Monday, 14 April 2014

Palaeolithic Pests and Neolithic Nightmares: Were Prehistoric Children Really as Bad as You Think?

File:Neanderthals - Artist's rendition of Earth approximately 60,000 years ago.jpg
When you picture a prehistoric child, what do you see?

Popular culture and biological evidence have influenced our belief that children in prehistory were unruly, temperamental and ultimately extremely violent. There have been two interesting articles published this month that aim to shed light on prehistoric childhood.

A research team from PALAEO (Centre forHuman Palaeoecology and Evolutionary Origins) and the Department of Archaeology at York recently offered a new and distinctive perspective which suggests that Neanderthal children experienced strong emotional attachments with their immediate social group. This research results from an investigation into Neanderthal burial sites which suggests that children’s graves were generally more elaborate graves than those of older individuals.

“The traditional view sees Neanderthal childhood as unusually harsh, difficult and dangerous. This accords with preconceptions about Neanderthal inferiority and an inability to protect children epitomising Neanderthal decline. Our research found that a close attachment and particular attention to children is a more plausible interpretation of the archaeological evidence, explaining an unusual focus on infants and children in burial, and setting Neanderthal symbolism within a context which is likely to have included children.” Said Dr Spikins from the research team involved in the project.

A second paper, published as an advance article in  European Journal of Archaeology and titled Ageing, Childhood and Social Identity in the Early Neolithic of Central Europe, also challenges the traditional preconception of prehistoric children. In this case focusing on the children of the Neolithic Linearbandkeramik culture, the article argues that Neolithic children could have played an active role in their communities from a young age and visits the discovery of handmade tools, particularly smaller versions of axes or ‘grave goods’ that could be found in the child graves. These tools suggest that not only did children play an active role in their communities from a young age but also suggest an acknowledged engagement with the process of growing and learning into adulthood.

Read Ageing, Childhood and Social Identity in the Early Neolithic of Central Europe here >

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