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Infancy in a Rural Community: A Case Study of Early Childhood at Lahun / Kasia Szpakowska

The Proceedings of the Xth International Congress of Egyptologists

Swansea University Author: Szpakowska, Kasia

Abstract

The lives of infants and toddlers in Ancient Egypt is a topic that is not often explored in any depth—for good reason. The preponderance of the surviving textual evidence is focussed on the lives of adults, with most references to infants usually set against a mythological backdrop featuring the inf...

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Published in: The Proceedings of the Xth International Congress of Egyptologists
Published: Peeters 2015
URI: https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa12025
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Abstract: The lives of infants and toddlers in Ancient Egypt is a topic that is not often explored in any depth—for good reason. The preponderance of the surviving textual evidence is focussed on the lives of adults, with most references to infants usually set against a mythological backdrop featuring the infant Horus or at best the pharaoh. Modern urban myths concerning childbirth and infancy creep into the scholarly discourse and influence our perceptions of these issues in the ancient world. However, the few settlements that have been excavated provide us with the best evidence for understanding the earliest childhood years. This paper focuses on reconstructing infancy of the non-elite. Rather than run the risk of over-generalising either temporally or geographically, this project concentrates on a specific time and place: that of the Late Middle Kingdom town of Lahun. One of the goals is to see whether a reconsideration of the archaeological evidence, new publications of the texts, and recent excavations at contemporary sites, combined with a judicious application of ethnography (particularly in terms of infant behaviour) might allow us to better understand these usually invisible individuals. And, with a few notable exceptions, these individuals really are invisible in discussions not only of settlements, but in ones concerned with religion, sociology and life in general. And yet children were everywhere in Ancient Egypt—they filled the streets, they laboured, they produced, used, and discarded objects that we try to interpret millennia later.A few key issues will be addressed. The numerous problems with determining infant and maternal mortality rates in Pharaonic Egypt are noted as these affect our interpretation of many key artefacts. These include objects such as hippopotamus birthing tusks, birth rods, and clappers that have traditionally been categorised as ritual devices used to safeguard vulnerable expectant mothers, newborns, and infants as well as the process of childbirth itself. The material manifestation of other practices such as teething, weaning, and learning are problematic and difficult to recognise, but potential feeding vessels, containers, and toys are discussed. Understanding early childhood is important for scholars of any culture, whether modern or ancient, for it is by means of the young that a culture’s beliefs, embedded social values, and norms of behaviour are transmitted through the generations. In addition, childhood in Ancient Egypt is a valuable topic for study, in and of itself. This paper highlights how a re-examination of old finds can shed light on this difficult topic.
Keywords: Children, infancy, family, domestic, settlement, Lahun, Kahun, Ancient Egypt, Middle Kingdom, archaeology
College: College of Arts and Humanities