If you’ve taken care of an infant, you know how important it is to multitask. And, when time is limited and your to-do list is long, humans find ways to be resourceful, which caregivers have apparently been doing for a very, very long time.
The authors of a recent article published in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory claim to have found evidence of baby carriers being used 10,000 years ago at the Arma Veirana site in Liguria, Italy. The study is led by Claudine Gravel-Miguel, PhD, of Arizona State University, and includes Jamie Hodgkins, PhD, of the University of Colorado Denver, who is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and a co-principal investigator on the Arma Veirana excavation.
Evidence for prehistoric baby carriers is extremely rare because the material used to make the first baby carriers does not preserve well in the archaeological record and because prehistoric baby burials are extremely rare. The site—which includes the oldest documented burial of a female infant in Europe, a 40- to 50-days-old baby, nicknamed Neve—has both. Researchers used innovative analytical methods to extract previously unavailable information about perforated shell beads discovered at the site.
The study used a high-definition 3D photogrammetry model of the burial combined with microscopic observations and microCT scan analyses of the beads to document in detail how the burial took place and how the beads were likely used by Neve and her community in life and in death.
According to the results of this study, the beads were likely sewn onto a piece of leather or cloth that was used to wrap Neve for burial. This ornamentation included around 70 small, pierced shell beads and four large, pierced shell pendants, the likes of which had never been seen before. Most of the beads bear heavy signs of use that could not have been produced during Neve’s short life, indicating they were handed down to her as heirlooms.
“Given the effort that had been put into creating and reusing these ornaments over time, it is interesting that the community decided to part with these beads in the burial of such a young individual, Gravel-Miguel said. “Our research suggests that those beads and pendants likely adorned Neve’s carrier, which was buried with her.”
This study argues that Neve’s culture may have decorated her carrier with beads to protect her against evil based on ethnographic observations of how baby carriers are adorned and used in some modern hunter-gatherer societies. However, her death could have suggested that the beads had failed, and it would have been better to bury the carrier than reuse it.
“Infant burials are so rare, and this one had so many beads,” said Hodgkins. “Being able to look at the use wear and positioning of the ornaments around the infant to determine that these beads were handed down and the infant was wrapped in a way that matches the form of a baby carrier is truly a unique glimpse into the past, giving us a connection to this tragic event that happened so long ago.” — EurekAlert!
More information: Gravel-Miguel, C., Cristiani, E., Hodgkins, J. et al. The Ornaments of the Arma Veirana Early Mesolithic Infant Burial. J Archaeol Method Theory (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10816-022-09573-7