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Childbirth in prehistory: An introduction

  • Elisabeth Beausang (a1)

Abstract

Childbirth in prehistorical contexts is seldom considered since there seems to be an underlying assumption that this event lacks a surrounding and traceable material culture. The argument here is that this is a judgement based upon the refusal to acknowledge childbirth as an important social event. Therefore material remains have not been identified as related to childbirth in the archaeological record. The aim of this article is to show that childbirth as a concept has many important social implications and might in fact be traceable in a wide range of prehistoric material. To illustrate this, two examples of different remains are discussed. Firstly, a skeleton with indications of childbirth, as in the case of the mesolithic ‘Woman of Barum’ found in southern Sweden. In connection with this the social implications of mother, mothering will be discussed. Secondly, the Chalcolithic findings from Kissonerga-Mosphilia, Cyprus, are highlighted and suggested to be the remains of a functional set of birth-related equipment.

L'accouchement n'est pas souvent mentionné dans le contexte préhistorique, et ceci est probablement dû à la supposition qu'il n'est pas possible de démontrer l'existence d'une culture matérielle reliée à cet événement. Cette supposition est basée sur le manque d'attention portée à l'accouchement en tant qu'événement social important. En conséquence, peu d'interêt a été accordé aux restes de matériel associé à l'accouchement dans le contexte archéologique. Le but de cet article est de démontrer que l'accouchement, en tant que concept, a une importance sociale fondamentale et qu'il est possible d'en trouver la trace dans un éventail assez large de matériel préhistorique. Deux exemples sont présentés. Le premier est un squelette avec indication d'accouchement, connu sous le nom de “La femme de Barum”, trouvé dans le Sud de la Suède. Pour cet exemple, je centre ma discussion sur l'importance sociale d'être mère et du maternage. Le deuxième exemple est tiré des découvertes Chalcolithiques de Kissonerga-Mosphilia à Chypre et pourrait bien être le reste d'un ensemble d'équipement fonctionnel associé à l'accouchement.

Zusammenfassung

Die Geburt wird in prähistorischen Kontexten selten berücksichtigt, was wohl in der Annahme begründet ist, dass dieses Ereignis keine ermittelbare materielle Kultur hinterlässt. Im folgenden wird nun argumentiert, dass dieses Urteil auf einer Vernachlässigung von Geburt als wichtiges soziales Ereignis basiert. Deshalb blieben die mit der Geburt in Beziehung stehenden archäologischen materiellen Hinterlassenschaften unbeachtet. Ziel dieses Artikels ist es zu zeigen, dass Geburt als Konzept viele wichtige soziale Implikationen hat und tatsächlich in einer Fülle prähistorischen Materials auffindbar sein mag. Zwei Beispiele hierfür werden diskutiert. Zum einen wurde ein Skelett mit Hinweisen auf eine Geburt in Südschweden gefunden, bekannt als die mesolithische “Frau von Barum”. In diesem Fall werden die sozialen Implikationen der Mutterschaft diskutiert. Zum anderen werden die chalkolitischen Funde von Kissonerga-Mosphilia, Zypern, beleuchtet und als Überreste eines funktionalen Sets von für Geburten genutzten Gerätschafteninterpretiert.

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