Ancient adolescents lived in a very different world than today. From the time of prehistory to New World colonies, some lived extraordinary lives. They suffered from sickness and unjust treatment and expressed themselves in art and pranks.
But perhaps the most revealing stories come from the teenagers who never lived to grow old. How they lived and what caused their untimely deaths can paint vivid images of their struggles, games, places in the community, and the social problems of the time.
10. Girl From Cerro Juanaquena
While scouting for a location to build a new solar plant, archaeologists unearthed an ancient camp. Situated near the Santa Maria River in Mexico, the 10,500-year-old site was a toolmaking center used over many generations. Excavations in 2014 revealed over 18,000 related artifacts, including stone flakes and cores, hammers, stone points, working areas, and 12 stone ovens.
Considering the camp’s industrial nature, it was surprising to find a girl buried between the rocks. Interred around 3,200 years ago, the grave was bare except for the skeleton. Aged 12–15, she showed no signs of disease or bone trauma. The cause of her death remains unclear, but she’s a priceless window into the earliest community of corn farmers in the Greater Southwest.
The burial occurred around 1360 BC, which falls into the same period as a nearby hilltop settlement called Cerro Juanaquena. The community successfully introduced agriculture in the desert, including the earliest maize in Chihuahua.
No human remains were found at the settlement, which makes this teenager extra special. Further research on her remains will hopefully reveal the lost history of these first farmers.
9. The Vindolanda Footprint
The permanent footprint or handprint of a child pressed into a slab of concrete is a scene that is very familiar today. Some kids even draw their names and the date in freshly made slabs. While it’s not always such a big deal to mess with affordable cement in modern times, archaeologists believe that one teenager transgressed onto pricier material and likely wasn’t popular with the adults because of it.
Between AD 160–180, an adolescent pressed his or her foot into a tile of clay, leaving their toes and sole to be preserved for posterity. Researchers working at the Roman fort of Vindolanda, where the artifact was found, aren’t sure if the teenager felt a little naughty or whether the person accidentally walked onto the tile before it had a chance to set.
The excavations, which ended in 2015, didn’t find any more such imprints. This makes it likely that the youngster did it accidentally or received such a scolding that he or she didn’t even think of trying it a second time.