Children and child burial in medieval England

Medieval children at play

Children and child burial in medieval England

By Emma Rosamund Chapman

PhD Dissertation, University of Cambridge, 2015

Abstract: This thesis presents an investigation into children in medieval England through burial, the most archaeologically-visible evidence for the treatment and conceptualisation of children in life. It examines whether children were distinguished in burial from adults in parish cemeteries of the 10th -16th centuries. Selected cemeteries are analysed in detail to establish whether or not children received different burial treatment to adults.

The burials of biologically-immature individuals are compared with the remainder of the burial population, totalling c.4,700 individuals, assessing whether the provision of burial furniture, burial in a shared grave and location of graves varied by age at death. The dissertation includes a discussion of archaeological and historical approaches to children and child burial, both general and medieval, medieval attitudes to children, death and burial, before discussing the case study sites in depth. From this, the methodological issues of undertaking such a study are considered and a sympathetic methodology developed, before the presentation of analysis, discussions and conclusions.

I demonstrate that a variety of burial practices were used during the medieval period and that differentiation by age at death occurred. The results show that burials of juveniles are commonly differentiated, particularly infants aged 0-1 year or children aged 12 years or younger, by furniture, inclusion in a multiple burial and location. The thesis concludes that a variety of factors affected how an individual was buried, with age a strong determining factor for those dying at a young age. The influence of age is interpreted as resulting from medieval attitudes to infants, children and adolescents based on active, socially-identified characteristics, indicative of age-based appropriate burial treatment on both familial and community levels due to emotional, social, religious and economic concerns.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Cambridge

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