Since my last post, I’ve been thinking about the ancient works that always come to mind as my favorites.
One of the things that archaeology can help us with where many ancient texts cannot is to shed light on parts of the population that are not visible in the written record; in particular, this is women, children, slaves, and Others (usually meaning a non-native person).
Since I have had my kids, I have been interested in the statistics and knowledge of childbirth and children in the ancient world. Maternal and infant mortality in the ancient world was not very high, and the likelihood of surviving childbirth and childhood was always fraught with uncertainty. The best guess is that 50% of children would not make it, and the mother’s likelihood of surviving was also not that good. In actuality, though, there are still places in the world where this is still true due to lack of access to medicine and hygienic conditions. (Great article on fertility and childbirth inconography on coins here) People ask me if I dream of going back there and I can only say “no”. Vehemently. If I was a middle class woman, my life expectancy would have been very, very low, and the same goes for my children.
I can only imagine how people coped (and still cope) with this awful statistic. In the modern world, you can read about what must be a similar rate here, along with what happens when the women are able to access medical support in various forms. I have to wonder how people dealt with the death of their children and spouses (wander through a Victorian cemetery and many of the wee-est aren’t named). Which brings me to one of my favorite pieces of ancient art, found in the New York Metropolitan MuseumAs a mom, now, this piece speaks to me even more. Art can be difficult to look at, but it often gives us profound insight not only into the culture from which it came, but also ourselves. The meaning of this stele, for me, changes depending on what phase of my life I have revisited it. If you revisited your favorite pieces, would their meaning stay the same for you?