Discovery of the oldest remains of a woman who died in childbirth

This press release is also available in Spanish. In ancient times, female death rates were particularly high and generally related to problems in maternity, such as complications during pregnancy, childbirth or the period of breast-feeding. However, in most cases this link has only been established from indirect data, such paleodemographic data and ethnographic references, or based on the poor health conditions normally attributed to ancient human groups.

There also exists direct archaeological evidence of the high rate of female mortality in the child-rearing period. However, it has not always been possible to establish the cause of death in females and whether or not there was any relation to obstetric complications. Despite this, a number of cases of female skeletons with the foetus in the uterus have been described, as well as some cases where signs of obstetric complications have been diagnosed. These archaeological cases are extremely rare, are not well documented in the specialist literature and are not well known among the scientific community.

Joint research between the UAB and the Universidad de Murcia has found a clear example of an ancient burial of a pregnant woman whose death can be linked to difficult birth (dystocia). The archaeological team from the Universidad de Murcia, headed by Maria Manuela Ayala, found the remains in 1996 at the "El cerro de las Vias" site in Murcia (Spain). Now, the UAB anthropologists, headed by Assumpci Malgosa, have established that it is the oldest case so far described in the paleopathological literature.

The burial dates from the Argaric period, between 1,500 and 1,000 years BC, in the Bronze Age. Argaric culture funeral rituals were characterised by individual inhumations, most of them within the dwelling or its perimeter. This burial is within one of these dwellings. It is that of a young woman, abo

Contact: Assumci Malgosa
Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona

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