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

Burying the Child in Post-medieval Poland: Prenatal vs. Postnatal Remains


1Department of Anthropology, University of Manitoba, 2Department of Anthropology, SUNY College at Oneonta

Thursday All day, Park Concourse Add to calendar

Until recently, fetal remains have often received less consideration in bioarchaeological analyses. Accordingly, less is known and understood about how past societies viewed perinatal deaths (6 months in utero–1 month postnatal), including stillborn infants, vis-à-vis post-neonatal (1 month–1 year) and early childhood (1-3 years) deaths. A post-medieval (17th – 18th centuries) Polish cemetery has well preserved perinatal and post-neonatal remains, providing an opportunity to assess the mortuary context of each as well as to learn more about fetal identity within the culture. The purpose of this study is to specifically assess the burial context of perinatal infants to determine whether they were treated differently than postnatal infants and young children in terms of location in the cemetery, use of coffins, burial inclusions, and other aspects of funerary rites.

A sample of 47 subadult remains (n=15 perinates, n=15 post-neonates, n=17 young children) was assessed for various aspects related to burial context. Results indicate that perinatal infants received the same mortuary treatment as post-neonates and young children, indicating that this society viewed preterm infants as synonymous with those that died some time after birth. Perinatal and post-neonatal remains were not segregated in the cemetery and were interred in coffins regardless of age. The inclusion of copper coins, which were believed to afford the deceased with some protection from evil spirits, was found in all age categories. Arguably, these results suggest that the fetal identity was not distinguishable from that of post-neonates.

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