Current Archaeology #260 (November) has a piece on the Roman baby burials at Yewden villa in England. Excavated in the 1910s, they have long been suspected to represent infanticide. Now Simon Mays has been able to prove that this is indeed the case by means of new osteological methods and comparison with other burial sites. People have wondered if the site was a military brothel. Since it’s a rural high-status habitation, this seems rather unlikely. But Mays suggests that if the child murders were spread out over three centuries, what sets Yewden apart is mainly the tenacity of the custom. There are indications that the same thing went on at other sites as well, but more episodically.
I met Mays once, at a conference in Riga in 1996 when I was a 24-y-o PhD student. He gave an interesting talk on infant burial in Roman Britain, and I asked if the skeletons could be sexed, which might say something about gender attitudes. He replied that they could not, but that he hoped to be able to do so soon. I nodded and said “Yes, that would be quite a breakthrough”, which for some reason drew a laugh from the audience. I suppose they found my young self a little over-earnest or self-important. But Mays did not laugh. And now he has sexed ten of the Yewden babies with DNA! Their sex ratio is fairly even.
Current Archaeology #2610 (December) has a good piece on cave archaeology in Northern England. I was saddened to learn that most of the area’s caves were dug out and robbed of their stratification in the 19th century by “antiquarians”. Pockets of remaining sediment prove that their faunal record goes back to the Pleistocene. Too bad we saw nothing similar at my little cave dig in Pukberget back in August.
Alderney is a small island in the English Channel that I hadn’t heard of before. Jason Monaghan, museums director for Guernsey, presents the evidence that a small fort on Alderney is one of the best-preserved Roman fortifications in the world. The reason that it hasn’t been recognised as such before seems to be partly that Alderney has seen few visits from archaeologists, partly simply that the thing is unbelievably well preserved. Archaeologists expect ruins.
British Archaeology #121 (Nov/Dec) and Skalk 2011:5 provided good everyday reading but nothing I feel compelled to comment on.