The Dutch town of Middenbeemster was established in the early 17th century upon land reclaimed after a series of lakes were drained. In 1623 the colonizing farming community built a church and graveyard that was used until 1868. Excavation has revealed over 400 burials of all age groups. Osteoarchaeology, the scientific study of human skeletal remains uncovered in an archaeological context, contributes a vast amount to our understandings of past peoples. A full complement of osteoarchaeological methods can answer questions about the mobility, demography, diet, activity, and health of this colonizing community – thus, reconstructing their lifeways. The osteoarchaeological analysis of Middenbeemster inhabitants will be central to examining the effects of the Little Ice Age in the Netherlands, a cold period between 1550AD to 1850AD. In Europe, the Little Ice Age caused shortened and less reliable growing seasons and increased flooding, which resulted in many years of dearth and famine. Episodes of starvation and illness are detectable via the macroscopic analysis of human skeletal remains, as are estimates of sex, age, stature, and activity-patterns, all of which will permit a refined picture of factors related to morbidity and mortality. Furthermore, chemical analyses of small tissue samples to determine diet and mobility will permit consideration of where settlers were coming from, and dietary variation related to crop selection and yield. The interpretation of results will be aided by archival materials about immigration, paleoenvironmental reconstructions, epidemiological patterns, and archaeological data about the socioeconomic status of Middenbeemster farmers. It will be particularly interesting to examine if and how these patterns changed in the over 250 years of cemetery usage. The osteoarchaeological analysis of Middenbeemster presents an extraordinary opportunity to produce a diachronic reconstruction of a rural farming community during the Little Ice Age.
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