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Fysisch-antropologisch onderzoek van postmiddeleeuwse menselijke skeletten aangetroffen te Oostende (prov. West-Vlaanderen) buiten reguliere begraafplaatsen
Vandenbruaene, M.; Pieters, M.; Ervynck, A.; van Strydonck, M.; Schietecatte, L.; Maes, A.; Vermeulen, L.; Wauters, E. (2003). Fysisch-antropologisch onderzoek van postmiddeleeuwse menselijke skeletten aangetroffen te Oostende (prov. West-Vlaanderen) buiten reguliere begraafplaatsen. Archeol. Vlaan. 7: 277-318
In: Archeologie in Vlaanderen = Archaeology in Flanders. Instituut voor het Archeologisch Patrimonium: Brussel. ISSN 0778-2837, meer
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Vandenbruaene, M.
  • Pieters, M., meer
  • Ervynck, A., meer
  • van Strydonck, M.
  • Schietecatte, L.
  • Maes, A.
  • Vermeulen, L.
  • Wauters, E.

    During construction works in the centre of Ostend, a port town on the Flemish North Sea coast, human skeletons are regularly found at places where no cemeteries are known. This phenomenon was already mentioned by a historian at the end of the 19th century, who related these skeletons to victims of the Siege of Ostend in 1601-1604, during the Hundred Years War of the Netherlands against the Spanish. In the course of building works for underground parking garages at the Mijnplein in 1994-95 and at the Visserskaai in 1998-99, excavations were carried out by archaeologists Marnix Pieters, Marc Dewilde and Liesbet Schietecatte of the Institute for the Archaeological Heritage (JAP) with the support of the city council. Some skeletons were found in anatomical position, most of them oriented with the he ad to the south- west, laying on the back with hands crossed over the belly. Other skeletal finds consisted only of scattered clusters of mainly long bones. The bone structure was solid and well preserved, but most skeletons were incomplete with post-mortem fractures. Different historical sources describe the Siege of Ostend, the city succeeding to resist the Spanish besieger for more than three years. Since all women and children left town and food and weaponry is known to have been supplied regularly by boats, the defenders are not likely to have suffered from scurvy, which is normally to be expected. This information, together with the archaeological evidence of defence works and iron cannon balls made it very interesting to study the skeletal remains. It has been attempted to date the excavated skeletons through radiocarbon analysis. The results obtained were critically evaluated, taking into account the possible biasing effects of age and diet. Two of the skeletons found at the Mijnplein site appear to date back to the period of the Siege of Ostend (around 1600 AD). A skeleton found in the Peckel's bastion seemed to be somewhat older than this date, a result that is irreconcilable with the stratigraphic position of the find, i.e. cutting through a structure related with the Siege. Therefore, it was decided to treat the human remains from this site also as postmedieval victims of the Siege of Ostend. Finally, it was proven that a group of seven skeletons, buried in a communal grave pit within the Spanish bastion, is considerably younger than the victims of the siege from around 1600 AD. Possibly, they represent people who died during the war events that damaged the town in the beginning of the 18th century. The basic biological information of every skeletal individual is collected by morphometrical analyses based on classic anthropological methods. Estimated are sex and age at death, stature, three skull indices and four robusticity indices. Further, the presence of skeletal anomalies or discrete traits is noted, and paleopathological features of the bones and of the dentition are diagnosed. In the demographic study 50 skeletal individuals are discussed, most of them young adult men with an average age of 27 years, the oldest one not more than 50 years old. Only four females are present of which three died between 30- 34 years. The mean stature length for these men is 170 m. For nine skeletons the cranial index could be determined of which the mean is a mesocranic skull shape. The robusticity indices of the long bones show slender persons with a high number of eurymeric femora and eurycnemic tibiae. Platymeria is seen in two individuals. Many anatomical variants are present of which frontal metopism, 'Wormian' bones of the skull, sacral spina bifida and sternal anomalies are the most common. Frequently noted are cortical defects, such as impressions of the ligaments and tendons at the proximal anterior diaphysis of the humerus, the posterior shaft of the tibia and at the sternal end of the clavicula. Together with the high amount of damage of the discs (Schmorl's nodes) at the lower thoracal vertebrae and general vertebral osteophytosis (VO), these stress indicators can be seen as the result of muscular hyperactivity due to chronical occupational or biomechanical stress. Trauma was rare, a few healed fractures are seen on the post cranial skeleton. Diagnosed in several individuals are: porotic hyperostosis, cribra orbitalia, healed rachitis, periostitis at the tibia and dental hypoplasia. Food, health and deficiency diseases cause most of these bone disorders. Clear evidence of scurvy was not found and cause of death could not be diagnosed in any single skeleton. As a conclusion we could say that these young adult men represent a poor social class. The large amount of skeletal anomalies and paleopathological features diagnosed can be associated with an insufficient diet, growth and health during childhood and early adult life. Historical and archaeological evidence support the hypothesis that they were most probably the victims of the Siege of Ostend (1601-1604).

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