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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Research Postgraduates

Publication details for Professor Rebecca Gowland

Penny-Mason, Bennjamin J & Gowland, Rebecca L (2014). The Children of the Reformation: Childhood Palaeoepidemiology in Britain, ad 1000–1700. Medieval Archaeology 58(1): 162-194.

Author(s) from Durham


CHILDHOOD IS A TIME of rapid biological growth and development, and a stage of the life course during which bodies are particularly sensitive to social and environmental stressors. As a consequence, events which may impact upon a child’s care and treatment can become physically embodied within their bones and teeth. The skeletal remains of children have been neglected within archaeological discourse until recently, but they are, in fact, a particularly important demographic for understanding the impact of social processes on past population health. This research examines the prevalence of skeletal disease in children (≤16 years) in Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) between ad 1000 and 1700. Data for a total of 4,626 children from 95 sites were collated from published and unpublished skeletal reports and analysed for evidence of skeletal changes reflecting disease. A biocultural approach was adopted in which the evidence was interpreted in relation to ecological, social, economic and environmental conditions. It was observed that childhood levels of skeletal stress did increase significantly after 1540. It was noted that during the Reformation sociocultural and economic factors added to stressors in the ecology of the medieval child. The effects of the Reformation were found to be the greatest aggravator in the rise of morbidity prevalence over seven centuries. Differences in morbidity patterns between non-adult age categories indicated that a state of ‘childhood’ existed until at least eleven years of age, after which there appears to have been a gradual transition into adolescence and adulthood.