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Baby deaths link to Roman 'brothel' in Buckinghamshire

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The BBC reports on the discovery of a possible Roman 'baby' cemetery The discovery will form part of a new TV series to be broadcast in July/ August 'Digging for Britain'.

 

Archaeologists investigating a mass burial of 97 infants at a Roman villa in the Thames Valley believe it may have been a brothel.

 

Tests on the site at Hambleden in Buckinghamshire suggest all died at 40 weeks gestation, very soon after birth.

 

Archaeologists suspect local inhabitants may have been systematically killing unwanted babies.

 

Archaeologist Dr Jill Eyers said: "The only explanation you keep coming back to is that it's got to be a brothel".

 

With little or no effective contraception, unwanted pregnancies could have been common at Roman brothels, explained Dr Eyers, who works for Chiltern Archaeology.

 

....

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it remembers me of the Ashkelon find of some years ago, where the baby's bodies where found in a sewer if I remember well, under a building that had also been called a brothel. Still, 97 bodies must have meant quite some ladies in residence...

.

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it remembers me of the Ashkelon find of some years ago, where the baby's bodies where found in a sewer if I remember well, under a building that had also been called a brothel. Still, 97 bodies must have meant quite some ladies in residence...

.

 

Or if their interpretation is correct possibly more likely the result of several centuries of 'activity' on the same site.

 

[Edit] Mind you the Heritage Key Blog questions the viability of the site as a brothel being a villa a long way from any significantly sized settlements:

 

[The] crucial difference is that Ashkelon [another site where a large number of infant burials has been found (although there in a sewer)] was a busy seaport in Roman times, while the Roman villa at Hambleden may have been, at most, something similar to a country manor, home to a rich family of landowners, perhaps Romanized Britons, surrounded by their servants and workers. It was not a town. As Dr Mays put it: “To my mind, it just doesn't make economic sense to have a brothel in a quiet countryside location such as Hambleden.”

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finally a place that doesnt have baby and brothel in the headline... Discovery of babies' skeletons exposes the dark side of life in Roman Britain,

 

According to records kept by Alfred Cocks, the early 20th-century excavator of the site, there were originally 97 skeletons. However modern archaeologists have so far only located the stored remains of 40. The English Heritage examination has revealed that those 40 were probably all newborn babies.

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It's a standard joke that anything that archaeologists can't identify is attributed to religion or prostitution. Most buildings have some sort of religious and/or sexual symbols on the premises - especially the Romans who were much less inhibited about such displays, so it makes attribution deceptively simple.

 

And because religion and sex contain so much that is self-referential (i.e. baffling to non-participants) it's an easy cop-out.

 

I can see archaeologists in another two thousand years. "The discovery of what archaeologists are calling The House of Jimmy Choo had a large amount of odd-shaped footwear, suggesting either a religious purpose for the shoes, or that they were worn by prostitutes ..."

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Wait, wait, you mean to tell that there "pregnant" prostitutes that still whored themselves out during pregnancy? I'm still trying to figure out the connection between unwanted pregnancies and brothels as a business.

 

How much choice would the 'pregnant' prostitutes have had in most brothels to which they had been sold?

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It's a standard joke that anything that archaeologists can't identify is attributed to religion or prostitution. Most buildings have some sort of religious and/or sexual symbols on the premises - especially the Romans who were much less inhibited about such displays, so it makes attribution deceptively simple.

 

And because religion and sex contain so much that is self-referential (i.e. baffling to non-participants) it's an easy cop-out.

 

I can see archaeologists in another two thousand years. "The discovery of what archaeologists are calling The House of Jimmy Choo had a large amount of odd-shaped footwear, suggesting either a religious purpose for the shoes, or that they were worn by prostitutes ..."

 

Given that this was a site originally excavated several decades ago I suppose the questions I would like to see addressed in the new research is what combination of finds came from the original excavation.

 

Depending on the composition is it possible to interprete these as relating to a purely domestic situation or are there any other interpretations possible including are there any finds which could have specific religious or even medical connotations.

 

Looking at the evidence in the round, rather than making unsupportable assertions of 'there is only one possible explanation', may not make good copy but is often the case when interpreting any archaeological site so in many ways I would prefer to be able to read the full report rather than watch what will probably be only one of several possible interpretations which the documentary makers have chosen to highlight in the programme.

 

Obviously any interpretation must be dependent on what was actually found so until I have more information here are a couple of 'blue sky' alternative to consider:

 

Should particular types of medical instruments have been found along with an adult cemetary, or at least a few female bodies ideally buried with neo-nate children, this could lead to an alternative hypothesis that rather than being a 'brothel' the site may have been used as a sort of maternity hospital/ religious retreat for difficult or unwanted births.

 

Alternatively if there was too much inbreeding going on between close relatives at an isolated villa this could have led to a lot of sickly children who quickly died and were then disposed of locally.

 

The problems with either alternative and indeed the original premise are that:

they apparently have not completed analysis of all the remains found,

from the original excavators notes some remains of infants seem to still be missing, and

unless there was a long term medical condition affecting bone or more general skeletal development, most ailments which could kill an individual or child are unlikely to show up in the skeletal remains anyway making cause of death problematical to determine.

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More information has been released about this ongoing research tying in with the new BC documentary series 'Digging for Britain'

 

An article in a local newspaper Bucks Free Press under the title "Skeleton of 'dismembered' child discovered by Chiltern Arcaeologists" gives a bit more of the story:

 

ARCHAEOLOGISTS investigating a mass burial of 97 infants were 'horrified' to find what they believe to be the skeleton of a dismembered child.

 

Chiltern Archaeologists suspect the site in Hambleden could have been a Roman brothel

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It's a standard joke that anything that archaeologists can't identify is attributed to religion or prostitution. Most buildings have some sort of religious and/or sexual symbols on the premises - especially the Romans who were much less inhibited about such displays, so it makes attribution deceptively simple.

 

And because religion and sex contain so much that is self-referential (i.e. baffling to non-participants) it's an easy cop-out.

 

I can see archaeologists in another two thousand years. "The discovery of what archaeologists are calling The House of Jimmy Choo had a large amount of odd-shaped footwear, suggesting either a religious purpose for the shoes, or that they were worn by prostitutes ..."

 

I agree that the Romans were uninhibited- just look at every door in Pompeii. Their are relatively graphic fertility symbols on every house foundation.

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