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The Aboriginal girl had not turned 25 and had always worked hard collecting barnacles for her family, an exhausting task, because the sea is cold and with humidity everything hurts, but soon she was going to be a mother, only one moon was missing, the gods would provide ... However, everything got complicated.

The bones of a young woman rest since the end of the thirteenth century on the coast of Gáldar (Gran Canaria) under what is now a farm with the fetus of the child who never saw in the womb, because mother and son They died between the 33rd and 35th week of pregnancy , probably due to pregnancy complications.

His is a very rare case. Burials of ancient cultures are barely known in the world where the remains of a pregnant woman and her son (in the Canary Islands, only this one) are conserved together , although it is suspected that in ancient times a non-negligible number of women died due to complications in pregnancy or childbirth; In fact, it continues to happen today, especially in contexts of poverty.

Prehispanic necropolis

Four researchers from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC), the Canarian Museum and the Tibicena company publish in the HOMO: Journal of Comparative Human Biology the result of their studies on one of the most interesting burials of this pre-Hispanic necropolis discovered in 2007 in Juan Primo, where 16 people who lived between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries rest.

The archaeologists who work in that enclave ignore who that woman was, but they know a lot about her: they know how she fed, what she worked for in her youth and, surely, until the end of her days, they know she had only five weeks left to give to light and suspect what died . And they know it because their bones speak.

The anatomical study of her body shows that she was a young woman from 20 to 25 years old , without being able to specify whether she was pregnant for the first time or had already been a mother. It also reveals that he suffered from osteoarthritis in the lumbar vertebrae and exostosis in the left atrial canal, a problem better known as a "surfer's ear", because it especially affects people with a lot of contact with water.

An image of the whole body.

The two ailments have their historical and daily context: it is estimated that 20 percent of the population of Gran Canaria prior to the Conquest suffered from non-senile osteoporosis , which several studies attribute a low protein diet and sustained, fundamentally, in the intake of cereals and other vegetables.

As for the surfer's ear, it is a bone anomaly in the atrial canal stimulated by an intense and continuous contact with cold water, which is usually related to professions such as diver or shellfish ... And that gives another key to life of that young woman, says the first author of the work, Jonathan Santana , of the ULPGC.

Aboriginal of Gran Canaria

The archaeological record proves that the aborigines of Gran Canaria used to collect shellfish, shellfish and burgaos (snails) for food, a task in which women participated. The chronicles also tell it, with passages like this one from 1632 : "If the pregnant woman was there, they gave their share to both the creature that was in their womb and the mother." So most likely, the authors say, is that the protagonist of this story continues to collaborate on these tasks, hence its atrial occlusion. "

The knowledge acquired so far about the ancient Canaries, recalls this study, shows that in Aboriginal societies there was a high mortality of women between the ages of 20 and 35 , age range that coincides with the most fertile period.

Jonathan Santana is among the twenty Spanish scientists who have obtained the prestigious Starting Grant of the European Research Council this year, for their projects to continue providing light on what life was like for the people who lived in the Canary Islands before the arrival of Europeans in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Pregnancy was not dangerous in itself, the dangerous came after childbirth

Jonathan Santana

This researcher argues that, if this mortality rate has to do with maternity, it is due to complications after childbirth, especially infections. "We thought that pregnancy was not something as dangerous in the past as we now believe, since all births have been medicalized. Pregnancy was not itself dangerous, the dangerous thing came after childbirth, " he says.

His article recounts another custom documented by the historical chronicles among the Canarian aborigines, that of fattening married women before they took a husband, providing them with a supplementary diet based on milk and gofio.

Man domination

That practice, Santana admits, has a double reading: a first of man's domination over women , their sexuality and their reproduction, but also another of a practical nature , because they sought to provide mothers and their offspring with more options to survive possible unforeseen during the first upbringing, in a society that worshiped fertility and represented it with feminine forms, as in the engravings of Fallen Risco or the idol of Tara.

So what did that young Aboriginal die from, if she died from pregnancy? The disposition of the remains of the child in the womb indicates a possible bad placement, a shoulder dystocia, and the week of gestation in which he found himself suggests another possible cause, eclampsia , a complication that is still behind one of each ten deaths of mothers in pregnancy and that in 90 percent of cases occurs around week 34 , in the last month.

Archaeologists still do not know who the young woman from the tomb number 4 of Juan Primo was, but their remains, carefully wrapped in a shroud and buried to the north, have told them a lot about how those nine months were in the life of the ancient Canaries

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