Washington: A new study has found that infanticide, the killing of unwanted babies, was common throughout the Roman Empire and other parts of the ancient world.
The study explains that "until recently, (infanticide) was a practice that was widely tolerated in human societies around the world. Prior to modern methods of contraception, it was one of the few ways of limiting family size that was both safe for the mother and effective."
Based on archaeological finds, the practice appears to have been particularly widespread in the Roman Empire.
"I think it was tolerated in the Roman world rather than something that was completely acceptable, but it`s hard to be sure," Discovery News quoted lead author Simon Mays as saying.
Mays, a senior scientific officer for the Ancient Monuments Laboratory of English Heritage, and colleague Jill Eyers focused their attention on Yewden Roman villa, otherwise known as "Hambelden".
This villa, which dates from the 1st to the 4th century, is located at Hambleden, Buckinghamshire, England.
A previous excavation of Hambleden in 1921 determined that the site has 97 infant burials, the largest number of such burials for any Roman location in Britain.
The excavator at the time suspected infanticide "with surreptitious disposal of the bodies".
Since few infant skeletons show evidence of cause of death, Mays and Eyers used an indirect method to investigate possible infanticide at Hambleden. Natural deaths tend to show a dispersed age distribution at burial sites.
At places where infanticide occurred, the age distribution is more uniform, corresponding to full-term infancy.
The study will be detailed in the Journal of Archaeological Science.