The “Nature” of Childhood: Ethnography as a Tool in Approaching Children in Archaeology



Studying contemporary children in the United States might seem like an odd place to seek information that can help inform the archaeology of childhood. It is our very familiarity with this cultural construct of childhood, as former children and as contemporary parents, aunts, uncles, or friends of children, that often draws criticism from scholars of childhood in archaeology and anthropology. An ethnographic study of four-year-old children from a Chicago neighborhood taking part in an outdoor camp demonstrates, however, that looking beyond the familiar is indeed possible and certainly fruitful for archaeologists wishing to study children in the past. Particularly, this research takes a historical approach to contemporary constructions of childhood and looks at how contemporary ideals affect children's behavior through adult input and the built environment. Exploring this relationship between cultural ideals and children's behavior and the ways they are mediated provides insight into how particularistic cultural constructions of children and childhood may be represented through the behavioral traces of them in the archaeological record.