Missing, Presumed Buried? Bone Diagenesis and the Under-Representation of Anglo-Saxon Children
Assemblage, Issue 5 (2000)
Sam Lucy (1994: 26) has stated that a ‘recognised feature of pre-Christian early medieval cemeteries in eastern England is the smaller number of younger burials recovered’. Although taphonomic factors such as the increased rate of decay of the remains of children and shallow depth of burial have been suggested as possible explanations for this phenomenon, these have been disregarded in favour of cultural influences, with younger children thought to have been disposed of in a different way from adult remains (Lucy, 1994; Härke, 1997; Crawford, 1999). This paper will review the evidence concerning the treatment of the remains of children during the Anglo-Saxon period. It will then review the factors affecting bone preservation, with special reference to the bones of children, and attempt to assess to what extent the under-representation of children in Anglo-Saxon cemeteries can be attributed to bone preservation and soil type. It will show that hypotheses should not be formulated without full consideration of the taphonomy that may affect the completeness of the archaeological record.