Skip to main content

Divergence, diet, and disease: the identification of group identity, landscape use, health, and mobility in the fifth- to sixth-century AD burial community of Echt, the Netherlands

Abstract

This study aims to better understand the development of group identity, mobility, and health in the Early Medieval Meuse Valley. This is achieved by combining existing demographic and palaeopathological information from 73 cremation deposits from Echt, the Netherlands, with new strontium isotope ratios (87Sr/86Sr) and strontium concentrations ([Sr]) that are performed on pars petrosa, diaphysis, and rib fragments. Although the surrounding Early Medieval cemeteries practiced inhumation, the initial burial community of Echt persisted in expressing the divergent burial ritual of cremation. Thirty-two radiocarbon dates demonstrate the fifth- to sixth-century cremation deposits to be chronologically separated from the seventh-century inhumations that were preserved in situ, suggesting a subsequent burial community replaced cremation with inhumation in the seventh century. Nutritionally inadequate diets may have contributed to the relatively high prevalence of porotic hyperostosis (~ 34%), resulting from decreasing foods supplies caused by deteriorating climatic conditions. The inhabitants are postulated to have mainly consumed foods originating from the land directly surrounding their farmsteads, expressed by the great variability in the 87Sr/86Sr of the diaphyses and ribs (0.7096 to 0.7131), matching the geological complexity of the area. The lack of significant differences between the 87Sr/86Sr and [Sr] of ribs and diaphyses connotes little change in the geological origin of the foods occurred over time, stressing the importance of the yield of local harvests. In contrast, large differences in childhood (i.e. pars petrosa) vs. adult (i.e. ribs and diaphyses) 87Sr/86Sr suggest the regional movement of individuals to possibly support inter-farmstead relationships (e.g. via marriages).

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6

References

  • Annaert R (2018) A status quaestionis of the Early Medieval burial archaeology in the Flemish part of the Meuse-Demer-Scheldt region. In: Kars M, Van Oosten R, Roxburgh MA, Verhoeven A (eds) Rural riches & royal rags? Studies on medieval and modern archaeology, presented to Frans Theuws. Stichting Promotie Archeologie, Zwolle, pp 65–68

    Google Scholar 

  • Annaert R, Deforce K, Vandenbruaene M (2011) The cremation graves at the Broechem cemetery (prov. Antwerp, Belgium). In: Panhuysen TASM (ed) Transformations in Norht-Western Europe (AD 300-1000). Proceedings of the 60th Sachsensymposion 19-23, Neue Studien zur Sachsenforschung 3, Hannover, pp 207-217

  • Bakels CC (2009) The Western European Loess Belt, an agrarian history 5300 BC-AD 1000. Dordrecht, Heidelberg

    Google Scholar 

  • Bentley RA (2006) Strontium isotopes from the earth to the archaeological skeleton: a review. J Archaeol Method Theory 13:135–187. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10816-006-9009-x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Boudin M, Van Strydonck M, Van den Brande T, Synal HA, Wacker L (2015) RICH – a new AMS facility at the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage, Brussels, Belgium. Nucl Instrum Methods Phys Res, Sect B 361:120–123. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nimb.2015.04.006

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brickley MB, Ives R, Mays S (2020) The bioarchaeology of metabolic bone disease, 2nd edn. Academic Press, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Bronk Ramsey C (2009) Bayesian analysis of radiocarbon dates. Radiocarbon 51:337–360. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033822200033865

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Büntgen U, Myglan VS, Ljungqvist FC, McCormick M, Di Cosmo N, Sigl M, Jungclaus J, Wagner S, Krusic PJ, Esper J, Kaplan JO, De Vaan MAC, Luterbacher J, Wacker L, Tegel W, Kirdyanov AV (2016) Cooling and societal change during the Late Antique Little Ice Age from 536 to around 660 AD. Nat Geosci 9:231–236. https://doi.org/10.1038/nego2652

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cavazzuti C, Skeates R, Millard AR, Nowell G, Peterkin J, Bernabò Brea M, Cardarelli A, Salzani L (2019) Flows of people in villages and large centres in Bronze Age Italy through strontium and oxygen isotopes. PLoS One 14:e0209693

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Clarke B (2008) Normal bone anatomy and physiology. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol 3:S131–S139. https://doi.org/10.2215/cjn.04151206

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Coelho I, Castanheira I, Bordado JM, Donard O, Silva JAL (2017) Recent developments and trends in the application of strontium and its isotopes in biological related fields. Trends Anal Chem 90:45–61. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trac.2017.02.005

