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Παρασκευή, 15 Οκτωβρίου 2021

Ancient Kyparissia: Infant burials


Literary and inscriptional sources
Kyparissia is a city harbor located in the south of the western gulf of the Peloponnese. It is the only natural harbour in the central-western Peloponnese. A city with the name "Kyparissia" is mentioned by Homer (Iliad B, 593), and it is identified with the wider mountainous area. In the historical period, the city was developed in the valley. Until the Roman period, the city was extended to the nearest hill, where the ancient acropolis was located. Information comes from inscriptional evidence too (IGV1.1421; Colin 1897, p. 574-576). Due to the city’s privileged geographical position opposite the cities of the western Mediterranean and the Adriatic, its harbour was used also by the neighboring city, called Messene. Thus, in the -4th c. customs regulations, for imports and exports are evidenced to have taken place at the harbour of Kyparissia. The city was mentioned by the geographer Pausanias (4.36.7) in the 2nd c. AD. In the Roman period, under "Pax Romana", the settlement was extended towards the sea, and thus one of the basic occupations of the population was fishing, after the above mentioned use of the harbour as a shipment port, since the main commercial interest had turned towards the West and the city of Rome. Systematic research of Roman period antiquities in Kyparissia never took place apart from a number of limited rescue excavations that were conducted in the area (Κaragiorga 1971, p. 124).

The excavation
At Kyparissia a settlement of the Roman period was first excavated in 2010. It was the result of a rescue excavation that took place. The site is located at the valley, along and close to the waterfront (Fig.1). Since the Roman period, the sea level has not changed. The depth of the excavated antiquities starts at the current ground level, reach a max. depth of c. 2,00 m and cover an area of c.1 hectare.
Of course, the whole settlement was larger and extended further than the revealed antiquities, and towards all directions (N-S-E-W). However, only 1 hectare was excavated, which consists part of the residential area. The direction of the excavated settlement is NE-SW. In total, eight quadrilateral areas were uncovered and excavated that belong to three and maybe four buildings. Two buildings are separated and surrounded by the rest of the complex through roads that cross each other, while the rest areas form a complex that grew by the years. The entrance of the buildings overlooks either east or west (Fig.2). The walls of the buildings were built with worked or roughly worked stones of large or medium size and earth. In some walls, there is a mixture of stones, ceramic tiles, bricks and earth.
The walls are built with two series of stones widthwise (0,60 m) and preserve four or five series in height, in c. 0.30m. The extra width of the external foundation walls of the buildings indicates that the areas located south had a second storey, the access to which took place through wooden staircases. The upper structures would consist of wood and clay. Inside the buildings, close to or inside the walls, and under their existing earth floors, infant mainly burials were found (Fig.3).
Based on movable archaeological finds from the excavation it seems that it was a regional settlement, where the inhabitants were occupied with agriculture, herding (as the animal bones indicate) and mainly fishing (based on sea shells, hooks and net weights found). A huge number of all sizes of bronze fish hooks have been found, along with bronze fishing weights and bronze needles for mending nets (Fig.4).
Inside three different areas and five rooms of the settlement, four different infant burials, one child and one female burial were excavated, located under the earth floors. They were all placed close or inside the walls, so they could be easily recognized, respected and in one case "hidden".

