Ages and Abilities

Originating from a 2018 conference in Vienna entitled ‘Pregnancy, Birth, Early Infancy and Childhood: life’s greatest transition in the past’ (11th Annual International Conference of the Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past), this book is the ninth volume of the monograph series of the Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past (SSCIP). The collection of papers is a great addition to the series, which uses a multidisciplinary approach to present ground-breaking and challenging research into children and childhood from archaeology spanning the prehistoric to Classical periods in Europe and the Middle East.

The primary aim of this volume is to address the issue of bioarchaeological age assessment and the different social responses to ages and maturing within past societies. It comprises 16 chapters and is divided in two complementary sections, which could have profited from a deeper dialogue between one another. The first gathers six papers focusing on eastern Europe from the early Neolithic to the Iron Age, addressing the issue of the social consideration of children through the study of funerary practices. This section gives us evidence of a chronological evolution in the use of necropolises in a broad geographical area characterised by a relatively homogeneous cultural background. Although funerary practices are well known in this region, these papers discuss them from a novel angle: childhood. In particular, several articles highlight the heritage of the social status of the youngest individuals, based on associations of grave goods.

PHOTO: Marie-Lan Nguyen
PHOTO: Marie-Lan Nguyen

The second part focuses on later periods in Italy and the eastern part of the Mediterranean, addressing the social recognition of children using a broad range of evidence, from material culture to written sources and figurative representations. This part of the book opens interesting discussions regarding the social consideration and different stages of childhood. However, the volume would have benefited from a deeper discussion of the funerary data alongside local funerary practices to echo the results given in the first part.

Finally, a stand-alone paper discusses weaponry and its significance for the social integration of children. Various ethnographies document the active role of children in daily economic life (for example, hunting) or in war, which showcases the necessity of studying children as actors for past societies. This aspect would have been improved by new discussions using the other data in this volume, since it is still rarely taken into account in the archaeological literature.

Overall, however, the volume fills a gap in the childhood archaeology literature and gives new archaeological perspectives on children’s social status, a topic that remains understudied.

Melie Le Roy

Ages and Abilities: the stages of childhood and their social recognition in prehistoric Europe and beyond
Katharina Rebay-Salisbury and Doris Pany-Kucera (eds) Archaeopress, £38 
ISBN 978-1789697681