Negotiating Infant Personhood in Death: Interpreting Atypical Burials in the Late Roman Infant and Child Cemetery at Poggio Gramignano (Italy) | April 2022 (126.2)

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The Late Antique (ca. 450 CE) infant cemetery uncovered at Poggio Gramignano near Lugnano in Teverina (Italy) has been interpreted as a catastrophic death assemblage associated with an acute epidemic of Plasmodium falciparum malaria and a resulting episode of increased infant mortality. Previous research has noted the unique mortuary ritual associated with these burials but has not adequately considered the social implications of the nonnormative burial of the infant and even fetal dead. This paper considers 10 newly uncovered burials of infants and one child from the cemetery, analyzed in situ using an archaeothanatological approach to separate postdepositional taphonomic change from the social and ritual dimensions of intentional funerary behavior. The mortuary treatment provided to these individuals suggests a possible fear of the dead, and more significantly, maternal grief and a desire for remembrance that contrasts with Roman cultural expectations surrounding the mourning of infants. The treatment of these individuals in death provides valuable and specific insight into the attitudes of this rural community’s shared stress surrounding unexplained illness, infant death, and traditional beliefs in an era of significant cultural and social transition.

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