Graves built with stones, ceramic tiles and mortar

"Grave 3", "Area 4"
To the south and very close to Wall 27 and at the north-east corner of the so called "Area 4", at depth -0,82 m, one grave, called "Grave 3" was found (Fig.5). The grave is 0,95 m long, 0,60 m wide and 0,42 m high, with direction NW-SE. Small number of scattered infant bones is preserved inside.
The grave is a rectangular construction with a pit opened inside the earth floor and built with small stones, ceramic tiles and mortar (Fig.6). From inside the grave the base of an oinochoe was collected, a left over from the ritual, one bone needle (Excavation Number ΟΣΤ9, ΟΜ89. Total l. 12,2 cm. Preserved in three pieces. The eye and upper part not preserved, circular shaft, flattened at the head. Davidson 1952, p. 174), scattered unglazed broken ceramics, three bone pins (E.N. ΟΣΤ 7, OM89. Total l. 8,7cm, preserved in three pieces, shaft with sharp point at one end, conical at the other; (E.N.) ΟΣΤ 8, OM8. Pres. l. 4 cm, end broken off, conical top; (E.N.) OΣΤ10, OM89. Pres. l. 7 cm, lower end preserved. Davidson 1952, p. 286-287) from the clothing of the deceased, sea shells and small fragments of glass vessels, along with a bronze nail (E.N. M574, OM89(ι). Pres. l. 3,6 cm, head d. 1,7 cm) from the wooden coffin that would contain the deceased and two clay loom spools (E.N. Π14, ΟΜ89(ι). H. 5 cm, max. d. 3,5 cm. Slightly chipped, orange clay, narrow in the middle, flaring at both ends into disks, uneven in shape; (E.N.) Π17, ΟΜ89(ι). H. 4,1 cm, d. 3,5 cm. Chipped here and there orange clay, uneven in shape, Davidson 1952, p. 178) (Fig. 7). "Area 4", in which "Grave 3" was found, is defined by Wall 27 north, Wall 12 east, Wall 9 south and Wall 57 west. Wall 27 is 4,45 m long, 0,50 m wide and 0,48 m high.
It is directed NW-SE. It consists of four series of roughly worked stones, ceramic bricks, tiles and earth. Wall 12 is 5,90 m long and 0,60 m wide. It consists of roughly worked stones, ceramic bricks, tiles and soil. Its direction is NE-SW. Wall 9 in the south consists of two series of stones, inserted ceramic tiles, bricks and soil. Wall 57 is 3,56 m long, between 0,38 m and 0,45 m wide and 0,24 m high.
Inside "Area 4", but 0,24 m higher than the grave, the destruction layer with ceramic roof tiles was uncovered and excavated. Beneath it, the earth floor was uncovered along with every day household pottery and food remains dated to the -4th c.

"Grave 5", "Area 11"
Another similar grave excavated, is called "Grave 5" (Fig.8) located inside "Area 11", which is surrounded north by Wall 35 (3,48 m long, c. 0,65 m wide, 0,24 m high, with direction NW-SE) consisting of three series of smaller and larger roughly worked stones, ceramic tiles and soil, east by Wall 7 (3,30m long, 0,60 m wide, 0,21 m high with direction NE-SW) that consists of five series of small and large roughly worked stones, ceramic tiles and soil, south by Wall 2 (4,74 m long, 0,50 m wide and 0,28 m high) consisting of four series of roughly worked stones, ceramic tiles and soil and west by Wall 3, (4,50μ long, 0,60 m wide) with direction NE-SW, consisting of four series of large and small roughly worked stones, ceramic tiles, bricks and soil. The NE edge of the grave is located at 4,06 m from the corner of walls 7 and 35 and at 3,30 m from the corner of Walls 7 and 2. This room is located northern of the room with "Grave 3". The grave is 1,06 m long, 0,75 m wide and its sides are between 0,12 m and 0,15 m thick. Its preserved height is 0,40 m and its direction NE-SW (Fig.9). This is also a rectangular construction similar to the previous, where a pit was opened inside the earth floor and built with small stones, ceramic tiles and mortar. From the inside were collected unglazed ceramics, scattered infant bones –in bad preservation– due to lack of calcification, small fragments of glass vessels, a nozzle and base of a Roman lamp, pieces of bronze nails from the coffin and sea shells. An intact Roman clay lamp (E.N. Π18, ΟΜ94(ιι). It bears two small filling holes on its disc. H. 2,7 cm, max. d. 7,5 cm, holes d. 0,5 cm) was also collected that was used, with broken handle and relief representation, along with an intact bronze fishing hook (E.N.) M648, OM94(ιι). L.1,7 cm. The hook is circular in section with a notch at the top for the attachment of the line. Davidson 1952, p. 193-194) (Fig.10).

