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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Research Postgraduates

Publication details for Professor Rebecca Gowland

Gowland, R. L. (2019). Ruptured: Reproductive Loss, Bodily Boundaries, Time and the Life Course in Archaeology. In The Mother-Infant Nexus in Anthropology. Small Beginnings, Significant Outcomes. Gowland, Rebecca & Halcrow, SIan Springer. 257-274.

Author(s) from Durham


The concept of the bounded body is powerfully resonant within the post-industrialised Western world; it is performed and reinforced through cultural practices which observe the maintenance of bodily space and the delineation of individual bodies. Recent research on the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease hypothesis, epigenetics and microchimerism has increasingly exposed the fragility of this construct. As feminist scholars have stated, the pregnant body represents the ultimate boundary transgression: the body within a body. This chapter aims to provide a theoretical exploration of the maternal body, the interconnectedness of mothers and infants in relation to bodily boundaries, and the impact of reproductive loss (miscarriage/neonatal death). Approximately 15–25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and infant mortality rates in the past are estimated at 25–30%. Reproductive loss brings violent rupture to a woman’s sense of bodily boundaries, both literally, in that she is unable to contain the foetus, but also because she is required to reconfigure her expected self. Up to 40% of mothers who miscarry suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 3 months afterwards. This rupture of the infant-mother nexus creates social anxieties concerning the boundedness of both infants and mothers that have hitherto-unexplored repercussions for burial practice and bioarchaeological interpretations.