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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Research Postgraduates

Publication details for Professor Rebecca Gowland

Gowland, R. L. (2018). Infants and Mothers: Linked Lives and Embodied Life Courses. In The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Childhood. Crawford, S., Hadley, D. & Shepherd, G. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 104-121.

Author(s) from Durham


There is a burgeoning interest in the variable ways in which past and present societies construct the notion of foetal and infant entities and the beginnings of personhood. The newborn baby has often been conceptualized as a tabular rasa, a blank slate, which progressively becomes moulded by biological, environmental, and social forces. Within this construct the infant is likened to clay and indeed this analogy is made explicit in early medical writings. However, infants are conceived and born into social worlds and these impact on their nascent identities whilst still in utero. Likewise, cultural beliefs concerning gender identity, reproduction, and the pregnant body may have biological repercussions for the developing foetus. This chapter aims to explore the interplay between the body and society in the formation and conceptualization of infant bodies in the past.