"Grave 4", "Area 11"
Another grave of the same type, called "Grave 4" was excavated, along the northern side of Wall 35, inside the so called "Area 11", similarly to the previous, but separated from it with a wall (Fig.11). "Grave 4" is located in the northern excavated area inside the settlement. It is 1,06 m long, 0,73 m wide and the thickness of its walls are between 0,11 m and 0,22 m. Its preserved height is 0,23 m and its direction is NW-SE. It is a rectangular construction built with stones, ceramic tiles and mortar too. Its height was destroyed in antiquity. Its northern narrow side and its western long side are attached to sides of walls.
Upside down pottery found on top of the earth floor over the grave match with the hypothesis that the settlement was hit at least by one earthquake (Papadopoulos et alii, 2014, p. 389-404). In the area surrounding the grave also a bronze coin (E.N. N190, AE 1134, OM87. D. 1,7 cm. On the front side it bears crested and helmeted bust of Roma left, and at the reverse side she wolf standing left, head reverted, with twin infants that suck her, Remus and Romulus. Date: early +4th c.) was found. From the same area a second coin (E.N. N195, AE1136, OM87. D. 2,3 cm. Head of Claudius II Gothicus right with radial diadem and thorax, around it the inscription IMP CLAUDIUS AUG. One the reverse side, standing female figure (Tyche) head left with the horn of abundance in her right hand and rudder in the left. Around it, the inscription LAETITIA AUG) of the late +3rd c. was found. The coins were also accompanied by foodstuff remains and everyday ceramic sherds, such as the upper part of a small fallen amphora.
The household also consisted of a lead repair (E.N. M543, OM10. Dim. 5,2Χ1,6 cm), a lead weight for nets (E.N. M687, OM10. L. 6 cm, w. 3 cm, oval in shape with bronze hoop), worn unidentified roman coins, metal nails, amphorae rims, spike pieces, and deep flanged bowls (Fragou and Tsaravopoulos 2014) (Fig.12).

"Grave 6", "Area 11"

This is a similar construction with mortar to the north of Wall 2. It is located northern of "Grave 3", but southern of "Grave 4" and "Grave 5". The grave is 1,18 m long, 0,64 m wide and between 0,12 m and 0,16 m thick. It is preserved in 0,27 m height and its direction is NW-SE. It is also separated by "Grave 5" with a wall. A rectangular pit was opened in the natural earth, after the construction of the earth floor, and built afterwards with small stones, ceramic tiles and mortar. Its northern narrow side and its western side are attached to the walls of the rooms.

Graves built with ceramic tiles
Two more burials that belong to different constructional type graves were found in two different rooms. The first belongs to a child–the bones were recognized so as they belong to a boy–and the other to an adult woman. They were built with ceramic roof tiles and were also located under the earth floors. Ceramic roof tiles were placed along the long sides that converge upwards forming thus an acute angle. The gaps of the narrow sides were shut with a piece of a roof tile vertically placed to the construction. The bones of the child and the woman are well preserved, unlike the bones from the built graves-discussed above.

