Introduction: The Mother-Infant Nexus in Archaeology and Anthropology

Part of the Bioarchaeology and Social Theory book series (BST)


There is a burgeoning awareness within anthropology and archaeology of the centrality of mother-infant interactions for understanding the evolution of our species, infant and maternal health and care strategies, and biological and social development. Anthropological and biomedical research on the maternal environment, growth, breast milk, and the placenta is confirming the highly intricate and dynamic relationship between stress, diet, immunity, and health for both mother and child. Social anthropology and archaeology are also beginning to investigate the relationships formed during the prenatal period, and the strong physiological and emotional consequences of losing a baby from the rupturing of this nexus. Exciting methodological developments, including high-resolution isotope analysis of teeth, bacterial bioerosion, dental microstructure, and archaeothanatology, are also breaking new ground with respect to exploring the interplay between biology and culture and maternal-infant interactions. Early stages of the life course are highly socio-politically prescribed for both mother and infant, representing a critical time for learning, development, and well-being that have long-lasting implications. This chapter introduces current research on the infant-mother nexus and identifies key themes that are explored throughout the book from across the social and biological spectrum of anthropology and archaeology.


Maternity Foetal development Health Evolution Infant care Funerary archaeology Bioarchaeology 



The editors are very grateful to the Wenner Gren Foundation (conf -729) for funding the workshop that formed the basis for this book and to Asan Li for providing the front illustration. Many thanks also to Debra Martin and the Springer team and to our anonymous reviewers.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ArchaeologyDurham UniversityDurhamUK
  2. 2.Department of AnatomyUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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