Reconsidering obstetric death and female fertility in Anglo-Saxon England

Sayer, Duncan and Dickinson, Sam D. (2013) Reconsidering obstetric death and female fertility in Anglo-Saxon England. World Archaeology, 45 (2). pp. 285-297. ISSN 0043-8243

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Little has been written about female fertility and maternal mortality from an archaeological perspective.
Typically debates focus on the physical aspects of childbirth, ignoring an obvious truth: the biggest single
cause of death for women was childbirth. Whether death took place as a result of mechanical malpresentation,
infection or blood loss, the root cause was undeniable. In this article we argue that post-mortem extrusion is
improbable and that young infants and women found buried together are likely to have died together.
However, most deaths would not have been simultaneous and so we build on demographic data to conclude
that the early Anglo-Saxons engaged institutions which controlled female sexuality. Late marriage, cultural
and legal taboos and an emphasis on mature fertility acted to limit the probability of death; however, the risk
to the individual was real and each funerary party was the agent that constructed death ways to manage loss.

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