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`Roman prostitutes killed babies after birth`

Last Updated: Friday, September 2, 2011 - 15:51

London: In a grisly discovery, archaeologists in Britain have unearthed an over 2,000-year-old Roman-era mass grave containing infant remains which they say provides strong evidence that prostitutes during that period were regularly killing their newborns.

The mass grave found from a farmer`s field at Hambleden in Buckinghamshire contained the remains of some 97 babies who all the researchers believe died at the same age.

After a close study of the plot, the experts reached a conclusion that the site was an ancient brothel where terrible infanticides were carried out, the Daily Mail reported.

With little or no effective contraception available to the Romans, who also considered infanticide less shocking than it is today, they may have simply murdered the children as soon as they were born.

The archaeologists said locals may have systematically killed and buried the helpless youngsters on the site.

Measurements of their bones at the site showed all the babies died at around 40 weeks gestation, suggesting very soon after birth. If they had died from natural causes, they would have been different ages.

Archaeologist Dr Jill Eyers, who lives in that locality and has been interested in the site for many years, led a team to excavate the site and is writing a book about her findings.

She said: "Re-finding the remains gave me nightmares for three nights. I kept thinking about how the poor little things died. The human part of the tale is awful.”

"There were equal numbers of girls and boys. Some of the babies were related as they showed a congenital bone defect on their knee bones, which is a very rare gene.”

"It would account for the same woman or sisters giving birth to the children as a result of the brothel." The Yewden villa at Hambleden was excavated 100 years ago and identified as a high status Roman settlement.

It is now covered by a wheat field, but meticulous records were left by Alfred Heneage Cocks, a naturalist and archaeologist, who reported his findings in 1921.

He gave precise locations for the infant bodies, which were hidden under walls or buried under courtyards close to each other.

However, the matter was not investigated further until now. Cocks` original report was recently rediscovered, along with 300 boxes of photographs, artefacts, pottery and bones, at Buckinghamshire County Museum.

Dr Eyers was suspicious that the infants were killed as they were unwanted births -- a suspicion that`s been confirmed by Simon Mays, a palaeontologist who has spent the past year measuring the bones.

Dr Eyers said: "He (Mays) proved without doubt that all the infants were new-born. They were all killed at birth and all at the gestation period of between 38 and 40 weeks.”

"There are still little bits of the jigsaw to be pieced together. We want to see final figures of boys and girls and the relations to ascertain what sort of group we have here."

According to archaeological records, Romans were settled in south-east England nearly 2,000 years ago, mostly because of the pleasant climate and fertile land.

PTI

First Published: Friday, September 2, 2011 - 15:51
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