Oldest Confirmed Case Of Down's Syndrome Suggests No Stigma In Death

Archaeologists have exhumed the remains of a child with Down's syndrome who was buried some 1500 years ago in medieval France. Such cases are rare in the archaeological record. What's more, the way the child was buried suggests the child was not stigmatized in death.

A team led by University of Bordeaux researcher Maïté Rivollat describe the discovery in a recent issue of the International Journal of Paleopathology. According to Rivollat and her colleagues, the child was placed on its back in a tomb, which its head oriented in a westward direction, in keeping with the burial customs of the time and region.

"The context and funerary treatment of this child suggests that he/she was not stigmatized by other members of the community, who afforded a normal mode of burial," the researchers write.

In an interview with New Scientist, Rivollat said that the mode of burial "hints" that people with Down's syndrome were not stigmatized while alive. We think that could be a bit of a stretch. As University of Indianapolis bioanthropologist John Starbuck notes, "it can be very difficult to extrapolate cultural values and behaviour from burials or skeletal remains."

[International Journal of Paleopathology via New Scientist]