Baby Burials, etc.


My excavation diary entry #2:

This entry will be primarily concerned with platforms f. 1651 and 1664.  Since burial f. 4000, I brought down the NW platform, 1651, out of phase in order to create a more workable area, as the burials are now over half a meter down from the surface of the platform.  There are some semi-articulated remains at the bottom of the cut that need to be investigated, but have been put on hold until f. 1651 becomes more accessible.  An earlier burial, f. 4009, was cut by the later f. 4000, and was only a pair of juvenile legs, 14438, in the NW extent of the main burial cut f. 4000.  After removal of the skeleton from cut [14481], more skeletal remains were found, but they will not be investigated until platform f. 1651 is further excavated.

Removal of white plaster layer 14463 on northwest platform, f. 1651 freed a lip of plaster overlaying platform f. 1664, effectively connecting the platforms in sequence.  A series of layers, 14487 (make-up), 14488 (plaster), 14490 (plaster and make-up) were removed from f. 1651, revealing burial f. 4011.  This was the skeleton of a juvenile, 16601.  The burial was extremely tightly flexed, inside a remarkably small cut [16602] for the age (10-12) and size of the individual.  After this skeleton was excavated and lifted by Lori Hager, I removed a layer of plaster, 16620, which is contiguous with wall plaster 16622.  This freed 16619, the remains of the plaster lip between the platforms, which may have been contiguous with 16620 and 16622, but it was unclear.  This was followed by a series of layers removed as a single unit, 16621, revealing f. 4012, a neonate burial in the western extent of the platform.  I exposed the skeleton, 16627, and it was lifted by Basak Boz.  The neonate was disturbed, resulting in an odd placement of the lower legs, and the skull was crushed by depositional processes.  Investigation of the cut revealed another unidentified bone, but it was determined to be either in another cut or in an animal burrow and unassociated with the burial.  Further investigation will follow as the platform is removed.  Layers 16630 and 16631 (both series of floors and make-up) were removed from the platform.  A layer of makeup, 16632, will be removed tomorrow, finally freeing the floors of the building, ending a phase, and possibly revealing another burial cut, one that remains unseen in section, but seems inevitable.

Excavating the neonate myself was tedious and a little strange—attitudes around the site regarding the baby burials range from being flip and dismissive, to annoyance at their presence (as they are difficult to excavate), to calling them cute and expressing delight over their little bones.  I have excavated burials before, but nothing so young as this one.  Burials are not what thrills me about archaeology—give me architectural/stratigraphic puzzles and shiny rocks any day—and I am primarily interested in their place in the sequence and interpretation onsite, but it was difficult to be indifferent to such a tiny thing and not wonder at least a little about the circumstances of the baby’s death.  I was also under pressure, as it was locking the entire building to further excavation and I had to use bamboo skewers, tiny teaspoons, and a puffer to move our sequence along.  Regardless, Basak and I stayed up on site late and we were able to finish it in a single day.  I suppose it’s just one more thing to think about as I scratch across the layers of plaster on my platforms.

Author: colleenmorgan

Dr. Colleen Morgan (ORCID 0000-0001-6907-5535) is the Lecturer in Digital Archaeology and Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. She conducts research on digital media and archaeology, with a special focus on embodiment, avatars, genetics and bioarchaeology. She is interested in building archaeological narratives with emerging technology, including photography, video, mobile and locative devices. Through archaeological making she explores past lifeways and our current understanding of heritage, especially regarding issues of authority, authenticity, and identity.

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