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • De Haas MV, Theuws FCWJ (2013) The Merovingian cemetery of Posterholt-Achterse Voorst. Habelt-Verlag, Bonn

    Google Scholar 

  • De Winter N, Wesemael E (2014) Archeologische evaluatie en waardering van een Romeinse site op het plateau ‘De Kommel’ (Dilsen-Stokkem, provincie Limburg), Sint-Truiden

  • Dijkstra MFP (2011) Rondom de mondingen van Rijn en Maas: landschap en bewoning tussen de 3e en de 9e eeuw in Zuid-Holland, in het bijzonder de oude Rijnstreek, Leiden, 168-169

  • Dupras TL, Schwarcz HP (2001) Strangers in a strange land: stable isotope evidence for human migration in the Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt. J Anthropol Archaeol 28:1199–1208

    Google Scholar 

  • Ervynck A, Haneca K, Annaert R, Martens M, Meylemans E, Lentacker A (in press) Kenniswinst Archeologie 2020. Evaluatie van de kenniswinst geboekt uitarcheologisch vooronderzoek en opgravingen gerapporteerd in 2020 en uitgevoerd binnen het kader van het Onroerenderfgoeddecreet, Onderzoeksrapporten agentschap Onroerend Erfgoed

  • Evans JA, Montgomery J, Wildman G (2009) Isotopes domain mapping of 87Sr/86Sr biosphere variation on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. J Geol Soc Lond 166:617–631. https://doi.org/10.1144/0016-76492008-043

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Evans JA, Montgomery J, Wildman G, Boulton N (2010) Spatial variations in biosphere 87Sr/86Sr in Britain. J Geol Soc Lond 167:1–4. https://doi.org/10.1144/0016-76492009-090

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fahy GE, Deter C, Pitfield R, Miszkiewicz JJ, Mahoney P (2017) Bone deep: Variation in stable isotope ratios and histomorphometric measurements of bone remodeling within adult humans. J Archaeol Sci 87:10–16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2017.09.009

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Grupe G, Klaut D, Otto L, Mauder M, Lohrer J, Kröger P, Lang A (2020) The genesis and spread of the early Fritzens-Sanzeno culture (5th/4th cent. BCE)-Stable isotope analysis of cremated and uncremated skeletal finds. J Archaeol Sci Rep 29:102121

    Google Scholar 

  • Härke H (2011) Cemeteries as places of power? In: De Jong M, Theuws F (eds) Topographies of power in the Early Middle Ages, the Transformation of the Roman World 6, Leiden, 9-30

  • Hartmann J, Moosdorf N (2012) The new global lithological map database GLiM: A representation of rock properties at the Earth surface. Geochem Geophys Geosyst 13:1–37. https://doi.org/10.1029/2012GC004370

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Heeren S (2017) From Germania Inferior to Germania Secunda and beyond. A case study of migration, transformation and decline. In: Roymans N, Heerren S, De Clerq W (eds) Social dynamics in the northwest frontiers of the Late Roman Empire, beyond decline or transformation. Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, pp 149–178

    Google Scholar 

  • Heeren S, Hazenberg T (2010) Voorname dames, stoere soldaten en eenvoudige lieden. Begravingen en nederzettingssporen uit het Neolithicum, de laat-Romeinse tijd en Middeleeuwen te Wijchen-Centrum. Hazenberg Archeologie Leiden BV, Leiden

  • Kars M, Theuws FCWJ, De Haas M (2016) The Merovingian cemeteries of Sittard, Obbicht and Stein. Habelt-Verlag, Bonn

    Google Scholar 

  • Knippenberg S, Theuws FCWJ (2019) Wonen en begraven in Uden. Opgravingen van een Merovingisch grafveld en middeleeuwse nederzetting langs de Schepersweg, gemeente Uden. Archol BV, Leiden

  • Kootker LM, Van Lanen RJ, Kars H, Davies GR (2016) Strontium isoscapes in The Netherlands. Spatial variation in 87Sr/86Sr as a proxy for palaeomobility. J Archaeol Sci Rep 6:1–13. https://doi.org/10.10116/j.jasrep.2016.01.015

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lahtinen M, Arppe L, Nowell G (2021) Source of strontium in archaeological mobility studies – marine diet contribution to the isotopic composition. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 13:1. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-020-1240-w

