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The archaeologists were impressed when unearthed the skeletons of 450 babies at the bottom of a well in the middle of Athens. Now, researchers claim to have turned out the macabre mystery of so many babies being thrown into a well in the Athenian agora.
Analysis of the remains has shown that all but one of the babies died of natural causes sometime between 165 BC. and 150 BC at the end of the Hellenistic period in Greece. Only three of the babies lived for more than three weeks, and one of them appears to have died of meningitis, possibly due to an infection caused by cutting the umbilical cord. The rest died of various childhood illnesses, including dehydration.
Scientists who have studied the remains, which were first unearthed in 1931, believe that the bodies were dumped rather than buried on the belief that they were not full citizens. Professor Maria Liston, an anthropologist at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, and Professor Susan Rotroff, a researcher in the Department of Classics at Washington University in St. Louis, claim that the babies were victims of a macabre practice in Ancient Greece.
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Babies were not considered Greek citizens until a ceremony that took place three days after their birth, when they were given a name and the head of the family decided whether or not they would raise them. If the babies died before citizenship was granted, they had to be thrown away and not buried. Professor Liston has stated that it is possible that the midwives dumped the bodies in the well near the Agora because it was near an alley from which it was possible to access without being seen.
The skeletons were discovered in 1931 when archaeologists began excavating the Athenian Agora in the center of the city. Apart from the temples and statues, the bodies of the babies were found. At that time, archaeologists thought that they had been victims of a mass infanticide and that they had been thrown into the well or that they could have been victims of a plague.
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Liston has said that half of the skulls showed marks caused by a meningitis infection. Just one of the bodies, of an 18-month-old baby, appeared to have been abused, Y this may be the oldest surviving child abuse case. The youngest had multiple fractures on his body in varying degrees of healing.
Professor Liston explained at a conference last year that abuse is always a crime difficult to prove in ancient times, since the victims could be buried outside the cemetery, making the recovery of the evidence difficult. The find of Athens could be proof of child abuse in the 2nd century BC.
Archaeologists also found the remains of 150 dogs in a well, and they believe they could have been sacrificed.