Amy Dapling

The Archaeology of Infanticide in Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Britain

Supervisors: Holger Schutkowski and Jo Buckberry
Funding: AHRC

The continued existence of widespread infanticide in the Middle Ages is usually denied by medievalists who suggest that it is not evident in church records and other quantitative sources. However, overlying and infanticide are often cited in the penitential context, with references made in ecclesiastical statutes of the era to the dangers of taking a child into bed. The elimination of at least female infants was probable in medieval England since this would explain the markedly higher sex ratios (males to females) reported from this period, and would also explain the dearth of adult females in medieval cemetery samples.

The aim of this research is to analyse the sex ratio of perinatal infants from Anglo-Saxon and medieval period sites in order to examine the possibility of the practice of infanticide in Britain within these periods. The purpose is to obtain the Infant Mortality Ratio, a standardised ratio of males to females, from the studied sites and to compare this with United Nations data, to mitigate against the larger conception rate and the greater biological vulnerability of male infants. This will highlight any abnormalities that may indicate a greater mortality rate of either sex, and which may therefore infer the practice of sex preferential infanticide within these periods.


Last Updated:15 February 2010