"Grave 1", "Area 10"
The so-called "Grave 1" belongs to a child (Fig.13). It is a ceramic roof tiled grave with one intact ceramic roof tile west, one east, one vertically placed roof tile to the north–partly preserved–and one to the south. It is 1,13 m long and 0,26m wide. The width of the north and south ceramic tiles is c. 0,42m. The dimensions of the long side ceramic tiles are c. 0,87 x 0,44m. The grave is directed N-S. Its height is 0,46m.
The skeleton of the child is 0,91m tall and its max. width is 0,21m. The head is placed on a piece of a ceramic tile, with dimensions 0,16 x 0,12m. The head leans slightly to the west. The rest of the skeleton is placed on the earth lying on his back with the arms placed in the front, similarly to the female burial discussed below. The depth of the skeleton was at 0,13m. The skeleton similarly to the grave has direction N-S. It is located inside "Area 10", the internal dimensions of which are 4,12 m (E-W) and 4,66m (N-S). "Area 10" is located north of "Area 4" and is defined to the west by wall 32 (4,81 m long, 0,55 m wide and 0,73m high, with orientation NE-SW, consisting of two series of roughly worked stones, ceramic tiles and soil), north by Wall 2, south by Wall 27 (direction NW-SE, preserved height 0,50 m, consists of four series of stones with ceramic tiles, bricks and soil) and east by the northern projection of Wall 12 (5,90 m long, 0,60 m wide, pres. height c. 0,50m, consists of three series of roughly worked stones, tiles and soil) (Fig.14). Outside the grave, pottery ceramic fragments of the household were collected, as well as a fragment of a bronze mirror (E.N. M481, OM75. Pres. dim. 7,7x 4,2 cm. Fragment of a thin plaque. Large part of the disc missing.
A groove around the edge and a series of concentric compass-drawn grooves. Davidson 1952, p. 182-183, no 1308), food remains, worn–unidentified bronze coins, and one partly preserved bone pin (E.N. ΟΣΤ5, ΟΜ70. Pres. l: 5,4 cm. Both ends broken off). Along with a bronze needle for mending fishing nets (E.N. M450, OM70. Pres. l. 16,8 cm. Long shaft with prongs at each end, placed at right angles to each other. One end broken off. Davidson 1952, p. 177, no 1273), a fishing hook (E.N. M452, OM70. L. 5 cm. The hook is rectangular in section. Top flattened into a triangular shape. Davidson 1952, p.193, no 1448), metal nails from the household, amphora pieces of rims and feet and a bronze coin of Constantius II (Fragou and Tsaravopoulos 2014) (Fig.15, 16).

"Grave 2", "Area 4"
The so-called "Grave 2" (Fig.17) is the grave that belongs to the female burial. It is a roof tiled grave with two vertical roof tiles on the narrow sides (E-W) and four cover tiles (NE-SE and NW-SW).
Its height is 0,41m. It is located in "Area 4", which has inside dimensions: 3,17m (E-W) and 3,11 m (N-S), to the north-west and very close to the infant burial called "Grave 3". The grave is 1,56 m long and 0,35 m wide. The NE and NW ceramic tiles are almost parallel built into and along the southern side of Wall 27 that is the northern wall of the room. The cover tiles of the grave are located slightly higher than the preserved surface of Wall 27. The cover roof tiles of the grave are between 0,82m and 0,86m long, between 0,38m and 0,42m wide and 0,02 m thick. From outside the grave a number of not glazed pieces of pottery were collected. From the inside of "Grave 2" a number of pebbles, sea shells, traces of charcoal, small number of glass fragments, fine pieces of pottery, four worn, unidentified bronze coins (E.N. Ν135, ΟΜ69. D. 0,9 cm; (E.N.) N136, OM69. D. 0,8 cm; (E.N.) N137, OM69. D. 1,2 cm; (E.N.) N138, OM69. D. 1,1 cm) and one bronze ring from an object were collected (E.N. Μ436, ΟΜ69, bronze ring with an attached second smaller ring at one end. D. of first ring 3 cm, d. of the second ring 1 cm).
The skeleton belongs to a woman, 1,54m tall. The skull is 0,23m long and 0,14m wide. The skeleton is lying on its back with arms placed in the front. The whole skeleton is placed on a surface with soil and traces of mortar. Possibly the area was plastered before the laying of the dead for hygiene reasons. Following the orientation of the wall, the skeleton is located NW-SE too.

