Infants Raised and Buried: A Bioarchaeological Perspective on Burial, Identity, and Personhood of Perinates in Medieval Transylvania



Reinman, Lauren Renée

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Through the study of burial contexts, bioarchaeologists can identify patterns of burials to address changing concepts of identity and personhood as a reflection of the ethnogenetic process. While social and political influences have long been studied in terms of the expressions of identity in mortuary rituals, the study of children and infant burials have long been neglected. However, it is argued here the burials of perinate and infant individuals may be particularly susceptible in certain times and places to manipulations of ascribed identity reflecting the changing beliefs of a community. This work focuses on the mortuary context of 36 perinates under the age of one year from the Papdomb archaeological site located in Văleni, Romania (12th-17th century). The site encompasses the remains of a medieval church and its associated cemetery where 664 burials have been recovered. Here, perinates were studied in terms of age-at-death estimation, pathological conditions, orientation of the body, location, and associated grave goods. These data were subjected to qualitative and quantitative analysis including correspondence analysis. The findings reveal a distinct pattern to the burial treatment of perinates and infants potentially at odds with Christian doctrine. These observations are contextualized within frameworks of larger belief systems and may reflect expressions of local pre-Christian concepts of personhood. In this way, burial of the very young may varyingly reflect dimensions of symbolic resistance, syncretism and ethnogenesis, and cultural hybridity resulting from polyethnic interactions that transformed local culture.



Infant, Personhood, Identity, Transylvania, Ethnogenesis