musings on the history of infanticide in Europe

1 Jun
   I happened across this nice summary of Hrdy’s rather shocking chapter on infanticide.
   This is apparently a little know history of Western civilization. It makes me wonder what the history was for people who did not make these sorts of records, how they dealt with birth control.
   One interesting clue might come from Grazyna Jasienska’s research into female hormone and metabolism. In Jasienska’s book The Fragile Wisdom she notes that when energy intake is balanced by extensive activity in a consistent way, this represses fertility. This implies that for cultures where there was no ‘settlement’ and ‘wintering in’ (pre-agricultural), the frequency of childbirth was balanced by resource availability – which was transmitted biologically through mother’s activity levels and nutrition intake.
   Hrdy notes that mothers throughout time have always been working mothers, and the challenge has always been how to maintain a good social network (tribe of child carers) to allow her to do the work needed to sustain the nutritional needs of her family.
   I would suggest that the litmus test for infant appearance differs between peoples who have generations of settled, agricultural activity in seasonal areas, and peoples who live in places where food acquisition is a continuous activity throughout year – peoples with long history of boom & bust intake will have more extreme measures of managing fertility (through abandonment/infanticide), and do not need to carry their infants long distances soon after birth. Consequently, babies who are plump and show all signs of “cuteness” may be more prevalent among long-settled peoples. And babies who are easier to carry around and are efficient in their energy intake will be more prevalent in nomadic or tropical peoples.
   But the question remains: how can we gather evidence from nomadic and tropical people about their history of having unwanted babies and their cultural practices relating to this? If anyone happens across any sources I would be interested to hear of it!
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