Don’t all mothers love their children? Deposited infants as animate objects in the Scandinavian Iron Age

29 Nov 2017

Understanding ‘counter archaeologies’ as taking a counterpoint and challenging normative perspectives, this paper considers infancy in Iron-Age Scandinavia through an examination of children deposited in settlements and wetlands. The paper reports on a data set of child deposition from Scandinavia in the first millennium CE, and compares the practices with cases from other Germanic areas. While a complex phenomenon where cause of death is mostly unknown, textual sources indicate that neither limited emotional responses to child loss nor infanticide was uncommon in the first millennium CE. Infanticide is widespread cross-culturally, yet is foreign to many researchers because it counters deep-held contemporary, Western perceptions of universal maternal instinct. The paper questions whether infant loss within Scandinavian and Germanic societies prompted emotional responses akin to Western, contemporary reactions. Were infants more closely related to animate objects than human beings? And did this ontological logic provoke the use of infant remains in ritual deposition?