Social archaeology, Prehistoric children -- North America, Children -- History


The Archaeology of Childhood is a relatively recent focus of archaeological inquiry. An interest in prehistoric childhood comes on the heels of and as a necessary extension of feminist archaeology (Baxter 2008). Archaeological research in the past has largely ignored prehistoric children, or considered them only in the context of site formation processes or child burials (Schwartzman 2006). This neglect of prehistoric children was due to a belief that children were invisible in the archaeological record, because of their unpredictable behavior and their inactivity in the world of adults. They were thought to be passive participants rather than active influencers of their worlds (Baxter 2006).

The study of childhood in archaeology is relevant, because children are not invisible or irrelevant in the archaeological record as was previously believed. Children were not passive observers of prehistoric life, but actively shaped and influenced it. Children’s needs and behaviors influenced adults’ decision making and they most likely contributed significantly to subsistence and influenced social organization (Kamp 2001).

The data on childhood is still fragmentary, but some of the investigations show great promise and are spurring innovative approaches to exploring the lives of children in the prehistoric past. A few archaeologists study children in their own right, rather than as tools to understand adults, and some of their work will be examined here (Schwartzman 2006). I will present the diverse work of several different researchers who contributed to the so far scant material on childhood in prehistoric North America. I will discuss Robert Park’s work on miniatures of the Thule and Dorset cultures, Kathryn Kamp’s study of juvenile pottery using fingerprint analysis, Patricia Smith’s exploration into whether children were ceramic innovators, Greg Nelson and Felicia Madimenos’ study of cranial deformation due to the use of cradleboards, and finally Mark Schurr’s analysis of weaning behavior in three North American villages. The diversity of the studies presented here speaks to the fragmentary nature of the archaeology of childhood, but also of the multitude of ways in which children shaped prehistoric life and cultures.



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