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Mother and Child: Archaeological Evidence of Childbirth Complications in Medieval Normandy

Abstract : Mother and child : archaeological focus from some cases of difficult chilbirth in medieval Normandy Most of the time, funeral archaeology offers only a very partial perception of the maternal mortality, which is the feminine mortality occuring during pregnancy or at the end of it, during the delivery or due to childbirth-related causes. If the vital risks linked to the maternity are often mentionned to explain an abnormally overmortality of the young women within the archaeological populations, the low number of reported cases in most of the medieval cemeteries is very probably contrary to the lived reality by the populations of this period. Pregnancy and childbirth problems or their immediate consequences are frequently topics put forward in the iconographic or literary sources of the end of the Middle Ages (medical or scientific treaty, miracles stories...). Pregnancy and expectant delivery are often associated with fear and pain, possibly leading to death the mother or her child. The estimate of maternal mortality in archaeological population is mostly impossible to calculate because of bias related to the archaeological context (differential bone preservation depending on age, sex or the ground nature, evolution over time of the type of graves, depending on the funerary rural or urban context, ignorance of the size of the alive population...). In archaeology, only simultaneous mother and child deaths can be identified as deaths occured during the pregnancy, the childbirth or its followings. Only the pregnant women skeletons found with a foetus in the belly or those of lying-in women died with their child almost simultaneously and buried with their newborn child deposited in the same grave, in the direct contact of the maternal body can be taken into account. Examples belonging from several Norman medieval cemeteries (leprosy of Saint-Thomas d' Aizier (XIIth-XVIth century), parochial cemeteries of Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais of Courcy (XIth-XIVth century) and Saint-Pierre of Darnétal (XIVth-XVth century) allow us to retrace what was going on the childbirth and the probable causes of its interruption or its fatal end, but also to raise the subject of the bodies position in the grave and the possible specific location in the sepulcral area of these particular graves.
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https://hal-normandie-univ.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-02145555
Contributor : Cécile Chapelain de Seréville-Niel <>
Submitted on : Monday, June 3, 2019 - 10:05:24 AM
Last modification on : Wednesday, September 11, 2019 - 11:44:02 AM

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Cécile Chapelain de Seréville-Niel, Raphaëlle Lefebvre, Armelle Alduc-Le Bagousse. Mother and Child: Archaeological Evidence of Childbirth Complications in Medieval Normandy. Gislon Dopfel, Constanza ; Foscati, Alessandra ;Burnett, Charles (Eds). Pregnancy and Childbirth in the Premodern World: European and Middle Eastern Cultures, from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance, Brepols, pp.109-134, 2019, Cursor mundi (CURSOR 36), 978-2-503-58055-5. ⟨10.1484/M.CURSOR-EB.5.115606⟩. ⟨hal-02145555⟩

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