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

Paleodemography and perinatal mortality from the Agora well, Athens, Greece


1Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2Department of Anthropology, University of Waterloo, Ontario

Thursday Afternoon, 301E Add to calendar

The age-at-death distribution for perinatal individuals recovered from archaeological sites has been used previously to argue that infanticide might have been practiced in the past (Mays, 1993). Because there is no reason to believe that the protohistoric Arikara practiced infanticide, Owsley and Jantz’s (1985) study of the Arikara has often been used as a baseline for comparison. We use a more direct approach here which is to estimate the age-at-death distribution in fetal weeks for 420 right femora recovered from a well in the Agora Site, Athens, Greece. To estimate the age-at-death distribution we first fit a fractional polynomial regression of femur length regressed on fetal weeks using Fazekas and Kosas’ (1978) data for the fetal period and Maresh and Deming’s (1939) data for neonates (with 40 weeks added to represent term birth). This regression model was combined with a skew exponential distribution model and the four parameters in the skew model were estimated by maximum likelihood until the best fit between the empirical distribution of femur lengths and the modeled distribution of femur lengths was obtained. This procedure returned a mean age-at-death for the Agora well remains of 40.4 weeks from the mother’s last menstrual period, with very little dispersion around this mean (standard deviation of about 12 days). While the age-at-death distribution for the Agora remains is quite similar to modern live-birth age distributions and dissimilar to perinatal mortality distributions, this alone cannot be used to argue that infanticide was practiced, but evidence of pathology makes this unlikely.

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