Mystery of 450 Baby Skeletons at the Bottom of a Well 'Solved'
When the skeletons of 450 Greek babies were first discovered at the bottom of a well in the middle of Athens in 1931, archaeologists reacted with horror and confusion. At the time archaeologists thought the infants had been the victims of a plague or mass infanticide and had then been flung down the well.
The bones were dated somewhere between 165BC and 150BC at the end of the Hellenistic period in Greece.
After the remains were analyzed, researchers now claim to have solved the mystery of why so many babies were dumped in the well. It seems all but one of the babies died of natural causes, and that only three of the infants managed to live beyond one week. It is also believed that a third of them died of meningitis, most likely due to an infection after cutting the umbilical cord. Some died of dehydration while others died of various childhood diseases.
Scientists now believe the bodies of the infants were dumped rather than being buried since they were not seen as “full citizens”.
Professor Susan Rotroff, a researcher at the department of classics at Washington University in St Louis, and Professor Maria Liston, an anthropologist at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, said that the babies appeared to be victims of a bizarre practice in Ancient Greece at the time.
It took ten days after birth for babies to gain citizenship, which happens only after a special ceremony where they were given their name and the head of the household decided if they wanted to raise them or not. Babies who died before they were granted citizenship were dumped rather than buried.
The bodies were disposed of by midwives down the well because it was down a blind alley near the agora which was easily accessible but out of sight. “Four hundred fifty dead babies — that’s a lot of grieving parents and sorrow,” says Liston.
One of the bodies – which belonged to an 18-month-old – showed signs of frequent abuse – making it perhaps the oldest case of child abuse ever discovered. The toddler had multiple fractures throughout its body with different degrees of healing. It seems a jaw fracture was the final abusive act that this poor child had to endure.