Childbirth: perhaps one of the most physically traumatic events in a woman’s life. In pre-industrial societies today, childbirth and associated post-parturition problems, are among the biggest killers of women. But while it is a valid assumption that such would have been the case in antiquity, it is extremely rare to find likely evidence for this in the archaeological record.
Now, clear archaeological evidence of a woman whose death can be linked to difficult birth, or dystocia as it is known to pathologists, has been found at the site of El cerro de las Viñas in Murcia, Spain, by archaeologists from the Universidad de Murcia, headed by Maria Manuela Ayala.
The skeleton is that of a young woman, about 25-26 years of age. In her uterine cavity is lodged a foetus in the 37th to 39th week of gestation. The child lies in a crosswise position. Part of its right arm extends outside the uterus. Without a caesarean section, the mother probably died of sepsis, haemorrhage and exhaustion during the birth, and the foetus of heart failure.
This is the oldest case of dystocia ever found. For the burial, which belongs to the Bronze Age Argaric culture, dates to between 1,500 and 1,000 years BC.
Thank goodness for modern medicine…
This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 8. Click here to subscribe