(CNRS – CEPAM (UMR 7264), Nice, France)
Keywords: Children, Cemetery, burial rites, Middle Ages, palaeodemography
Age can be seen in a biological and social dimension, because it is the determinant of numerous social behaviors which vary with time and place. In this context, children are a specific group: they are characterized by fast growth associated with the division of childhood into stages related to biological and cognitive development, sociocultural practices as social representations.
However, the use of demographic age groups in the anthropological analysis (0-1, 1-4, 5-9, 10-14, 15-19 years) limits the observations, because this division is artificial and is not representative of childhood in all ancient societies. Using hagiographic and normative sources, which highlight specific ages like 7, 12 and 14-15 years, I propose to apply a new method of distribution of children in “social” age groups, adapted for the Middle Ages (0-2, 3-7, 8-12, 13-17 years).
This new approach shows the essential role of the age in burial rites and organization of child graves in medieval cemeteries, from 6th to the 12th centuries AD. Indeed, the progressive establishment of parish cemetery during this time, characterized by the presence of a church, reflects a profound change in the social system of death management . Churches polarize the dead’s ground and children under seven years-old are grouped against the church’s walls, in a general movement which affects numerous churches in Gaul from the 9th and 10th centuries AD.