Children in roof tiles: a case study from Medieval Paternò (Sicily)

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Alessandra Morrone
Dario Piombino-Mascali
Maria Randazzo
Giulia Raimondi
Laura Maniscalco


Bioarchaeology of children, Fictile burials, Metabolic disease, Paleopathology, Sicily


The study of child fictile burials provides a chance to understand the role and treatment of children within past societies, and this typology of burial customs has been rarely encountered in medieval Sicilian funerary contexts. This paper investigates three unusual child burials within roof tiles discovered in the cemetery of Santa Maria della Valle di Josaphat at Paternò (Eastern Sicily), dating from the XIV century AD. A multidisciplinary approach was adopted, taking into account the archaeological, bioanthropological and paleopathological aspects of the burials, thus providing a critical evaluation in the light of the historical and archaeological contexts. Two of these three individuals were well-preserved enough to allow a thorough macroscopic investigation.  The results of the bioarchaeological analyses indicated that they were around 2-3 years of age at death, representing striking examples of non-perinatal individuals recovered from fictile artefacts in Italian funerary contexts. In one of the two subjects, the paleopathological study allowed for the identification of skeletal changes associated with systemic metabolic disease. This article reports the first detailed bioarchaeological analysis of child fictile burials recovered from a Sicilian cemetery, paving the way for further investigations of the medieval and early modern Sicilian funerary practices.

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