Sheffield Centre for the Archaeology of Childhood

The Centre for the Archaeology of Childhood at the University of Sheffield draws together researchers with interests in exploring the nature and experience of childhood in the past. The study of childhood in the past has been invigorated by significant recent works by both archaeologists and historians, and now spans diverse aspects of youth, including education, play, work, upbringing, and religion, in addition to key rites of passage in the child’s life from conception to maturity and death. For the archaeologist, the diverse evidence for childhood in the past includes the spaces children occupied, objects they interacted with, and the physical remains of children themselves.

The Centre for the Archaeology of Childhood brings together archaeological researchers with diverse chronological, theoretical and methodological expertise. Our research includes the examination of material culture, human skeletal remains, and stable isotope data, and ranges in scale from sites within their wider landscape to single objects or individuals. Our approach is often interdisciplinary, drawing on allied subjects such as History and Anthropology to enrich our investigations.

The Centre is the only dedicated research cluster focused on the archaeology of childhood in the UK, and reflects the significant concentration of archaeologists of infancy and childhood at Sheffield. Through our respective approaches, and collaboratively as a centre, we seek to illuminate the world inhabited and created by infants and children across time and space.

The Centre is funded by the Pamela Staunton Bequest, Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield.

Over the next three years the centre will:

  • attract excellent doctoral and post-doctoral researchers in relevant fields to enhance and grow our research base
  • obtain significant external income to support our world-leading research
  • disseminate and promote its activities both through attendance of our members at national and international conferences and events, and through the organisation of events held both at Sheffield and across the world
  • host a visiting speaker and run a masterclass in a relevant subject area each semester


Sheffield curates one of the largest collections of archaeological skeletal remains of juveniles of any UK institution. The material ranges in date from the Anglo-Saxon to Early Modern periods. Our members have participated in many events, conferences, and projects with a focus on the archaeological study of children and childhood. We are committed to the international representation, promotion, and dissemination of our research. This is manifest through our regular attendance at national and international conferences, diverse publications, and committee roles in international organisations such as the Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past (SSCIP) – a multi-disciplinary society promoting the study of childhood and children in the past, from earliest human society to the twentieth century.

Recent events:

Sandra Wheeler

MARS Lecture - Dr Sandra Wheeler from The University of Central Florida

To celebrate the first anniversary of the Sheffield Centre for the Archaeology of Childhood, the Department of Archaeology and MARS were very pleased to welcome as guest speaker Dr. Sandra Wheeler, University of Central Florida to Sheffield this October.

Dr. Wheeler gave a public lecture entitled 'Birth, Life and Death in the Desert: Bioarchaeological Perspectives on Infants and Children from a Romano-Christian Cemetery, Egypt'

Dr Wheeler specialises in the bioarchaeological analysis of infants and children to shed light on mortuary practices involving the youngest members of society.


Our research projects address childhood both directly through explicit consideration of this period of life (or sub-categories within this such as infancy or adolescence) and through the integration of children and their experiences into wider narratives concerning experience of life and death in the past.

Fertility, Motherhood, and Religious Dedications in Early Roman Italy

Prof. Maureen Carroll

This project, supported by the British School at Rome, explores the divinities associated with fertility, motherhood, and childbirth in early Roman Italy. It studies the dedication and deposition of votives related to maternal and infant health in sanctuaries of the fourth to first centuries B.C. and relates this phenomenon to religious beliefs in divine protection. The social aspect of family continuity in this period and the integration of women in cult activities represent a further important avenue of enquiry.

Infancy and Earliest Childhood in the Roman World

Prof. Maureen Carroll

This interdisciplinary project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Society of Antiquaries, draws on archaeological, artefactual, osteological, epigraphic, artistic, legal and literary evidence to investigate the role and significance of newborn children and infants in Roman families and society. It aims to explore distinctions of class and socio-cultural situations over time and to understand the relations between the daily realities of and rhetoric about earliest childhood throughout the Empire. The resulting publication with Oxford University Press will be the first study of infancy and earliest childhood in a cultural overview encompassing the Roman world.

The Role of Weaning History in Medieval Infant Identities

Dr Lizzy Craig-Atkins and Dr Julia Beaumont, University of Bradford

This project, funded as part of the University of Sheffield Early Career Researcher Scheme, applies incremental dental enamel isotope analysis to investigate weaning status of infants from four Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, and explore the role weaning status may have held in creating differential infant identities. Between c. A.D. 700-1100, many babies who died before their second year were buried in special places, including around the walls of churches in what has become known as ‘eaves-drip’ burial, and it has been suggested that only infants who had not been weaned were provided with this form of burial. This project will test this assertion and enable investigation of weaning practices, the identity and autonomy of the infant, and the role of dietary status in the earliest medieval Christian communities in England.

East meets West: Mobility and cultural contact between the Mediterranean and western Britain in the early medieval period, c.400 – 800 A.D

Dr Katie Hemer

This interdisciplinary project, funded by the British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellowship scheme, investigates long-distance contact and migration between early medieval western Britain and Byzantium. Through the integration of archaeological, historical, and funerary evidence with stable isotope data for past population mobility, this project aims to provide a new perspective on the migration of people to western Britain during the 5th to 9th centuries AD. The project places a particular focus on the role of women and children in the process of migration, and the ways in which these often overlooked groups played a central role in the process of assimilation and acculturation at that time.

Examining sexual dimorphism of permanent teeth as a means of determining biological sex from the skeletons of immature individuals.

Lizzy Craig-Atkins, Pia Nystrom and Chris Aris

This collaborative project involving MSc Human Osteology and Funerary Archaeology graduate Chris Aris, Lizzy Craig-Atkins and Pia Nystrom examines sexual dimorphism of permanent teeth as a means of addressing the widespread problems encountered when attempting to determine biological sex from the skeletons of immature individuals. In total, 11 measurements were taken from 127 adults of known sex. Those features identified statistically as significantly dimorphic were then used to produce a sex determination equation through discriminant function analysis. The same features were measured in 42 immature skeletons and the equation used to assign sex. Initial results indicated that the method was successfully assigning sex to immatures, and the next stage of the study is to test the method on a population of known age and sex to quantify its accuracy.

Curation of immature remains at Sheffield

Dr. Pia Nystrom and Dr. Petra Verlinden

The Department of Archaeology has a long-standing tradition of providing teaching in the subject of human osteology, with an emphasis on practical application of methods through hands-on observation and study. Currently the department houses three medieval-period cemetery collections, as well as two smaller post-medieval collections. In past populations, mortality during childhood was high, and therefore a reasonable proportion of these individuals can be classified as ‘immatures’ (0-17 years). The value of these individuals for teaching and research is inestimable. They allow us to demonstrate how the human body grows and develops skeletally, as well as to explore the unique health problems which would have plagued past child populations. Moreover, the study of children as individuals in their own right can only be advanced if their remains can be properly interpreted and understood.

Due to their often fragile nature, special care is required for the excavation and long-term curation of these remains. For this reason, the Department had a special storeroom fitted to house our immature individuals. Conditions of access are carefully managed, limiting the exposure of the remains to careless handling and damage.

This arrangement has benefited our students and visiting researchers. Dissertation-level research involving children includes topics such as physiological stress and child health, nutritional health in the post-medieval period, the incidence of trauma in the medieval period, and several studies on the refining of sex determination methods in immatures. Currently, our collections are being studied as part of an important research project that considers the growth in bone and teeth, and how this may be related to biorhythms.