Dying Young: a bioarchaeological analysis of child health in Roman Britain

Review by Claire Hodson

Over the last decade, numerous studies have challenged the traditional assumptions that the words ‘Roman Britain’ may incite. Included within this re-evaluation has been the increase in osteological analyses to reveal further insights into those working, living, and dying within Romano-British communities. Yet, despite this, the non-adults – infants, children, and teenagers – of Roman Britain have received considerably less scholarly attention.

With the lives of non-adults in the past – and analysis of their health and wellbeing through bioarchaeological assessment – becoming more widely recognised, Dying Young is an important addition to an ever-growing body of literature. Resoundingly unique in scope and extraordinarily detailed, this volume is the first to provide a thorough assessment of childhood health in Roman Britain.

With the primary assessment of 953 individuals, combined with the inclusion of secondary data from 690 individuals, Rohnbogner has produced an unrivalled study. Drawing together skeletal data from 28 archaeological sites (spanning the 1st to 5th centuries AD), of both major and minor urban status, as well as rural sites, this monograph evaluates morbidity and mortality throughout the non-adult life.

The osteological and palaeopathological considerations explored throughout this volume are diverse. With discussion around age-at-death, growth, weaning, diet, and working lives incorporated alongside the extensive palaeopathological discussion, novel insights into the dichotomy between rural and urban living are highlighted. Findings are indicative of rural exploitation, with a marked disparity in health between urban and rural populations. Evidence of non-specific infection, metabolic disease, and cribra orbitalia were all higher in both rural and minor-urban samples than major-urban ones, indicative of poor health and lower status.

No other project has been so comprehensive in its approach, and this volume makes a significant contribution to both bioarchaeology and Roman archaeology. As such, the book will be invaluable to anyone interested in the life course of non-adults, as well as to anyone fascinated by Roman Britain in general, and the everyday lives of its citizens in both rural and urban communities.

Dying Young: a bioarchaeological analysis of child health in Roman Britain [available to read and buy here]
Anna Rohnbogner
BAR Publishing, £50
ISBN 978-1407359595