The Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory published evidence of the use of baby carriers 10,000 years ago at the Arma Veirana site in Liguria, Italy. The site revealed the oldest documented burial of a female infant in Europe, a 40- to 50-days-old baby, nicknamed Neve. Researchers used innovative analytical methods to extract information about perforated shell beads found at the site. As prehistoric baby burials were uncommon and the material used to make the first baby carriers does not preserve well in the archaeological record, evidence for prehistoric baby carriers is extremely rare.
The study, led by Dr. Claudine Gravel-Miguel of Arizona State University, used a high-definition 3D photogrammetry model of the burial. It was combined with microscopic observations and microCT scan analyses of the beads to document how the burial took place in detail and how the beads were likely used by Neve and her community. The results show that the beads were likely sewn onto a piece of leather or cloth that was used to wrap Neve for her burial. The decoration contained more than 70 small, pierced shell beads and four big, pierced shell pendants. Most of the beads bear heavy signs of use that could not have been produced during Neve’s short life, demonstrating they were handed down to her as heirlooms.
According to Gravel-Miguel, the research suggests that the beads and pendants likely adorned Neve’s carrier, which was buried with the infant. Relying on ethnographic observations of how baby carriers are adorned and used in some modern hunter-gatherer societies, this research suggests that Neve’s community may have decorated her carrier with beads in order to protect her against malevolent entities. However, it is possible that her death indicated that those beads did not work, and it would have been better to bury the carrier rather than reuse it.
“Infant burials are so rare, and this one had so many beads,” explained Dr. Jamie Hodgkins, co-author of the research from the University of Colorado Denver and an Associate Professor of Anthropology, as well as a co-principal investigator on the excavation of Arma Veirana. “Being able to look at the use wear and positioning of the ornaments around the infant to determine that these beads were handed down and the infant was wrapped in a way that matches the form of a baby carrier is truly a unique glimpse into the past, giving us a connection to this tragic event that happened so long ago.”