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MB Osteoarchaeology — Result In Brief

Project ID: 302801
Funded under: FP7-PEOPLE
Country: Netherlands

Farm communities of the Little Ice Age

An EU-funded study on the ways of life of a colonising and farming community of a post-Medieval town can promote our understanding of the recent past. Demographic variables, common diseases and dietary resources are just some of the indicators.
Farm communities of the Little Ice Age
Excavation in the Dutch town of Middenbeemster, which was established in the early 17th century, has revealed over 400 burials of various ages. Osteoarchaeology, the scientific study of human skeletal remains, can help to can answer questions about the mobility, demography, diet, activity and health of this community. More importantly, an osteoarchaeological analysis is useful for examining the effects of the Little Ice Age in the Netherlands. This cold period between 1550 AD and1850 AD created shorter and less reliable growing seasons as well as an increase in flooding. Results were devastating and included death and famine.

The project MB OSTEOARCHAEOLOGY (Osteoarchaeology of the Dutch Middenbeemster post-medieval cemetery: Lifeways of a colonizing farming community during the Little Ice Age) had several objectives. Some of these included an inventory of bones and teeth, a stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis, data entry and statistical data analysis.

The team found that skeletal preservation ranged from good to very good and that most were partially or almost entirely complete. The male to female results indicate that there was a nearly equal distribution. Research indicated poor dental health among the population as well as high rates of osteoarthritis.

From the 150 best-preserved skeletons, small bone samples of both sexes and from all ages were selected for chemical analysis in order to reconstruct their diets. Researchers discovered these included a high intake of animal protein and only traces of marine food consumption. Most infants were breastfed until around the age of two. Even though the community dealt with many hardships, it was not more affected or worse off than other populations. It is even likely that they had access to a more reliable and better quality diet.

Data from this study provides a wealth of knowledge about the ways of life of rural inhabitants of western Europe during the 19th century when industrialisation and urbanisation were changing the ways people lived and ate.

Related information


Little Ice Age, farming community, post-Medieval, Middenbeemster, osteoarchaeology
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