Death and the Anglo-Saxon Mother

Sayer, Duncan orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-2769-1281 and Dickinson, Sam, D (2013) Death and the Anglo-Saxon Mother. British Archaeology, 132 . pp. 30-35.

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In the dispersed, rural communities of the early middle ages everyone would have known someone who had, or who would, die as a result of childbirth. In many past societies maternity was probably the highest killer of young women. It still is in the developing world today and demographic patterns show young female fatality in contemporary statistics and archaeological mortuary populations. Excavated early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, for example, suggest that around 28% of women died in just one decade of life, their 20s. Despite this situation the currency of archaeological interpretation favours two ideas: coffin birth and human sacrifice over obstetric calamity. In a newly published, open access, World Archaeology paper Duncan Sayer and Sam Dickinson challenge these two interpretations. This reappraisal builds on the on-going excavation of Oakington early Anglo-Saxon cemetery. Grave 57, excavated in 2011, contained a woman laid with her child still in her uterus, a discovery which steered the excavators to reconsider obstetric death and female fertility in Anglo-Saxon England.

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