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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Research Postgraduates

Publication details for Professor Rebecca Gowland

Gowland, R. L. & Chamberlain, A.T. (2002). A Bayesian Approach to Ageing Perinatal Skeletal Material from Archaeological Sites: Implications for the Evidence for Infanticide in Roman-Britain. Journal of Archaeological Science 29(6): 677-685.

Author(s) from Durham


The skeletal remains of substantial numbers of perinatal human infants have been excavated from within a variety of archaeological contexts dating to the Romano-British period. It has been argued that the distribution of ages at death of these infants, which appears to exhibit a pronounced neonatal peak, provides evidence for infanticide. This study re-evaluates the osteological evidence for infanticide in Roman Britain by first identifying biases in traditional techniques for estimating the age of perinatal skeletons and then using a Bayesian procedure to reassess the ages at deaths of almost 400 infants from a number of Roman sites throughout England. We conclude that the apparent peak in neonatal mortality shown by earlier investigations is an artefact of regression-based age estimation. The distribution of ages at death in Romano-British infants is similar to a natural mortality profile.