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21 January 2013
Baby bones found in ancient Italian village

About 25 kilometres from Siena in Tuscany, the settlement of Poggio Civitate dates back to at least the late eighth century BCE. Archaeologists excavating the site have found evidence of a lavish residential structure, as well as a 52 metre long open-air pavilion used as a workshop.
     In 1983, scientists uncovered a cache of bones on the workshop floor, consisting mostly of pig, goat, and sheep remains, but including two arm bones from one or more infants who died around birth. In 2009, a portion of the pelvis of a newborn baby surfaced.
     The bones "were either simply left on the floor of the workshop or ended up in an area with a concentration of discarded, butchered animals," said Anthony Tuck, an archaeologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (USA). The discovery of discarded infant bones in an area used for work could suggest that the people who laboured in the workshop had little social status, Tuck said. In 1971, archaeologists found an arm bone from another newborn or near-term foetus pushed up against the wall of the residence along with other bones and debris.
     Tuck said there is reason to think that people have not always given infants the same community status as adults or older children. Very few signs of infant burial appear in central Italian cemeteries from this time period, Tuck said. The handful of coffins containing baby bones that have been found are loaded with ornaments and jewelry, suggesting that only families of great wealth could have given a lost baby an adult-style funeral.
     Even in modern times, societies have sometimes seen babies as belonging to a different category than adults, Tuck said. Many cultures have naming traditions that only recognize the baby's identity significantly after birth. On the other hand, not all ancient cultures differentiate between the burials of babies and adults. Stone Age infant graves found in Austria dating to 27,000 years ago contain the same beads and pigments as adult gravesites.
     Tuck and his colleagues expect more finds to emerge in the Tuscany hills. More evidence that high- and low-class babies were buried differently would suggest that the civilization had a rigid hierarchy.

Edited from LiveScience (7 January 2013)

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