This project focused on developping a methodology to investigate motherhood through pelvic changes in female human remains.



This project explores social responses to pregnancy, birth and early child rearing as well as the link between women’s reproductive status and social status in Bronze Age central Europe. Motherhood and early childrearing are often interpreted as a natural, normal and inevitable parts of women’s lives, when in fact, they are sets of cultural practices that build the foundations of societies. During the Bronze Age (ca. 2200–800 BC), important long-term developments took place, such as the beginning of social stratification and increasing population density. This project will investigate if and how the social status of women changed as they became mothers, and how reproduction was culturally embedded in different societies. It will aim to understand how the conceptualisation of motherhood changed over time, both at a culturally specific level and as a broader (pre-)historical phenomenon.

This project is the first that aims to systematically differentiate between women who became mothers and women who did not, and relate funerary practices and artefacts in the graves to this identity marker. It will explore if all women were expected to become mothers, highlighting that women might have had different pathways in life, and investigate the risk of becoming a mother as well as the social consequences of the transition to motherhood. The study extends to assessing practices of raising infants (feeding and care, but also abuse, neglect and infanticide) and analysing their treatment after death for further insights into the social value of reproduction.

Innovative archaeological and bio-anthropological methods will be applied to recently published Bronze Age cemeteries from Austria. The Early Bronze Age inhumation cemeteries belong to three cultural groups with different burial practices (Únětice, Unterwölbing and Wieselburg). Middle and Late Bronze Age cemeteries include cremated individuals. 

Archaeological methods include an assessment of the spatial distribution of graves of infants, pregnant women, double burials of women and children, and women who have/have not given birth, interpreting the symbolic dimension of co-buried objects, and evaluating status differences expressed through funerary treatment as well as in the quality and quantity of grave goods. Bio-anthropological methods include the palaeo-pathological re-assessment of female and infant skeletons, isotope analysis to assess infant feeding practices, and DNA studies to understand the genetic relationship between co-buried individuals and the sex of buried babies.

Bringing together the latest developments in archaeological science with innovative archaeological interpretations makes it possible to comment on current social issues. In an era in which political discourses about mothers in society and workforce frequently refer to what is supposedly >natural< and >ancient< about childrearing, it is important and high time to take a fresh look at how motherhood has been interpreted over time

Principal investigator