The secrets of dead children, sickness and accidents take their toll, and sometimes, the causes of death are far darker. Regardless, especially in the past, the deaths of children are a common thing. Archaeologists are especially interested in the remains of children, as they can tell us more about what cultures were like and how they treated those most vulnerable among them.
Sometimes, the burials of children are haunting things. Sometimes, they tell us things we don’t want to know.
1. The Mummified Child
During the Victorian era in London, it was a common thing for doctors to have preserved human remains on their walls as decoration. One such specimen was offered up to the research team at History Cold Cases. The specimen was a young child who had been remarkably preserved, and at first, it was guessed that he had sickened and died at a poor house. When no one claimed him, he entered the scientific community as a specimen. As the team looked further into the matter, however, it became increasingly clear that the child died almost 100 years before, at a time when bodies were stolen. The fact that he was a well-nourished child instead points to something very dark happening to the child before he was preserved.
2. Neanderthal Children
It was believed for many years that Neanderthal parents were often cruel and callous with their children. These prehistoric children were often found with shattered bones or fractures, things that made scientists believe that they were handled roughly. However, as time goes on and we learn more about the society of Neanderthals, it is believed that they treated their children with care. The bruises and contusions could have come from the simple fact that life was hard. Neanderthal children’s skeletons were often powdered with red ochre, something thought to symbolize rebirth, and they were more frequently buried with artifacts like marrow bones and primitive toys than the adults were.
3. The Children of the Cloud Warriors
The Cloud Warriors, known in their own time as the Chachapoyas, were known to the 16th century Spanish conquistadors as fine fighters. They resisted Spanish rule, but beyond that, today very little is known about them. This makes a strange burial site discovered only a few years ago even stranger. This burial site included 25 small sarcophagi, each containing a young child, and each facing west, something that is completely unknown with other burials. What makes these children so special, and what caused them to be buried away from their people?
4. The Greenland Baby
500 years ago, Greenland was a harsh place. Even in death, the people of the island were prepared to hunt, an activity that consumed their lives. Forty years ago, a group grave was discovered. It consisted of women and children, but unusually, there were no men in the burial site. Perhaps the most tragic story told by the site was that of the tiny infant held by one woman. Forensic analysis showed that the infant was alive when buried. It is guessed that in this culture, if a nursing mother died, her baby was buried with her as there was no chance for it to survive without her.
5. Child Fences
During the Bronze Age, the people who lived on the shores of the Alpine lakes in Switzerland and Germany were aware of the waters rising. This could spell the end of their homes and their livelihoods, and so even as they were pushed back, they tried to appease the lake gods. One of the ways they may have done this was with fences mounted with the skulls of children. Archaeologists believe that the children likely died of accident or disease, instead of being killed for ritual purposes, but the fact remains that this was a culture that used the remains of dead children to ward off rising water.