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Fall 1998

Research Magazine > ARCHIVE > Fall 98 > Article

Remains of the Dig
By Judy Bolyard Purdy

A cemetery in ancient Carthage is helping archaeologist Naomi Norman learn more about children's place in society during the heyday of the Roman Empire.

The UGA classics professor has found a special section of the large, well-preserved cemetery reserved for children. Norman said she was surprised by the large number of children's graves and by their segregation from the rest of the cemetery.

With funds from UGA, the Kress Foundation and the Polaroid Corporation, Norman and a crew of students, volunteers, Tunisian workers and professional archaeologists have excavated more than 60 burials (Research Reporter, Winter 1995). At least 14 were for children under age 7, and 12 were for children under age 2.

"Up to age 7, children get distinguished by different kinds of burials," Norman said. "Once they reach age 7, they seem to get buried the same way their parents are buried. The burials are a mirror of the actual social position of children in Roman society. They occupied a kind of limbo position until age 7, when they began their formal education."

Children who died under age 2 weren't usually buried in high-status cemeteries like this one, she said. More often they were buried under the floors of houses, which reflects their marginal status in society. That status also is reflected in Roman literature and language. For example, first century Romans had no distinct and specialized word for baby.

"Half of all children in antiquity died before age 5," Norman said. "Their high mortality rate may have helped shape their place in Roman society - how they were raised, acculturated and educated."

The cemetery, on the edge of the third-largest ancient Roman city, also is unique because it was used for six centuries and because it represents a wide swath of society: elite, common and poor citizens. A wealth of artifacts has been recovered from adult burials: exquisite marble statues, stucco tombs, a three-story monument and small burial items such as ritual pottery.

"Unlike many adult burial sites, most of the children were not buried with personal items," Norman said. "But we did find a few items, including an elegant glass bowl, a lead medallion and a bracelet of shells and bronze bells."

e-mail Naomi Norman at nnorman@arches.uga.edu

Photo by C. Sease, The Field Museum of Natural History


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