Biological Anthropology Section
Society for Anthropological Sciences
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
The bioarchaeology of childhood represents an unprecedented opportunity to study the lives of non-adults in the past, but efforts tend to focus on infants and younger children, leaving the lives and livelihoods of adolescents largely unexplored. In medieval Europe, this transitional period marked the turn from childhood to adulthood and was largely defined socially as the point at which individuals entered the workforce. This paper posits that adolescence in Nagybanya, arguably the most important gold and silver mining town in medieval Transylvania, was a time to put away childish things and take up backbreaking labor. In light of current historical and bioarchaeological research on apprenticed adolescents in medieval England, we see that the pattern of occupational trauma observed at Nagybanya is similar, but that its intensity is more evocative of much heavier manual labor, thus suggesting that individuals as young as 12 were working in the mines. The collection from Nagybanya suggests that methods interpreting certain pathologies as age-related change need to be reconfigured to take occupation into account, but the ramifications of this research extend beyond methodological approaches. Gold and silver mining was widespread throughout medieval and early modern Europe, employing a variety of individual miners. The role that adolescents played within the mining system is only beginning to reveal itself, but it is a role currently mirrored by child labor in industrial mining throughout the modern world.