An ancient image of childbirth…TMI?

October 27, 2011

Image of early childbirthPhoto by Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas

A ceramic fragment less than 1 ¾” by 1 ¼” depicting the earliest known childbirth scene in western art was recently found in Italy. It shows the head and shoulders of a baby emerging from a mother who had her knees raised, her face in profile, and a long braided ponytail down her back. The image is believed to come from an Etruscan vessel that dates to about 600 BCE.

The first questions raised by archaeologists at the Poggio Colla excavation site were: Who was this woman and child? And why were they shown in this intimate way?

Seeing this image makes me think of all the modern parents who bring cameras or even video cameras into birthing rooms.

Years ago during a vacation in California with my grandparents, we visited the adult children of some friends of theirs. Proudly displayed in their living room were graphic photos of their children being born. Certainly these videos and photos won’t survive the next two thousand years. Of course if they did, valuable information about childbirth during this century would be provided to future anthropologists, but to a then thirteen-year-old girl, it just seemed like too much information. In other words, gross.

Which makes me wonder, were the Etruscan babies depicted in these images embarrassed when their parents brought them out to show their Etruscan relatives years after they were all grown up?

Read an article by SMU

Read the blog post on “Ancient Bodies Ancient Lives”