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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 August 2005, 17:39 GMT 18:39 UK
Grave reveals medieval Caesareans
The grave at Wharram Percy, North Yorkshire
Few burials have been found that show evidence of Caesareans
The medieval remains of a mother and daughter found in North Yorkshire shows signs of an attempted Caesarean operation, scientists have revealed.

The 900-year-old grave at Wharram Percy held the remains of a woman aged between 25 and 30 with a baby.

A study of the remains by English Heritage showed the woman died during her pregnancy and the foetus was cut free from the womb in a bid to save it.

Nearly 700 skeletons have been found at the 12th century site near Malton.

Survival hope

It is thought the woman died during her pregnancy which was 10 weeks short of full-term.

Simon Mays, skeletal biologist at English Heritage's Centre for Archaeology, said the find contradicts previous notions that medieval people got used to death.

He said it suggests life was precious and people were prepared to carry out drastic acts to preserve it.

Wharram Percy, North Yorkshire
The 40 year dig is the longest in British archaeological history

"The most likely explanation for this double burial is that the pregnant woman died of tuberculosis and the foetus was cut free from the womb in the hope it might survive," he said.

"Caesareans don't seem to have been carried out on living women at this time, probably because it was far too dangerous."

It was the only burial of its kind unearthed at Wharram Percy, where 687 skeletons have been found by archaeologists during a 40-year excavation, making it the longest dig in British archaeological history.

Of all the graves, 15% contained the remains of children under the age of one.

Dr Mays added: "We tend to think medieval people somehow got used to death because life could be so nasty, brutish and short.

"But this burial tends to rebut this and suggests life was every bit as precious, leading to drastic acts to preserve it."

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