13th century stillborn baby discovered at medieval settlement site was likely buried in the family home

13th century stillborn baby discovered at medieval settlement site was likely buried in the family home

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The tiny remains of a 13th century stillborn baby have been discovered by archaeologists excavating the site of a new road in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.  Experts identified the baby’s skeleton as a stillborn at about 28 to 36-week stage of pregnancy.



The infant skeleton was discovered at the medieval settlement site near Ermine Street, along with a blacksmith’s hearth, a cobbled street and pottery dating back to the 11th century.  The site is believed to be in the vicinity of the lost church of St Andrew’s and a former Roman road.

Aileen Connor, of Oxford Archaeology East, said: “One possibility is that the baby was born dead and that they have buried it in the house.”

Another possibility, although less likely according to Mrs Connor, is that the baby was given a church burial at St Andrew’s.

“It is possible that if we’re on the edge of a church yard we will find more human remains,” Mrs Connor said.  “However, it’s all looking like houses at the moment.”

Archaeology occasionally turns up these centuries-old snapshots of human tragedy.

The burial of this baby within the family home would accord with the Church’s refusal to allow miscarried or stillborn babies to be buried in consecrated ground, as they had not been baptised.  The belief was that the child went neither to Heaven nor Hell, but to Limbo, where they could never know God.

The Church’s refusal of a proper funeral for unbaptised babies persisted until well into the 20th century, and was bitterly felt by grieving parents.

The midwives’ professional oath in 1649 instructed them:

If any childe bee dead borne, you your selfe shall see it buried in such secret place as neither Hogg nor Dogg, nor any other Beast may come unto it, and in such sort done, as it may not be found or perceived, as much as you may; and that you shall not suffer any such childe to be cast into the privy or any other inconvenient place.

A village craftsman in Gosforth, Lancashire, in the 1950s, explained:  “If tha didn’t get kiddy baptised by t’parson, it would have to be put in a box and stuck in t’ground like some sort o’ animal … It wouldn’t be right like a proper babby, it would be just like burying a dog or a sheep.”

To ease the parents’ pain, a baby might be secretly placed in the coffin of an adult, to share their funeral and grave.

13th century skeleton of stillborn baby, discovered in Huntingdon, Cambridgshire
13th century skeleton of stillborn baby, discovered in Huntingdon, Cambridgshire

Source: Hunts Post

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