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Archaeology of growth and development in children

Today’s town of Chora is on the site of the Classical city of Astypalaia, next to which the 22nd Ephorate of Prehistoric & Classical Antiquities is excavating the worlds largest children’s cemetery

Bioarchaeological research into ancient child development

The skeleton of an infant originally buried inside an amphora on the Astypalaia ancient children’s cemetery

Development in children is strongly related to the environment within which they grow up – disease, nutrition and social factors all have an impact. The rate of development and the pattern of changes in different systems of the body with increasing age are an important way in which the conditions of life in a population can be assessed. They are used today, for example to assess needs for nutritional supplementation in developing countries. The challenge for this archaeological project is to find ways in which the sequence of development can be assessed for ancient children.

Different parts of the body grow to different schedules so, for example, the brain develops rapidly in young children and reaches almost adult size early, whereas general body size develops more gradually throughout the growth period. In archaeological skeletons, the state of development of skull bones surrounding the brain can be compared with the state of development of limb bones. The greatest challenge lies in studying rate and schedule of development, because these require an independent way in which age can be estimated.

Upper incisor tooth from a child who suffered disturbances to growth at about 1, 2 and 3 years of age

Most age-at-death estimation methods for children’s skeletons themselves depend on standards which assume a rate of change similar to those of normal living children, which makes them useless for determining rate in the past.

In this project, the team takes advantage of the fact that the tissues of the teeth, enamel and dentine, grow as a series of daily layers which provide an independent clock against which changes to dentition and skeleton can be compared. Work includes a study of the development of children through 1000 years of London history, using these methods to calibrate the rate and pattern of development.

The project also includes the recovery and study of infant remains from the world’s largest ancient child cemetery, on the island of Astypalaia in Greece. In addition, the project team are working on the development of children from the large Neolithic settlement of Çatalhöyük in Turkey.


Related outputs

  • Clement, A., Hillson, S. & Michalaki-Kollia, M. (2010). The ancient cemeteries of Astypalaia, Greece. Archaelogy International, 12, pp. 17-21.
  • Hillson, S. (2009). The World's Largest Infant Cemetery and its Potential for Studying Growth and Development: the Notia Kylindra Site on the Island of Astypalaia in the Dodecanese. In: Schepartz, L., Bourbou, C. & Fox, S. (Eds), New Directions in the Skeletal Biology of Greece. Occasional Wiener Laboratory Series. American School of Classical Studies at Athens, pp. 137-154.
  • Antoine, D.M., Hillson, S. & Dean, M.C. (2009). The developmental clock of dental enamel: a test for the periodicity of prism cross-striations in modern humans and an evaluation of the most like sources or error in histological studies of this kind. Journal of Anatomy, 214, pp. 45-55.
  • Antoine, D.M., Dean, M.C. & Hillson, S. (1999). The Periodicity of Incremental Structures in Dental Enamel Based on the Developing Dentition of Post-Medieval Known-age Children. In: Mayhall, J.T. & Heikinnen, T. (Eds), Dental Morphology '98. Oulu: Oulu University Press, pp. 48-55.
  • Hillson, S., Antoine, D.M. & Dean, M.C. (1999). A Detailed Developmental Study of the Defects of Dental Enamel in a Group of Post-Medieval Children from London. In: Mayhall, J.T. & Heikinnen, T. (Eds), Dental Morphology '98. Oulu: Oulu University Press, pp. 102-111.
  • Fitzgerald, C. & Hillson, S. (2009). Deciduous tooth growth in an ancient Greek infant cemetery. In: Koppe, T., Meyer, G. & Alt, K. W. (Eds), Comparative dental morphology. Basel: Karger, pp. 178-183.

Funding

  • Leverhulme Trust
  • Astypalaia bioanthropology field school
  • Çatalhöyük research project

Project Leader:


Project Partners:

  • Daniel Antoine, British Museum
  • Charles FitzGerald, McMaster University
  • Melina Filimonos – Director, 22nd Ephorate of Prehistoric & Classical Antiquities, Hellenic Ministry of Culture
  • Anna Clement, UCL Institute of Archaeology
  • Louise Humphrey, Natural History Museum

Keywords:


Further information:


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