The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

Infant Mortality in Archaic Athens (ca. 700-480 BCE): An investigation into the Jar Burials of Phaleron Cemetery


1Center for Bioarchaeological Research, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, 2Malcolm H. Wiener Laboratory for Archaeological Science, American School of Classical Studies at Athens

April 16, 2020 , Platinum Ballroom Add to calendar

The lives of non-elites, especially non-elite children, in ancient Greece are significantly understudied. This study investigates a sample of 45 of Jar Burials from Phaleron Cemetery in Athens, Greece, in order to understand the health outcomes of non-elite infants and young children during the Archaic Period (ca. 700-480 BCE). Our goals include determining whether infants at Phaleron survived beyond the first few weeks after birth and whether they survived long enough to elicit a bony response to physiological stress. To address these questions, age-at-death was estimated using standard methods based on dental and skeletal development. Pathological bony changes in the cranium and postcranium were also recorded.

Although most infants survived birth and lived beyond the first few weeks after birth, approximately 20% died within two weeks of birth and 67% after two weeks, but before the age of 2. For the 36 individuals for whom dental age estimation was possible, the largest number of individuals died between 3 and 9 months of age. Also, 29% of 45 individuals lived with chronic physiological stress sufficiently long to elicit a bony response.These results suggest that the Jar Burials represent children who were accepted into their family after birth but were unable to survive early life physiological stressors. Furthermore, the presence of bony responses to physiological stress suggests that, for at least some of these individuals, stressors were chronic, rather than acute.

Τhe Malcolm Hewitt Wiener Foundation, Τhe Paul and Alexandra Canellopoulos Foundation, Τhe Desnick Family, Τhe National Endowment for the Humanities (RZ-255623-17), The National Science Foundation (DGE-1311230, BCS-1828645), and ASU/GPSA Research.

Slides/Poster (pdf)