Foundations of Childhood: Bioarchaeology of Subadults at the Late Shang Capital of Yinxu

Author(s): Lauren Ledin; Hongbin Yue

Year: 2017


Oracle-bone inscriptions and pre-Han texts say little about children, making bioarchaeology the best available method to study childhood during earlier periods. In 2004, extensive excavations were carried out on building foundations in Dasikong Village, a Late Shang (c.1200-1046 BC) lineage neighborhood found on the outskirts of modern-day Anyang, Henan Province, China. This led to a uniquely high recovery of subadult remains as younger subadults are often found in and around foundations. For this paper, the age, biological sex, and mortuary contexts of 49 of the subadult individuals were reassessed to explore whether a child/adult binary and later conceptions of childhood are suitable descriptions of the role of Late Shang subadults. Surprisingly, artifacts traditionally considered adult proxies of power were interred with individuals as young as 10-12, suggesting the age group assumed for adult roles should be expanded to include individuals under 15. Patterns in grave good type and number, mortuary treatment, and skeletal age additionally suggest that the current understanding of a child/adult binary is not an effective way to grasp the social identity of Late Shang subadults. In this paper we propose instead that Late Shang subadults passed through a number of socially recognized stages reified in mortuary treatment.

Cite this Record

Foundations of Childhood: Bioarchaeology of Subadults at the Late Shang Capital of Yinxu. Lauren Ledin, Hongbin Yue. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 431603)


Geographic Keywords
East/Southeast Asia

Spatial Coverage

min long: 66.885; min lat: -8.928 ; max long: 147.568; max lat: 54.059 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15367