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VAMOS Report Summary

Project ID: 676828
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - VAMOS (The value of mothers to society: responses to motherhood and child rearing practices in prehistoric Europe)

Reporting period: 2016-07-01 to 2017-12-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Analysing the link between reproduction and women’s social status, this project explores social responses to pregnancy, birth and childrearing from the late Neolithic to the late Iron Age (c. 3000–15 BC) through case studies in central Europe. Motherhood and childrearing, often seen as natural, mundane and inevitable parts of women’s lives, are also cultural and historically contingent practices that build the foundations of societies. Exploring the value of mothers to society will aid in understanding important long-term developments such as social stratification, increasing population density and the entrenching of gender roles during the three millennia under investigation.
Bringing together the latest developments in archaeological science, including palaeo-pathology, ancient DNA and isotope analyses, with innovative interpretative approaches, this project will explore if all women were expected to become mothers, highlight alternative lifeways, evaluate risks and consequences of becoming a mother and analyse the social value of reproductive success.
It is the first study that aims to systematically predict the probability of whether or not a woman has given birth using palaeo-pathological markers combined with individual age information and population-specific demographic data. It will contextualise the findings with an in-depth status analysis of women’s graves.
Graves of pregnant women, double burials of women and children as well as infant burials will provide further data. The study extends to childrearing (care, feeding, but also abuse, neglect and infanticide) and explores how children were treated after death for insights into their significance. Current political discourses about mothers in society and workforce frequently refer to ‘natural’ and ‘ancient’ childrearing practices. This project will contribute significantly to our understanding of motherhood and counter naive narratives of childrearing in prehistory with science-based information.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

In the first 18 months, the project management framework, research environment and website have been set up. Literature was reviewed to refine research questions and methodology. Study protocols, GIS environment and data management structure was designed and implemented. Archaeological and anthropological data collection for the Bronze Age started. We examined skeletons of Bronze Age sites for pathologies, focusing on changes in the pelvic region that may be related to pregnancy and childbirth. In parallel, we investigated the archaeological context most promising for understanding motherhood. We applied organic residue analysis to feeding vessels to better understand how babies and young children were fed; one PhD project within VAMOS focusses on dental micro-wear on deciduous teeth for the same aim. Case studies are written up as they are investigated to prepare for publications.
Personnel was hired (three PhD students, two Post-Docs and a technical assistant) and PhD projects have been formulated in line with the VAMOS aims.
We organized a workshop on burnt human bones and teeth to further develop histological approaches to life history studies.
The dissemination activities included nine conference contributions, participation in three workshops with project presentations, two public talks for a general audience and a hands-on presentation in the framework of the European Researcher’s Night.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

We participated at the European Researcher’s Night 2017 (ERN), held at the Higher Technical School in Vienna (TGM) on 29.9.2017 and presented the VAMOS project to a broader audience and offered an osteological workshop on sexing-techniques.
Katharina Rebay-Salisbury continued to write her research blog https://motherhoodinprehistory.wordpress.com/, linked to themed facebook and twitter accounts.
Articles about our work appeared in the newspapers Die Presse, First Time Parenting Magazine and on the ÖAW homepage, the homepage of the OREA institute and on Austrian national radio station Ö1.

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