The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

To wean and to die – childhood life course differentials in Middle Bronze Age Sidon


School of Applied Sciences, Bournemouth University

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The period of weaning is considered to be one of the most stressful and potentially harmful phases of early life history, as it is nutritionally, immunologically and psychologically disruptive. Patterns of weaning in past populations therefore reveal important insight into resource availability, differential parental investment and childhood health. We present here the first data of this kind for the prehistoric eastern Mediterranean.

A total of 46 infant and child remains from a Middle Bronze Age site at Sidon, Lebanon, were analysed for age, sex, pathological lesions and collagen isotopic ratios of carbon and nitrogen, using standard assessment techniques, respectively. There was a consistent preponderance of male mortality in children between two and six years of age, while earlier and later stages of childhood showed no significant differences. Weaning began from one year onwards and was generally completed between age three to four, a pattern commonly found in natural populations. There seems to be no indication of parentally biased feeding behaviour during weaning, i.e. no significantly different weaning pattern between the sexes. However, some boys died in a comparatively marginal nutritional status, suggesting clear differentials within the society in terms of access to high-quality food items. These individuals also display severe carious lesions already in the deciduous dentition, suggesting continued high carbohydrate dietary supply post weaning.

The findings are consistent with current interpretations of Sidon as a thriving, highly stratified and diverse urban society, where wealth differentials and social inequality result in very different prospects for development through the life course.

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