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“They Enjoy Syrup and Ghee at Tables of Silver and Gold”: Infant Loss in Ancient Mesopotamia

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The present study draws on interdisciplinary research to establish an interpretative framework for an analysis of the material and textual evidence concerning infant loss in ancient Mesopotamia (c. 3000-500 BCE). This approach rejects the notion that high infant mortality rates result in widespread parental indifference to infant loss, arguing instead that underlying biological and transcultural realities inform human responses to this phenomenon. With this conclusion in mind, a review of ancient Mesopotamian archaeological evidence reveals patterns of differential infant burial; while the interpretation of these patterns is uncertain, the broader contexts of infant burials in ancient Mesopotamia do not point to parental indifference, but rather the opposite. The available textual evidence in turn indicates that ancient Mesopotamians valued their infants, sought actively to protect them from harm, and mourned deeply when they died, a conclusion that is not controverted by evidence of infant exposure.

Affiliations: 1: Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University jonathan.valk@nyu.edu

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