis of the skeleton and histological analyses of a first permanent molar tooth, all of which supported the diagnosis of vitamin D deficiency. The case makes a valuable contribution to an otherwise small number of cases of rickets from Early Medieval Britain and the authors explore why this young child may have suffered from the condition. They also speculate about the child’s early life experience, and discuss how the manner in which their body was laid out within the burial reflects an intimate awareness of their condition.

Esme Hookway and Kirsty Squires provide an in-depth review of the evidence for juveniles associated with the large number of hospitals established in England during the Medieval period. Their study uses historical, archaeological and bioarchaeological information, and particularly data derived from excavations over the past twenty years, to gain insights into the lives of juveniles who entered and then died within Medieval hospitals. The historical sources suggest that children were not treated at all hospitals and this is supported in the archaeological data. When their remains are found during the excavation of hospital cemeteries they are afforded the same mortuary treatment as adults. The palaeopathological evidence derived from hospital cemeteries is suggestive of high levels of poor nutrition compared to non-hospital contexts, thereby suggesting that the children buried in such a context were from the poorer and more vulnerable sectors of society.

Kirsty Squires’ paper focuses on the hitherto neglected topic of the lives of the children who would have worked in the potteries and associated collieries of the Staffordshire pottery industry when it was in its heyday during the nineteenth century. Using evidence derived from the testimonies of workers, teachers, doctors and government officials, alongside clinical and census data she gained fascinating insights into juvenile well-being. Her research reveals that working in such hazardous environments adversely affected the health and development of these children. In addition, many of them suffered from physical abuse both from their carers at home and in the workplace. Life was generally hard for these children who could not attend school and enjoy leisurely pursuits because of their long working hours, domestic responsibilities and poverty. She found that the well-being of children gradually improved as the nineteenth century progressed, however, due to the implementation of new legislation.

As always, the issue ends with book reviews, compiled by Simon Mays, and these focus on three exciting recent publications – The Archaeology of American Childhood and Adolescence by Jane Eva Baxter, The Anthropology of the Fetus. Biology, Culture and Society edited by Sallie Han, Tracy K. Betsinger and Amy B. Scott and From Invisible to Visible: New Methods and Data for the Archaeology of Infant and Child Burials in Pre-Roman Italy and Beyond edited by Jacopo Tabolli.