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A 2- to 3-year-old child from a Romano-Christian-period cemetery in Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt, shows evidence of physical child abuse, archaeologists have found. The child, who lived around 2,000 years ago, represents the earliest documented case of child abuse in the archaeological record, and the first case ever found in Egypt, researchers say.
...Dating methods using radioactive carbon from skeletons suggest the cemetery was used between A.D. 50 and A.D. 450.
When the researchers came across the abused toddler — labeled "Burial 519" — in Kellis 2, nothing seemed out of the ordinary at first. But when Wheeler's colleague Tosha Duprasbegan brushing the sand away, she noticed prominent fractures on the child's arms. "She thought, 'Whoa, this was weird,' and then she found another fracture on the collarbone," Wheeler said. "We have some other kids that show evidence of skeletal trauma, but this is the only one that had these really extreme fracture patterns."
...One of the more interesting fractures was located on the child's upper arms, in the same spot on each arm, Wheeler said. The fractures were complete, broken all the way through the bone — given that children are more flexible than adults, a complete break like that would have taken a lot of force.
After comparing the injury with the clinical literature, the researchers deduced that someone grabbed the child's arms and used them as handles to shake the child violently. Other fractures were also likely caused by shaking, but some injuries, including those on the ribs and vertebrae, probably came from direct blows.
...though Romans loved their kids immensely, they believed children were born soft and weak, so it was the parents' duty to mold them into adults. They often engaged in such practices as corporal punishment, immobilizing newborn infants on wooden planks to ensure proper growth and routinely bathing the young in cold water as to not soften them with the feel of warm water.
...The research will be published in an upcoming issue of the International Journal of Paleopathology.