Turkey Basters and Infanticide Part III

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We Catholics are an odd lot of people.

For one, we sing songs in a language we can’t understand. A renegade priest could declare that Pater noster qui es in coelis actually means “Nancy Pelosi fisted a donkey” and the only reason some of us would know that it doesn’t is because Nancy and Pater, for the most part, have different letters.

Every Sunday loads of us get together for an hour-long celebration of magic cannibalism. Of course, it’s only proper to participate if you’ve confessed to a mysterious figure behind a screen that you masturbated to your daughter’s One Direction calendar while she was at school, and no Father, you won’t do it again, can you go to the magic cannibalism festival now? Finally, we think that the only way to get a baby into Heaven is to hand it over to an old man so that he can dip its head into a pool of water and fecal matter. Presumably this is okay because infants spend much of their time covered in fecal matter anyway, though usually not on their heads.

In fact, it was only recently that Catholic babies were allowed into Heaven at all. If they died in infancy, many of them were sentenced to Purgatory, because they were tainted with both Original Sin, and the sin of their very conception. After all, you need to have sex to make a baby, and sex is dirty. That’s why all those Catholic husbands are in the confessionals on Saturdays explaining what really happened to that One Direction calendar. Why do you think they have to sell so many of them?

For much of Irish history, Irish children who died in infancy were not able to be buried in the same cemeteries as those who had lived to be baptized. That’s not to say they weren’t cared for though, because they clearly were. Many of these children were buried in cemeteries, or on the outskirts of cemeteries, that had gone into official disuse. Technically it wasn’t a church cemetery, but the ground had still been consecrated, possibly providing the infants at least with an easier time in Purgatory. There are loads of examples of these sites all over Ireland, and the Blackfriary is one such example. Buried at various locations around the cemetery, but largely above the pre-existing monastic context, are dozens of infants. It seems that these children were too young to be baptized when they died, and by burying them on sacred ground, their parents or caregivers were doing their best to ensure them a fulfilling afterlife. Interestingly, even while caregivers were burying their children in sacred spaces, infanticide was not uncommon, and the two were not mutually exclusive. That is, you could kill your child and still bury it in consecrated ground.

During the 2013 field season at the Blackfriary, a group of students excavated the skeletal remains of a newborn baby. It’s always a time-consuming processing to excavate a burial, and it’s particularly difficult when it’s an infant. The bones are tiny and difficult to identify, and they can only be excavated properly under ideal weather conditions. But eventually, the form of the baby began to appear from the soil as they exposed its tiny arms and legs, and finally, its little head. The skeleton was almost completely intact, but the side of the cranium was completely shattered. Nested inside its little head was a small lead sphere about two centimeters in diameter, perfectly situated in the center of the mass of shattered bone. The baby who had been buried with monks had been shot in the head.

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About digs_teeth

Hello! Please accept my condolences regarding whatever happened to your local library. That's why you're reading this, right? Because your library burned down/was robbed by book bandits/was torn down and made into literacy rehabilitation clinic for sad teenagers? I hope your library is up and running again soon. In the meantime, please enjoy the words that I made by rubbing my face over a keyboard. I am a master's student studying Osteology and Paleopathology in the UK. I've worked on archaeological excavations in the U.S., Ireland, and Croatia, and I have spent time traveling in Northern Ireland, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, and Hungary. I've carefully recorded my fieldwork in the form of journals and other necessary paperwork, but I have done little to document my interactions with the people I meet. To me, recording and cherishing interactions is just as important as recording the archaeology.

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