Macquarie University
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From the cradle to the grave: child, infant and foetal burials in the Egyptian archaeological record from the Early Dynastic Period to the Middle Kingdom (ca. 3300-1650 BC)

posted on 2022-11-02, 03:16 authored by Ronika K. Power
This research investigates how current disciplinary perceptions of ancient Egyptian child, infant and foetal mortuary culture correspond with its actual nature and scope. It engages the fields of history, archaeology, physical anthropology and philosophy to present an inter-disciplinary investigation of child, infant and foetal burials in the Egyptian archaeological record. The research is based on a sample of 1,809 children, infants and foetuses derived from a survey of all available published archaeological data from the Egyptian Early Dynastic to Middle Kingdom Periods (ca. 3300—1650 BC), supplemented by unpublished Early Dynastic cemetery data from the Australian Centre for Egyptology’s Helwan Project. This thesis addresses the absence of child, infant and foetal mortuary culture in Egyptian archaeological research. To date, scholars have surmised that published cemetery data rarely include significant numbers of child, infant and foetal burials, thereby rendering them unavailable for study. This apparent absence is attributed to differential burial practices for these individuals, based on an assumption that at this young age, they were not considered embodied members of the community. However, these hypotheses have been formed without consultation of available historical, archaeological, and skeletal evidence. As a result, children are marginalised within Egyptian archaeological narratives. While many studies consider the position, value and agency of Egyptian children via their artistic and epigraphic representations, such methodologies confine children’s lived experiences within the conceptual boundaries of socialisation and familism. In this frame, they are denied the same ontological status as adults. Quantitative and qualitative data analyses delivered in this thesis recalibrate these perspectives of child, infant and foetal mortuary culture and revise their lived experiences and cultural capacities in Egyptian society. The identification of so many children in the archaeological record confirms their suitability as subjects of research. The observation of the majority of child, infant and foetal burials in communal cemetery contexts refute hypotheses of supposed differential mortuary treatment. Consistent observations of profound similarities between child and adult mortuary culture are found to be indicative of their ontological equity during the timeframes canvassed by this research. In contrast to current reconstructions of children as passive familial appendages, this research demonstrates that ancient Egyptian children, infants and foetuses were considered individual social entities with complete cultural capacities, and were actively engaged in extensive social networks between and amongst communities of both the living and the dead.


Table of Contents

Volume 1. Text 1. Introduction 2. Literature review 3. Primary results 4. Palaeodemography 5. Body position and orientation 6. Bodily treatment 7. Tomb architecture 8. Associated features 9. Grave goods 10. Discussion 11. Conclusion -- Volume 2. Figures and tables.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 315-366 of volume 1 Thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Macquarie University, Department of Ancient History, 2012.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Ancient History

Department, Centre or School

Department of Ancient History

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

E. Christiana Köhler

Additional Supervisor 1

Yann Tristant


Copyright Ronika K. Power 2012. Copyright disclaimer:




1 online resource (2 volumes) illustrations (some colour), maps

Former Identifiers