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lippok FE (2020) The pyre and the grave: early medieval cremation burials in the Netherlands, the German Rhineland and Belgium. World Archaeol 52:147–162. https://doi.org/10.1080/00438243.2020.1769297

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McMillan R, Snoeck C, De Winter NJ, Claeys P, Weis D (2019) Evaluating the impact of acetic acid chemical pre-treatment on ‘old’ and cremated bone with the ‘Perio-spot’ technique and ‘Perio-endos’ profiles. Paleoeogr, Palaeoclimatol, Palaeoecol 530:330–344. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paleo.2019.05.019

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Montgomery J (2010) Passports from the past: investigating human dispersals using strontium isotope analysis of tooth enamel. Ann Hum Biol 37:325–346. https://doi.org/10.3109/03014461003649297

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nieweg DC (2018) Dierlijk crematiemateriaal uit Bockage te Echt, Gemeente Echt-Susteren. Archeozoölogische rapportage, Leiden

    Google Scholar 

  • Parfitt AM (2002) Misconceptions (2), bone turnover is always higher in cancellous than in cortical bone. Bone 30:807–809

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Perlmann HB (1939) Process of healing in injuries to the capsule of labyrinth. Arch Otolaryngol 101:462–464. https://doi.org/10.1001/archotol.1939.00650050307007

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Prowse TL, Schwarcz HP, Saunders S, Macchiarelli R, Bondioli L (2005) Isotopic evidence for agerelated variation in diet from Isola Sacra, Italy. Am J Phys Anthropol 128:2–13

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Reimer PH, Austing WEN, Bard E et al (2020) The IntCal20 Northern Hemisphere Radiocarbon Age Calibration Curve (0-55 cal kBP). Radiocarbon 62:725–757. https://doi.org/10.1017/RDC/2020.41

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Roosens H (1976) Het Merovingisch grafveld van Ophoven. Archaeologia Belgica 186, Brussels

  • Roosens H, De Boe G, De Meulemeester J (1976) Het Merovingisch grafveld van Rosmeer I. Archaeologia Belgica 188, Brussels

  • Salesse K, Fernandes R, De Rochefort X, Bruzek J, Castex D, Dufour E (2018) IsoArcH.eu: An open-access and collaborative isotope database for bioarchaeological samples from Graeo-Roman World and its margins. J Archaeol Sci Rep 19:1050–1055. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2017.07.030

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Snoeck C, Lee-Thorp J, Schulting R, De Jong J, Debouge W, Mattielli N (2015) Calcined bone provides a reliable substrate for strontium isotope ratios as shown by an enrichment experiment. Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom 29:107–114. https://doi.org/10.1002/rcm.7078

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Snoeck C, Pouncett J, Ramsey G, Meighan I, Mattielli N, Goderis S, Lee-Thorp JA, Schulting R (2016) Mobility during the Neolithic and Bronze Age in Northern Ireland explored using strontium isotope analysis of cremated human bone. Am J Phys Anthropol 160:397–413. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.22977

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Snoeck C, Pouncett J, Claeys P, Goderis S, Mattielli N, Parker Pearson M, Willis C, Zazzo A, Lee-Thorp L, Schulting R (2018) Strontium isotope analysis on cremated human remains from Stonehenge support links with west Wales. Sci Rep 8:10790. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-2869-8

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Snoeck C, Jones C, Pouncett J, Goderis S, Claeys P, Mattielli N, Zazzo A, Reimer PJ, Lee-Thorp JA, Schulting RJ (2020a) Isotopic evidence for changing mobility and landscape use patterns between the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age in western Ireland. J Archaeol Sci Rep 30:102214. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2020.102214

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Snoeck C, Ryan S, Pouncett J, Pellegrini M, Claeys P, Wainwright AN, Mattielli N, Lee-Thorp JA, Schulting R (2020b) Towards a biologically available strontium isotope baseline for Ireland. Sci Total Environ 712:136248. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.136248

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Steenhoudt M, Smeets M (2018) Het archeologisch onderzoek (fase 2 en 3) te Maasmechelen-Mottekamp. Archeo-rapport 455, Tienen

  • Taylor N, Frei KM, Frei R (2020) A strontium isotope pilot study using cremated teeth from the Vollmarshausen cemetery, Hesse, Germany. J Archaeol Sci Rep 31:102356