Both types of graves have no certain orientation, something that shows that they did not follow typical burial customs. The Romans generally kept the dead away from their residential areas, banishing corpses outside the city walls. But perhaps, in cases of miscarried children or very young babies and young children exceptions were made.
Burials inside settlements and under floors were a custom of earlier periods. Especially in the area under examination this custom has not been recorded before in the archaeological evidence.
In the Roman period, it was already common that burials would take place far outside the city. It was a long pre-Roman tradition to bury infants in ceramic containers within settlements in Italy, southern Gaul, the Alpine regions and the eastern Mediterranean (Carroll 2011, p.110; Carroll 2012, p. 45).
The survival of this habit has been interpreted as an ancient tradition not influenced by the Roman law. It has been argued that these infants/children could not have a formal grave in the cemetery, as no yet citizens (Alison 2013, p. 265).
According to Pliny (Nat. Hist. 7,72) infants who had not reached dentition (c. six months) were not cremated. Later, F. P. Fulgentius (The Explanation of Obsolete Words,7), while interpreting suggrundaria/ subgrundaria, referred to new born babies, up to the age of 40 days who were buried under the eaves of the houses. However, number forty (40) seems to be very powerful and symbolic. For instance, 40 days needs the fetus to form and 40 days needs the new mother to recover from pregnancy, until today.
By D. Borić and S. Stefanović (Borić and Stefanović 2004, p. 541), even though it concerns a Neolithic site, the interpretation for burials cut through building floors has been related to ideas about houses as places that embodied ancestral powers. In addition, the burying of neonates in house spaces might have been protective for their souls in the afterlife. Another view is that infants were kept close to the community of the living as a sign of being special or the parents decided to bury them privately (Carroll 2011, 2012).
During the Early Iron Age, infant and child burials were located intra-mural; at Oropos, in Attica, the small funerary urns were placed at the bottom of deep circular pits. All pit burials dated to the second half of the -8th c. were found within the limits of the settlement (Vlachou 2007, p. 213-240).
More specifically, at Oropos as well as Eretria stillborns and prematurely deceased infants were buried between the foundations of houses (Crielaard 2004, p. 179; Vlachou 2007, p. 221-225). It has been explained as that maybe young children were not yet fully incorporated into the existing social order.
Being social non-persons, they were not interred in the formal disposal areas, but instead they were buried literally within the precincts of the family’s life space. But distribution of burials inside inhabited areas has also been explained as related to the organization of the space, imposed in most cases by the erection of enclosure walls. According to Mazarakis (2008, p. 389) it relates to social organization. This is based upon the general idea that the differential burial of infants and children reflects the family’s dominant role. In this case, however, infants (0-1 year old) were buried inside coarse jugs that were afterwards placed at the bottom of shallow or deep pits and children were either inhumated inside coarse pithoi or directly put at the bottom of shaft and cist graves.
In the Etruscan age, infants were buried along the walls or in the vicinity of domestic structures, found also at Roman, Iron Age Italian, Iron Age European and Etruscan sites. Burying deceased infants in the living places or in close proximity, was a way for grieving parents to keep their children near. The practice of burying Etruscan infants near the domestic space would provide a compromise between parental feelings and adherence to cultural beliefs. Thus, at Tarquinia, the children were buried within the city and were connected with domestic ritual practice, given the spatial association with houses (Coscolluela 2013, p.42-45).
On the other hand, the burial of children within the house should not be regarded only as a sign that a child is too unimportant to receive a more elaborate burial. It could be a form of sympathetic magic that the household welcomes children or a mark of the parents’ unwillingness to give up a child completely (Golden 1988, p.156).
At the excavation of Luni-Tre Erici (Blera, Viterbo, Lazio) an inhumation under a house floor was found, of a child 10-12 years old, dated to the Bronze Age (Van Rossenberg 2008, p.168). Child burials are discussed as a transition, from the early iron age to the late iron age, when a tradition of infant burials emerged, associated with houses in a number of settlement contexts (as well as Rome) and also in the southern part of the region, and coincides with the disappearance of this age group from cemeteries.
An increase is noticed in infant burials in settlements in the +4th c. in Britain (Struck 1993, p.317- 318) and it has been attributed to the revival of a native tradition. Other examples in Rome are results of illnesses (Carroll 2012, p.45). But there are also late Roman and early medieval sites in rural Italy, such as Loppio-S. Andrea and Mezzocorona (both in Trentino) and elsewhere, where infants were found buried under the floors of buildings or along walls without being a result of an epidemic or catastrophe.
In the Italian peninsula and northern this phenomenon is explained as burial customs that can be preserved from older periods, especially in rural areas (Carroll 2011, p.110; Gaio 2004, p.53-90).
In ancient Messene, near Kyparissia, a very important center of the area throughout early and late antiquity, there is a different example with bones of children and dogs found inside a well of the city. This case however has been interpreted as burials in a separate, less designated place. Even though these are burials outside the cemetery too, even though of an earlier period, are a completely different case (Bourbou-Themelis 2010, p.111-128).
Last, Scott (1999) interprets child burials inside settlements in the Iron Age as an indicator of the social inferiority of children or the indifference with which children were treated in ancient societies.
However, the burial act itself, with a grave and grave goods indicate certain attention to death and dead. This act cannot be called indifference. The burying outside a necropolis context does not make the infant burials problematic or contaminated. They can also be interpreted as a sign of female power of mothers who enforced the burial of their babies in the house. The presence in the settlement of a female burial inside the house also contributes to this hypothesis, or even to the fact that the woman died after or soon after she gave birth to the child also buried nearby, the so-called "Grave 3", discussed above. Even though an adult was not supposed to be buried inside the settlement, the way of burial – built in the wall – and the fact that an infant burial is located nearby may lead to the hypothesis that the mother’s grave was hidden.

