chapter  4
24 Pages

The liminal status of the unborn and the newborn child Greco-Roman Egypt

WithAda Nifosi

The status of unborn and newborn children in Greco-Roman Egypt was liminal: unborn children belonged to an invisible world, difficult to interpret and even more difficult to control. The child’s liminal condition lasted after its birth: it was existentially liminal because its life was at risk; psychologically liminal, because the child had not yet acquired a fully rational mind; socially liminal. Burials of foetuses and newborn babies have been studied both in their archaeological context and in their relationship with burials of older children and adults. In the Dynastic Period, children were mainly buried either directly in the ground, or in pots, baskets of different manufacture, or rectangular wooden coffins. The number of newborn babies less than 1 year old are very small compared to the number of children between the ages of 1 and 15 years. The archaeologists argued that the body of a newborn was perhaps too fragile for mummification.