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Friday, 22 June 2012

Freaky Friday - The Sewer of Babies

For thousands of years they held their dark and grisly secrets.

In 1912 archaeologists excavating the remains of Yewden Villa in Hambleden Buckinghamshire stumbled across the skeletal remains of 97 babies in a Roman sewer.  Examination of the bones found that all the babies had died at around 40 weeks gestation, ruling out death by disease or natural disaster.  If the deaths had been due to natural causes then a range of ages would be expected.  These deaths were anything but natural. 

In roman times infanticide was seen as an effective method of contraception.  With males being favoured over females many female babies were killed soon after birth or simply abandoned to the elements.  As this letter from a roman to his wife demonstrates:

'I am still in Alexandria. ... I beg and plead with you to take care of our little child, and as soon as we receive wages, I will send them to you. In the meantime, if (good fortune to you!) you give birth, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, expose it.'

But surely this grisly discovery was a one off.  Just how many roman sewers stuffed full of dead babies can their be?

In 1988 another discovery was made in Ashkelon, Israel.  Hundreds of tiny skeletons in a sewer belonging to a roman bath house.  Again it was found that the babies had all died around the same age, soon after birth.  DNA examination of the bones found that the proportion of male babies was significantly higher with 14 of the successfully tested femurs being male and only five female.  This brought about the speculation that the babies were that of the prostitutes working in the bath house.  The males were of no value and a financial burden, so were disposed of.  Where as the majority of the girls were raised to become servants and to later work in the bath house themselves.  Of course this is all speculation and no one knows the real reason for the discovery of hundreds of infants in the sewers of Buckinghamshire and Israel, but it doesn't make it any less horrifying.

For more information on the discovery in Ashkelon please click here.

1 comment:

  1. The sight of that tiny little skeleton... :( So very sad. Intriguing though, I am always fascinated by things like this...


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