Making Space for Children in Archaeological Interpretations



Childhood is a prolonged period of dependence during which children mature physically and acquire the cultural knowledge necessary to become accepted members of a society. Members of every culture create and define “children” through the process of socialization, whereby children are taught “acceptable” roles, practices, beliefs, and values by their families, peers, and communities. Socialization creates a culturally specific framework for children's behavior, including their use of space. The process of socialization also relies on material culture as a means to symbolically reinforce messages about proper behaviors, roles, and values. These factors make it possible to study the process of socialization through the archaeological record. A recent comparative study of archaeological data from five 19th-century domestic sites has been used (1) to demonstrate empirically that children produce structured artifact distributions in the archaeological record and (2) to demonstrate that behavioral patterns and artifact types may be used to investigate how children were socialized in past cultures. The results of this research have wide-ranging implications for studying the distribution of material culture and interpreting site-formation processes at both historic and prehistoric sites. This chapter presents an overview of this research with an emphasis on the theoretical and methodological basis for linking childhood socialization to the material record. Particularly, this chapter introduces a methodology for recovering and interpreting evidence related to children in behavioral, nonmortuary contexts in the archaeological record. While the case study is from 19th-century America, the methodologies are presented to emphasize their applicability in other archaeological contexts, both historic and prehistoric.