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Childhood diet, disease, and death as telltale signs of the physical and social environment in post-medieval Aalst


This FWO-funded project, lead by post-doctoral researcher Dr Jessica Palmer, assesses the physical stress children in post-medieval Aalst faced, in relation to socio-economic status and living conditions. Historical sources show a low child survivor rate in poor families in this context, yet do not elucidate why. NonSurvivors will analyze the children’s skeletal remains for direct data on disease, diet, and death. The archaeological wealth of Aalst, with exceptional preservation of human remains of all socio-economic statuses from different concurrent cemeteries, facilitates this. Children are also excellent indicators of societal health. From a biological perspective, they are vulnerable: their bodies expend considerable energy to grow and are less resistant to health hazards, making them the first to suffer and the first to succumb. By analyzing these young individuals who perished, we effectively target the “canaries in the coalmine”. 
NonSurvivors combines macroscopic and biomolecular methods to assess diet and disease, as well as pioneering cutting-edge proteomic analyses to detect infectious load. These health data will be linked to social differentiation and environmental factors such as air quality and occupation density, allowing for an in-depth assessment of the impact of the social and physical context of the town on its people. On a wider scale, NonSurvivors will create a new, childhood-based reference frame for archaeological and contemporary analyses of urban health.


Project kickoff!


And we're off! I won't be seeing much of the building the coming month due to covid, but to start the project off I spend the day at our new ArcheOs research facility.
A wonderful new lab in a gorgeous old building- very fitting for the cutting-edge research we will conduct on ancient human remains!

For more information: contact Jessica via

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