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Anglo Saxons

For the early Anglo-Saxons, between the fifth and seventh centuries, invaluable primary source data is drawn from excavated cemeteries; in particular Audrey Meany’s catalog of 25,000 graves. This source not only provides evidence of burial rituals, but also highlights what is lacking. Pagan Anglo Saxons had two main forms of burial rituals: cremation (ashes often placed in burial pots) and graves (inhumation). But there appears to be a dearth of children in Anglo-Saxon graves.27 One reason for this absence is because of the common practice of cremating Anglo Saxon children. Additionally, cremation sites often contained the ashes of more than one person. There was also an uneven distribution of burials across ages. Infants, for example, barely left any trace in the archaeological record which may due to burial practices that inhibited preservation of remains. Other than infanticide and improper disposal of remains, infants and young children might have been buried in shallow graves which may have made them susceptible to being dug up in excavations, or they may have been buried in separate cemeteries.

Of those graves identified, most lacked decoration. While grave goods often included jewelry, accessories of clothing, and weapons, no type of burial or grave good is associated with Anglo Saxon children, a practice differentiating this group from other ancient societies. Crawford offers some explanations for this anomaly. First, it is important to note that artifacts buried with the dead were often age related. While the pattern of child burial may not be visible to modern societies, is it not visible because we do not understand it.28 During this period, a ten year old child was considered mature; therefore, these adolescents were buried with adult rituals and grave goods, but identified as non-adult by archaeologists. Further, it is possible that if toys were buried with children, they would not survive as they were often created from ephemeral materials such as cloth and flowers.

In keeping with the perspective of adolescents as adults, at an excavated site in Kent, some children were buried with child sized artifacts usually reserved adults, such as brooches and spear heads, while young girls might have been buried with jewelry and gold; perhaps their bridal gifts. One infant was buried with a ‘mam- miformed pot with a teat’ (a pot in the form of breast, an ancient baby bottle of sorts) which likely indicated a child who was unable to nurse. A woman presumed to be his mother, was found buried nearby, a boar’s tooth buried between them (which indicates a relationship between the sets of remains).29

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