2015 Volume 123 Issue 3 Pages 149-159
In 2006, an excavation at Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Faro, Portugal, revealed a cemetery dating from the 16th–19th centuries with several phases of use, one of which presented 51 sub-adult individuals that had been abandoned at the institution through the ‘foundling wheel’—a device that allowed people to leave unwanted newborns anonymously. Of the 46 individuals for whom it was possible to estimate age-at-death, more than 80% were under two years. Skeletal samples from individuals of these ages are not commonly found in the archaeological record. This Faro sample is also unique in the sense that it is the first time it has been possible to study an osteological assemblage from abandoned children. Considering the assertion that dental development is buffered against environmental insults in comparison to skeletal development, and that discrepancies between dental and skeletal age estimations are suggestive of growth delay, this study aims to investigate if the immature individuals of this institution were exposed to severe environmental restrictions. Skeletal age was estimated according to long bone lengths and epiphyseal fusion. Dental age was calculated on the basis of dental development, namely dental calcification and the sequence of formation and eruption of teeth. Furthermore, a palaeopathological analysis of the sample was conducted. The age estimates obtained by the ossification and fusion of different skeletal elements resulted in too wide intervals and were therefore excluded from subsequent analysis. The age estimates obtained by the dental methods were consistent (100%). By contrast, the estimates obtained by osteometric and dental methods showed some disagreement (osteometric vs. dental calcification: 63.6%; osteometric vs. sequence of formation and eruption of teeth: 80.0%), the osteometric providing younger ages. Regarding the paleopathology, the high frequency of porotic lesions (60.8%) and new bone deposition (37.3%), especially in the individuals previously identified as small for their age, make evident the difficulties experienced by these individuals during their short lives.