Found: The Oldest Known Maternal Death During Childbirth
February 6, 2015 10:37 AM   Subscribe

Prehistoric Grave May Be Earliest Example of Death During Childbirth "It might be a bit circumstantial, but I think it's quite strong," Lieverse said of her interpretation. She added that there has been very little postmortem shifting of the bones found at Lokomotiv, and everything is in place on the mother, even her ribs and little bones in her hands.

This seems to be the exact same article, formatted differently and with a larger (better) photo at the top. Of the two, the one above looks like the original source.
posted by Michele in California (8 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The LiveScience article has an even larger image if you click view full size image.
posted by smammy at 10:40 AM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Scientifically the excavation and photo are interesting, but it is also really sad when you think about the specifics.

It's rare to find transient hunter-gatherer communities who buried their dead in formal cemeteries, but archaeologists have documented this practice at several other sites in northeastern Asia.

Did they carry bodies back to the cemetery location if someone died while they were far away? I guess you could temporarily bury someone and then just move their bones later in the year when you were returning to the cemetery area.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:36 AM on February 6, 2015

Thank you for this. Maternal death in childbirth prior to modern medicine is a subject that touches me deeply.

Things may have gone badly for the twins even if they had survived. Certain traditional beliefs, such as the ancient Yoruba's or the modern Surawaha's, required infanticide for one or even both twins at their birth. This sort of thing was propagated because twins were supposed to be cursed or evil, but the basis of it is probably that a double burden of newborns on one mother is too much for a small society whose survival is marginal.

Incidentally, the Fox News comments are really spectacularly stupid on this one. People always say, "don't read the comments," but how else are you truly supposed to know what your fellow man thinks? And how far away to stay from him?
posted by Countess Elena at 11:38 AM on February 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

Yoruba people value twins. There's a whole artform about it. Twins have special names. (Previously.)

I read this same mistake in a missionary account of the Hinderer's ministry, and Anna Hinderer repeats it in her memoir, but she was misinformed. There are other cultural groups where twins aren't valued: I can't remember if it's in Things Fall Apart where the author describes the Evil Bush, where unwanted children, including twins, are thrown.

Anyhow, poignant archeological find. Death in childbirth has been a major killer of young women in all eras up to the very modern. Even reading Victorian novels is striking how many missing mothers there are, or elder sisters having to care for a family of younger siblings, or children being farmed out among relatives due to the death of their mother.
posted by glasseyes at 3:55 PM on February 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

in ancient Rome, the law known as Lex Caesaria mandated that if a pregnant woman died, her baby had to be cut out her womb before she could be buried. Even if a woman's baby was left in the womb after she died, gas from the decomposing body might force the fetus out in what's known as a coffin birth.

Wait, what?
posted by onlyconnect at 3:59 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

coffin birth (written by a friend who is another grad student in my department, but is also a slightly odd bioarchaeologist)
posted by ChuraChura at 4:49 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

If not for this article I could have gone my whole life without knowing about coffin births.
posted by Anonymous at 9:45 AM on February 7, 2015

Aw man, I read this article earlier this week and was totally going to do an FPP on coffin births (using this great article that I think is by ChuraChura's friend?). Fascinating, if quite morbid and sad.
posted by librarylis at 11:58 PM on February 7, 2015

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