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Infant Burials and Christianization: The View from East Central Europe
Session: Early Medieval Europe I
Matthew B. Koval (University of Florida)
“Burying children under a holy roof was a way to pacify the unholy dead”
This was the second paper in the Early Medieval Europe I series given at KZOO and another fabulous archaeology paper. It contrasted infant grave sites in early converted medieval Poland and Anglo Saxon England.
This article compared the placement of infants in early Christian graves and changing burial customs in Anglo-Saxon England and Poland. Infants and church burials were closely related after conversion to Christianity. There was a noticeable sudden enthusiasm for burying children in churchyards which may have been symbolic of the innocence of newly baptised members of their communities. Pre-Christian societies were concerned about being haunted by the spirits of dead babies. Koval described the archaeology of the Raunds-Furnells Infant Grave in Chancel. A second church was built after the second Norman Conquest and contains 363 graves dated to the tenth to eleventh centuries. There are four cists (stone enclosures) that envelope the bodies of the children which represent hope for future healing or cages to encapsulate the spirits of vengeful infants.
Archeaology in Medieval Poland
Koval commented on the work of Helena Zoll-Adamikowa, a renown archaeologist who worked on early medieval Poland and examined rural cemeteries such as a transitional burial one hundred and fifty years after the country converted in 966 A.D. The Dziekanowice burials: Cemeteries like this one disappeared in the early twelfth century and were replaced by church cemeteries. Early medieval Zawichost Foundations were unearthed. The churchyard contains 220 graves with grave 111 containing the most interesting burial (believed to be female). It held s-shaped earrings and glass beads. Children were given personal adornments after the age of three and this child was well on her way to becoming an important member of society. Some graves contained the remains of adults mixed in with children’s remains. It appears the children were buried first, in graves that were bigger than normal in order to accommodate for an adult burial at a later date. The most obvious answer to this irregularity is kin-relation but this is difficult to prove.
Anglo Saxon England
The search for a connection in these triple burials takes us back to Anglo-Saxon England. People who are buried together seem be connected in some way. After conversion, those in need of assistance were buried closest to the relics of the church. Children’s remains were considered “wholesome” and some of the sick were buried with or near them in Raunds-Furnells. This suggests the survival of the pre-Christian practice of burying disabled, old and sick adults near the bodies of deceased children. In both England and Poland, there seemed to be a connection between children and disabled, sick or old adults. Baptised infants had a special purpose because they were considered pure; a sick adult would be buried with a baptised baby. Unbaptised children were feared but once baptised, they were believed to hold special powers.