To Snatch the Baby from Its Mother’s Lap: Infant Mortality and Maternal Health at Tell el-Kerkh, Syria

Author(s): Akira Tsuneki; Sean Dougherty

Year: 2015


The injurious effects of the agricultural transition on health have been well documented. However, contributions from the Near East are relatively uncommon. Excavations at the Pottery Neolithic cemetery at Tell el-Kerkh in northwest Syria provide an opportunity to study into the effects of the agricultural transition in this less examined region. The cemetery sample consists of 258 individuals. The mortality profile reveals high infant mortality, with 40% of the sample dying before the first post-natal year. Thirty-six individuals were observed with enamel defects. Most developmental disruptions are estimated to have occurred between 3.5-5 years. Both cribra orbitalia or porotic hyperostosis were observed among 22 individuals, and were associated with early mortality. At Tell el-Kerkh, the increased reliance on agricultural resources, and the population changes that followed, did not come without deleterious consequences to health, particularly for the youngest of the community. The observed juvenile mortality and morbidity may be linked to heterogeneous resistance to acute and chronic disease, parasite loads, and malnutrition. The high frequency of early infant death observed at Tell el-Kerkh, while perhaps expected, further suggest the presence of multiple stressors of maternal health, such as limited dietary resources and culturally embedded expectations of high fertility.

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Cite this Record

To Snatch the Baby from Its Mother’s Lap: Infant Mortality and Maternal Health at Tell el-Kerkh, Syria. Sean Dougherty, Akira Tsuneki. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 397945)

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Geographic Keywords
West Asia

Spatial Coverage

min long: 25.225; min lat: 15.115 ; max long: 66.709; max lat: 45.583 ;