Earliest case of a battered child found in Greece

Baby living around 2,200 years ago was probably beaten to death

CALGARY, Alberta — A pit where Athenians living 2,200 years ago typically deposited fetuses and babies who had died of natural causes contained a grim surprise for Maria Liston, an anthropologist at the University of Waterloo, Canada. In the pit, she found the skeleton of a roughly 1-year-old child who was probably beaten to death before being thrown into what’s known as the “baby well.” The unfortunate youngster represents the earliest documented case of severe child abuse, Liston said on April 10 at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists annual meeting.

The battered child’s remains include a partially healed skull fracture probably caused by a deliberate blow to the head that the youngster survived for about a week. Other abuse markers, apparently inflicted at various points in the child’s brief life, consist of fractures to ribs and at the front and back of the jaw, irregular bone growth due to leg and neck injuries, and a break at the end of the upper arm bone that is usually caused by violent twisting.

Bruce Bower

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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