The cause of destruction or abandonment of the settlement is yet not clear. However, there is no evidence to date of attack. Judging from the collapsed roofs and rubble material from the walls and considering the number of recorded and surmised unrecorded earthquakes that have taken place in such a seismic area, it is assumed that the last phase of habitation in the town came to an end as a result of an earthquake, with the expected abandonment thereafter. In this place of the settlement no skeletons from the earthquake were found. The only inhabitants revealed were the buried skeletons beneath the floors. The location of the graves shows that the burial of children was a private family affair that would take place within the environments of domestic sphere.
The burials of four infants, one child and one female mother were discussed. It seems that in the Roman period –in the province– infants and children were buried in the place they were born. Their burials were symbolically related to the house. The relationship between children and house is confirmed by the numerous domestic objects in their burial context. The female burial is connected with the mother-child link. The single female burial that was found deep and inside the wall may be connected with hiding. It may be concluded that the female burial, not normally permitted inside the settlement, was practiced as a last wish; to be buried close and next to the dead newborn. However, more study is needed in this field and this specific region, so as more steady conclusions could be extracted.

Gely Fragou
Aris Tsaravopoulos
Infant burials in the southern-western Peloponnese, Kyparissia, Messenia, Greece
Proceedings of the 14th International Colloquium of Funerary Archaeology in Čačak, Serbia, 24th – 27th September 2015. Edited by Valeriu Sîrbu, Miloš Jevtić, Katarina Dmitrović and Marija Ljuština

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During a rescue excavation in the Roman site of Kyparissia, in the south-western Peloponnese, infant and child burials inside the settlement were revealed. Infant and child tombs were built inside the buildings, close to the walls and beneath the earth floors.
According to the archaeological evidence it seems that the settlement never suffered a siege and thus, the burials inside the settlement were not a result of an emergency, but were deliberately placed beneath the floors and kept inside houses.
Infant and child burials may lead to an interpretation of settlement space, rituals and funerary practices. Since they are infants and not members of the society, they could not be buried along with the other members. This fact lies in the socio-religious structure of the inhabitants and the perception they had towards infancy. It seems that in the Roman period – in the province – infants were buried in the place they were born. Their burials were symbolically related to the house. The relationship between children and house is confirmed by the numerous domestic objects in the burial context.
Keywords: Peloponnese, Kyparissia, Roman settlement, infant and child burials, province, symbolism

Gely Fragou, Αrchaeologist Greece, Ministry of Culture, Messenia Ephorate of Antiquities gelyfragoy11@hotmail.com
Aris Tsaravopoulos, Archaeologist Greece, Ministry of Culture aristsaravopoulos@hotmail.com