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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Research Postgraduates

Publication details for Professor Rebecca Gowland

Lewis, M. E. & Gowland, R. L. (2007). Brief and precarious lives: infant mortality in contrasting sites from medieval and post-medieval England (AD 850-1859). American Journal of Physical Anthropology 134(1): 117-129.

Author(s) from Durham


This study compares the infant mortality profiles of 128 infants from two urban and two rural cemetery sites in medieval England. The aim of this paper is to assess the impact of urbanization and industrialization in terms of endogenous or exogenous causes of death. In order to undertake this analysis, two different methods of estimating gestational age from long bone lengths were used: a traditional regression method and a Bayesian method. The regression method tended to produce more marked peaks at 38 weeks, while the Bayesian method produced a broader range of ages and were more comparable with the expected natural mortality profiles.
At all the sites, neonatal mortality (28-40 weeks) outweighed post-neonatal mortality (41-48 weeks) with rural Raunds Furnells in Northamptonshire, showing the highest number of neonatal deaths and post-medieval Spitalfields, London, showing a greater proportion of deaths due to exogenous or environmental factors. Of the four sites under study, Wharram Percy in Yorkshire showed the most convincing natural infant mortality profile, suggesting the inclusion of all births at the site (i.e., stillbirths and unbaptised infants).