Care in the Past: Archaeological and Interdisciplinary Perspectives (IMRS Seminar Series, Durham University, Summer 2012)

We would like to invite you to attend the first of the Institute of Medieval and Renaissance Studies and Department of Archaeology sponsored ‘Care in the Past: Archaeological and Interdisciplinary Perspectives’ seminars of the Summer. This seminar series, culminating in a one-day conference on Saturday 6th October at the College of St. Hild and St. Bede, intends to examine the ways in which both archaeological evidence and interdisciplinary approaches can be used to answer the question of how past societies approached issues of care and treatment.

One of the major social challenges faced today is the provision of care for the elderly, the disabled and the young within society, with contemporary debates dominating local, national and global agendas. The importance of the study of care has been recognised by all research councils, resulting in the formation of the cross-council programme on Lifelong Health and Well-Being. In addition, the AHRC has highlighted the topic of Care in the Past as one of its four priority themes for current research, stressing the importance of historical knowledge in policy formation. Until recently the study of care has been shied away from in archaeological thought. However, cutting-edge research in both archaeology and bioarchaeology has begun generating questions that implicate care, particularly with regards to the social identity of those who required it. Such research, whilst promising, is still incipient, and the ways in which archaeology can contribute to and interact with other disciplines concerned with historical care have yet to be realised. This research dialogue will contribute to the greater awareness of this emerging research field by allowing engagement between academics and research students from multiple disciplines. As such, we are keen to invite both attendance and participation from individuals from all backgrounds who have an interest in historic notions of care, medicine and treatment.

The first of our seminars is, Infant health and well-being: the swaddled babies of Hellenistic Italy Dr. Emma-Jayne Graham (University of Leicester) 4PM, Friday 18th May, Birley Room (D205), Department of Archaeology, Dawson Building.  Abstract: The act of making a votive offering, in anticipation of divine favour, as a gesture of thanks for assistance received or as part of a rite of passage within the life-course, was deeply embedded within Italic religious practice. Such acts appear to have gained a wider role from the 4th century BC as large quantities of affordable terracotta objects came to be dedicated at sanctuaries across Central Italy. The so-called Etrusco-Latial-Campanian votive tradition comprised ‘anatomical’ offerings thought to be connected with healing cults, statuettes of both male and female worshippers, busts, male and female genitalia and uteri perhaps linked with fertility, as well as animal figurines. A considerable number also took the form of newborn infants wrapped in swaddling bands. These ‘bambini in fasce’ have been less intensively studied than many of the other items deposited alongside them but have the potential to provide compelling evidence for very real concerns about infant health in Etrusco-Italic and early Roman Italy. This paper will assess the evidence for these swaddled infant ex-votos in order to explore the nuances of their meaning, for both ancient parents and their newborn children. Whilst they evidently indicate that, at a time of high infant mortality and perilous childbirth, the present and future well-being of the newborn was of sufficient cause for concern for parents to involve the divine directly in their care, was this restricted merely to the physical health of a neonate or might these offerings also represent a more complex relationship that took account of the spiritual and social well-being of infants and their bodies?

This will be followed on Friday the 25th of May at 4PM with a talk entitled ‘The Identification and Management of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Disability in Middle to Late English Medieval Populations: AD1066-AD1600’ by Julie Peacock, of the Department of Archaeology at Durham University, more details of which will follow shortly.

If anyone is interested in presenting a seminar in the Summer Series, for which slots remain open, or has any other queries, please contact us: Lindsay Powell and Will Southwell-Wright, Care in the Past Research Dialogue Co-ordinators Department of Archaeology, Durham University

About Centre for Medical Humanities

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