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Beyond fragments and shards: Children in medieval Bergen

Beyond fragments and shards: Children in medieval Bergen

By Sigrid Samset Mygland

AmS-Skrifter, Vol. 23 (2010)

Abstract: This paper deals with how child-related objects from archaeological contexts can illuminate the presence of children in a medieval town. By analysing physical remains reflecting the games, behaviour and clothing of children (specifically toys and shoes) it has been possible to obtain new information and shed new light on the everyday life of children in medieval Bergen, and thereby indirectly also on demographic and social organisation. The paper relates to the wider discussion of how childhood was perceived in the Middle Ages and how children were treated at different stages in their life, indicating that childhood was a stage in life that was acknowledged in a medieval town, in the context of both play and work.

Introduction: Is it correct to assert that archaeological artefacts represent nothing but so-called “pathetic fragments” where children in the past are concerned or can they actually help us shed light on this social group? This question is the starting point for the paper, which is based on my Master’s thesis on children and child-related archaeological artefacts in the medieval town of Bergen, Norway. The focus is on 2513 objects or parts of objects related to children and their games, behaviour and clothing, primarily toys and shoes, dating to between the first half of the 12th century and c. 1700 AD. Based on these physical remains, I aim to discuss how archaeological artefacts may be interpreted to shed light on the presence of children, as well as their everyday life in the medieval town of Bergen. The study focuses in particular on Bryggen (i.e. the wharf), a part of the town where the population structure underwent great changes in the course of the Middle Ages (c. 1050–1536).

Whether or not notions of children can be disclosed by, and reflected in, material culture is also examined. The paper also considers the extent to which childhood was regarded as a separate phase or stage in the human life cycle and to what degree children were integrated parts of society. In these relationships, the paper participates in the broader discussion concerning whether or not a different attitude towards children and childhood prevailed in the Middle Ages than was the case in the following centuries.

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