‘Oh baby’ – new things to come for The Bioarchaeology of Childhood

2017 was a busy year for me, but I am excited that this blog is continuing to receive good readership and positive feedback. This year I have resolved to communicate new research in the broader biological anthropology field to a wider audience through more frequent posts and new content.

So why should we care about babies and kids in anthropology?

The start of life is the most critical time for humans. From the susceptible prenatal period, the hazards of childbirth, to seemingly harmless bugs that can’t be fought off by infants’ underdeveloped immune systems; their lives are fragile.

Although human babies are born in an extreme state of helplessness compared with all other primates, through millions of years of evolution there has been a development of ways to support infants and children during this critical time. Consider, for instance, the miraculous rooting reflex to find their mother’s nipple in an otherwise utterly helpless newborn, the interaction of babies’ saliva and breastmilk to fight germs, and the development of advanced social cooperative care for the young.

Anthropological reconstructions of the world were once devoid of children altogether, in line with social perception at the time that children should be seen and not heard. What we now know is that children are integral to understanding most facets of human life today and in the past. For example, early illnesses are now known to have later-life health consequences not only within our own lifetimes, but also for our children and grandchildren. Also, just as the World Health Organisation uses child mortality and growth as sensitive measures of population wellbeing, this can give us invaluable insights into living conditions in past communities. Past child mortuary practices are also central to unlocking the social identity of the young and those related to them, and therefore the wider social tapestry.

This blog will communicate the latest childhood biological anthropology, archaeology, and forensic anthropology research to a wide general audience. Future posts will share stories on coffin birth, how women’s pelvic bones adapt during their lifetime to aid in reproduction, midwifery in our hominin past, past childcare practices, and much more.

Here are three of the most read pieces from 2017:

Why were so many babies murdered in the past?

The late mediaeval agrarian crisis and the Black Death revealed through stressed childhoods

Having babies as an academic archaeologist

Thank you for your support and all the best for 2018!

 

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Is altruism dead in academia? Distinguish yourself by being kind

In the sometimes cut-throat environment of academia with limited funding and job prospects, it can sometimes feel like altruism may be lost forever. Academia can wear you down psychologically and physically, particularly so if you are an early or mid career researcher, and if you are a female and/or from a minority group.

There are always ways to support and encourage others in academia and in some instances even small acts of “giving” may really help those who are struggling. These things may be what you do and think about anyway, so congratulations! To others they may seem inconsequential, but I think that these can make all the difference to your peers and contribute in general to a happier, more collegial environment for everyone.

Here are a few ways that we can support each other:

  1. If you are writing something and know that there is a student or early career researcher who may be able to contribute their scholarship to the topic, ask them to contribute as an author. This will add to their CV and publication experience, and get their name out into the field. This may make them realise their work is valued while also contributing to the international research community.
  2. If you are invited to a conference and cannot attend, suggest inviting another scholar (in particular an Early Career researcher) who also fits their criteria. This may be invaluable to the participant’s CV and lead to other academic opportunities. Be mindful that there may be other issues with childcare and breastfeeding etc. that might hinder their attendance.
  3. Similarly, if you cannot complete a review of a paper, book, or grant etc., nominate an appropriate colleague to do this.
  4. If you are writing a grant or setting up a research project, see how you can work with an Early Career scholar, and get them involved from the start to make it truly collaborative. See how this may contribute to their other funding opportunities.
  5. Keep a note of new and existing grant and scholarship opportunities for students and other scholars in the field. I always pick up brochures for students and colleagues when I see them at conferences, and email out new opportunities when I see them online.
  6. Ask to nominate others for awards as appropriate and take the time to write the best references you can highlighting their positive attributes.
  7. Ask to nominate others for places on academic committees, and make places on committees for students and Early Career Researchers, and be mindful to make these more than just tokenistic positions.
  8. If you edit a journal or newsletter, make a space for a student and/or Early Career researcher on the Editorial Board, have a section for student papers, and provide incentives such as student publication awards.
  9. If you can see that there are issues with research methods and interpretations etc., talk with the researcher directly, rather than to others in the field.
  10. Look out for signs of mental illness in students and colleagues and offer to help by listening.
  11. Be kind to one another. “We’re all smart. Distinguish yourself by being kind” (@annegalloway)

What are your ideas to help your colleagues?