Friday, July 23, 2021

Back to the Salt Mines

I usually read my Discover magazines when they first arrive, but somehow I missed the June 2020 issue. There must have been a lot going on last May or something.

One good thing about reading it now is that I can link to an article I'd like to share from that issue, since its year-old date means they've posted it on their website. The title in print was "More Than Child's Play: Researchers piece together the stories of the smallest ancient laborers." Online, it's called The Ancient Practice of Childhood Labor Is Coming to Light

The story is about a salt mine in Hallstatt, Austria. It's been a salt mine for at least 7,000 years and is still mined today. It's 30 stories below the village of 800 people which, in the Bronze Age, was a prosperous place. But that was partly because everyone worked in the mine, including children as young as 3.

Salt was valuable, not just as a seasoning, but as a preservative. The preservative nature of the mineral means it's a great place to find archaeological finds, too, like small shoes and hats.

In the town's cemeteries, they also found signs of repetitive work in skeletons, such as children as young as 6 with arthritis in their elbows, knees, and spines or with snapped joints from strain. "They believe the youngest children...may have held the torches... By age 8, kids likely assumed hauling and crawling duties, carrying supplies atop their heads or shimmying through crevices too narrow for grown-ups."

Despite all of this, the life expectancy of people in Bronze Age Hallstatt was average for the time when they lived. The article doesn't give an idea of what that length of time was. 

But that fact tells us something about everyone else's life.

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