New results from the multidisciplinary analysis of human remains

(University of Oxford, Oxford, UK)

Keywords: Human remains, early medieval, Low Countries, multidisciplinary approaches

Situated in the estuary of the river Scheldt, the former island of Walcheren has a rich early medieval history. Evidence includes the remains of the enigmatic trading site of Walichrum, comparable in wealth to the better-known site of Dorestad but now entirely destroyed by the sea, and the remains of no less than 3 ringforts, the densest concentration of early medieval fortified sites from the Netherlands. One of these – Domburg – was located in the direct vicinity of the emporium, raising questions about the relationship between the two sites. Who, for example, were the people who lived here, and what was their relationship with regions further afield? Documentary sources have been studied extensively but direct references to early medieval Walcheren are few and difficult to interpret. The archaeological study of the locality is no less problematic. Extensive cemeteries associated with the trading site were discovered at various times during the 17th, 18th, 19th and earlier 20th centuries, but skeletal material was generally not retained for future study. Only 5 (partial) skeletons have survived until the present day, and it is these that stand central to this talk. Although few in number, there is nevertheless a wealth of information about the individuals’ health, lifestyles and long-distance contacts that can be retrieved through the innovative combination of interdisciplinary technologies. Presenting the results of the collaborative project Investigating the Dead in Early Medieval Domburg, the talk will discuss the combined implications of radiocarbon dating, stable isotope analysis, physical anthropological study, dendrochronology and typological analysis of coffin wood, and ‘digital excavation’ of an in-situ burial through CT and structured light scanning, taking an important step towards unravelling the enigmatic early medieval history of the Domburg area.

Relevance conference /Relevance session:
This talk demonstrates how the innovative combination of new and old technologies to investigate cultural heritage can yield important results even if the evidence base is at first sight very slight.

The innovation of the Investigating the Dead in Early Medieval Domburg lies in the exhaustive combination of all available technologies to gain new insights in the settlement history of a region.


  1. Ten Harkel 2013. A Viking Age landscape of defence in the Netherlands?. In Baker, Brookes and Reynolds (eds), Landscapes of Defence in Early Medieval Europe, 223-59, Brepols.
  2. Ten Harkel et al. in prep., Investigating the dead in early medieval Domburg, the Netherlands: an interdisciplinary approach (for Antiquity).