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Name: Meredith Laing

PhD: Archaeology

Thesis Title: Growing up and starting work in later British prehistory


Thesis Description:

My project investigates the experience of childhood through later British prehistory, specifically the two and a half millennia of the Bronze and Iron Ages, with a geographical focus on data from the east of England, broadly from the Thames north to the Humber and Yorkshire. 

Using the child’s body as the central node of my research, I will bring together:

·        a discussion of external influences on the formation of the identity of the growing child: the ‘receptive body’ influenced by the cultural setting and history of the community in which the child grew up; with

·        evidence for involvement of children with clay-forming activities: the ‘active body’, highlighting the activities in which children were involved in their day-today lives; and

·        an examination of the place of children within relational communities as their bodies were transformed by death into a something of potentially different significance to their living identities: the ‘body in death’. 

There are two main sources of raw data utilised in my study: fingerprints on archaeological artefacts, and burial evidence.

By examining fingerprints on clay artefacts, and measuring epidermal ridge breadth to assign ages to the prints, it should be possible to determine the biological age at which young people became involved with pottery production, and what form their involvement took (for example did they make only certain clay artefacts whilst adults made others).  The use of fingerprint analysis on various types of prehistoric ceramics allows a glimpse into the demographic make-up of the groups involved in manufacturing pottery associated with different craft production activities.   

Through considering children’s skill acquisition and involvement in production technologies, I consider the body in an active sense, as an agent within a community of practice.  Allied to this will be an assessment of the usefulness of forensic fingerprinting techniques in an archaeological setting.  The data sets I will examine are:

             briquetage (salt working debris) assemblages;

             fingertip decorated pottery from domestic and funerary assemblages;

             loom weights from domestic sites, and

             bronze casting moulds. 

Secondly, I will use mortuary analysis to look for differences between treatment of the material remains of children of various ages, and of contemporary adult burials, as well as considering whether there are continuities of bodily ontologies between the living and dead body of various ages.  This will shed light on whether there were age-related concepts of identity or personhood in the prehistoric past.  Although care must be taken to differentiate between individual biographies and wider, culturally defined, life stages, differing representation and treatment of children in death by those who buried them, may indicate differing relational identities.

There is arguably a false duality between the short term event and longer term processes.  By adopting a case study approach, looking at a range of sites and assemblages across a long time span, I will be able to combine specific data pertaining to the experiences of children at a given space and time, to form a bigger picture showing patterns of cultural continuity or change and development in social practices. 


Supervisors and Institution(s): Prof. Colin Haselgrove (University of Leicester); Dr Jo Appleby (University of Leicester)


Publications (please include full details with page nos. or web links):

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Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:


  • Classics for All - schools outreach programme


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Twitter: @MeredithJILaing

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