Archaeologist have discovered the skeletal remains of what they believe to be the earliest case of down syndrome. The remains belong to a five to seven year old child. Dating back to the 5th century, they were found in a necropolis in a church in Saint-Jean-des-Vignes in Eastern France.
We know that, though the diagnosis was not made until the 19th century, Down Syndrome has existed throughout human history. This find, however, is the earliest that researches have hard proof of.
The CT scan showed signs of a flattened ear, tooth inflammation, and brachycrany and metopism, in which the skull is short and broad with a disfigurement of the forehead.
The body was found buried, facing upright, with the rest of the bodies in the necropolis, thought to be the child's family.
Researchers are not sure whether the child was male or female, nor how the child died. They are, however, making assumptions that because the body was buried in the upright fashion and in the necropolis next to it's kin, that this somehow means that the child was not stigmatized.
This would be a great sentiment, however, finding a body buried in the necropolis does not simply mean that the child was not stigmatized. It simply means that the child was given a proper burial.
It is not clear how the child died, so we can assume that the child was not malnourished, as that would show in the bones. We can also assume that they ruled out any trauma to the bones themselves.
But, there is still much unknown. The child may not have, for all we know, seen the light of day. The child may have been kept secret. We simply do not know.
There are cases, in many cultures, where we have written proof that, unfortunately, people with handicaps were stigmatized in different and sometimes cruel ways.
In some cultures, it was believed that a child that developed a deformity were believed to have been "switched by fairies with the original child", or a "changeling".
In Scottish folklore, the children might be replacements for fairy children in the tithe to Hell; this is best known from the ballad of Tam Lin. Also, according to common Scottish myths, a child born with a caul (head helmet) across their face is a changeling, and of fey birth.
There were also tales of the "simpleton", or someone who was very slow mentally; think of Hodor from Game of Thrones as an example.
Being that they could not produce and care for themselves in an ordinary way, there are tales that the special needs people would go into town, and, instead of just begging, people would pay them to hear the wild stories they would tell (much akin to how some homeless people in today's society have outrageous stories they tell to those who will listen; such as one conversation I had where the guy told me he invented the alphabet and the government stole his idea... I bought him a hamburger and gave him the few dollars I had.)
This is where archaeology and literary history have to sink up better. To say that the child was not stigmatized, while it truly would be a great notion, simply based on finding some bones buried right side up in a necropolis, may go too far.
It does mean, however, that the family more than likely had some money to afford this style of burial in the 5th century. What archaeologists need in this case is to try and find out, either through other evidence in the necropolis or other wise, who the family was, and have literary historians fact check the family name at that point to see who this wealthy family was and if there is any record of the kids.