Excavations in village reveal sad fact of high medieval infant mortalities
The infant mortality rate was so high in the Middle Ages that half the burials in a deserted medieval English town excavated by archaeologists in the 1980s were of children. The rate of infant mortalities then was about 100 out of every 1,000 live births, compared to the present rate in the United Kingdom of 4 out of 1,000 live births.
Archaeologists were excavating at the site of an Iron Age settlement in Basingstoke in the winter of 1984-'85 when they came upon the medieval settlement that included a church, burial ground and various artifacts, says the blog Hampshire Archaeology, which is maintained by county archaeologist Dave Allen.
Documentary evidence has revealed that the settlement was the church and ancient manor of Hatch. The blog says it was “probably quite a high status settlement in the 12 th and 13 th centuries, when high-class imports such as pottery from Saintonge were being used. By the time of Edward III (1327-77), however, 300 acres in the parish were recorded as ‘untilled and unsown’ and by 1380 it was exonerated from paying tithes and merged with Cliddesden. The name survived – in Hatch Warren Farm – and was later adopted for the development, but the location was lost, until Basingstoke expanded in this direction and the archaeologists got to work.”
Archaeologists determined by studying pottery that there were three occupation phases from the mid-11 th century to the late 15 th. The church had a nave and chancel and was in the middle of a large cemetery. When it was built is not known because no walls or floors were removed, but the researchers think it was probably an early Norman church, possibly built before the Norman Conquest of 1066 AD.
Some of the skeletons were disturbed by ploughing. (Hampshire Archaeology photo)
Of the burials the Hampshire Archaeology blog says:
'There were nine graves within the church building, two of which were cut through by the eastern and western walls. Five of the graves were excavated, producing six burials. One of them (Grave 0369) was of a mature adult male accompanied by a pewter chalice and paten and an iron buckle, and this was presumably the grave of a priest. Another, earlier grave, of an immature male, was accompanied by two silver farthings of Edward I (minted 1280-1300). Two of the burials from inside the church were of infants, one of whom had been buried in a coffin. The churchyard enclosure was found to contain at least 258 graves of which 37 were excavated, revealing at least 46 burials. There were a number of double burials, several graves had been re-used and inter-cutting was common. More than half the burials were of children. This is a high ratio, but the infant mortality rate would have been high in the medieval period …'
A paten is the plate used in Catholic mass to hold the communion wafer.
A communion plate or paten in the grave of what was probably a priest in the medieval village of Hatch. (Hampshire Archaeology photo)
The village homes and other structures were made of timber. In later phases they show greater use of more advanced framing techniques. In earlier phases the foundations were more substantial.
Featured image: Featured image: A child burial at the abandoned medieval village of Hatch, which was excavated in the winter of 1984 and 1985. (Hampshire Archaeology blog photo)
By Mark Miller