    Google Scholar 

  • Theuws FCWJ (1998) Changing settlement patterns, burial grounds and the symbolic construction of ancestors and communities in the late Merovingian southern Netherlands. In: Fabech C, Ringtved J (eds) Settlement and Landscape. Proceedings of a conference in Århus, Denmark. Jutland Archaeological Society, pp 337-349

  • Theuws FCWJ (2008) terra non est’. Zenstralsiedlungen der Volkerverwanderungszeit im Maas-Rhein-Gebiet. Ergänzungsbände zum Reallexikon der Germanische Altertumskunde 58:765–793

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Theuws FCWJ (2010) Early Medieval transformations. Aristocrats and dwellers in the pagus Texandrië. A publication programme. Medieval and Modern Matters 1:37–72

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Theuws FCWJ (2011) De nederzettingsontwikkeling in de Middeleeuwen: een model en enige thema’s voor toekomstig onderzoek. In: Theuws F, Van der Heiden M, Verspay J (eds) De archeologie van de Brabantse akkers. Toegelicht aan de hand van het onderzoek van de Universiteit van Amsterdam in Veldhoven, Amsterdam, pp 60–77

    Google Scholar 

  • Theuws FCWJ (2013) Do all the burials we excavate allow an archaeology of individuality and individualism? An introduction to the Sachsensymposion 2011. In: Ludowici B (ed) Individual and individuality? Approaches towards an Archaeology of Personhood in the First Millenium AD. Neue Studien zur Sachsenforschung Hannover: Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum Hannover/Konrad Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart ,pp 9-15

  • Theuws FCWJ (2019) Merovingian settlements in the southern Netherlands: development, social organization of production and symbolic topography. In: Haberstoh J, Heitmeier I (eds) Gründerzeit. Siedlung in Bayern zwischen Spätantike und Frühmittelalter, Bayerische Landesgeschichte und europäische Regionalgeschichte 3, St. Ottilien, pp 355-382

  • Theuws FCWJ, Van Haperen M (2012) The Merovingian cemetery of Bergeijk-Fazantlaan. Habelt-Verlag, Bonn

    Google Scholar 

  • Tichelman G (2013) Romeinse tijd in Limburg, Een actuele kennisstand van de Romeinse tijd in Limburg aan de hand van archeologisch onderzoek tussen 2007 en 2013. Beleidsplatform Erfgoed Limburg, Limburg

    Google Scholar 

  • Turner BL, Kamenov GD, Kingston JD, Armelagos GJ (2009) Insights into immigration and social class at Machu Picchu, Peru based on oxygen, strontium, and lead isotopic analysis. J Archaeol Sci 36:317–332

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tys D (2018) Cult, assembly and trade: the dynamics of a ‘central place’ in Ghent, in the County of Flanders, including its social reproduction and the re-organization of trade, between the 7th and 11th centuries. In: Kars M, Van Oosten R, Roxburgh M (eds) Rural riches and royal rags? Studies on Medieval and moden archaeology, presented to Frans Theuws. Stichting Promotie Archeologie, Zwolle, pp 170–178

    Google Scholar 

  • Underwood EJ (1977) Trace elements in human and animal nutrition. Academic Press, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Van Bostraeten HC (1965) De Merovingische begraafplaats te Lutlommel, Archaeologia Belgica 86, Brussels

  • Van Strydonck M, Boudin M, Hoefkens M, De Mulder G (2005) 14C-dating of cremated bones, why does it work? LUNULA Archaeologia Protohistorica 8:3–10

    Google Scholar 

  • Van Strydonck M, Boudin M, De Mulder G (2009) 14C dating of cremated bones: the issue of sample contamination. Radiocarbon 51:553–568. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033822200055922

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Verhoeven MPF (2015) Een Merovingisch grafveld in Echt. Plangebied Bocage, gemeente Echt-Susteren. Evaluatierapport. RAAP, Weesp

  • Verhoeven MPF, Janssen M (2019) Alles op een rij. Archaeologische opgravingen in het Merovingisch grafveld in Alphen (Noord-Brabant). RAAP-rapport 3560, Weesp

  • Veselka B (2017) Crematiemateriaal uit Bocage te Echt. Gemeente. Echt-Susteren. Fysisch antropologische rapportage, Stichting LAB, Leiden

    Google Scholar 

  • Veselka B, Locher H, De Groot JCMC, Davies GR, Snoeck C, Kootker JM (2021) Strontium isotope ratios related to childhood mobility: revisiting sampling strategies of the calcined human pars petrosa ossis temporalis. Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom 35:39038. https://doi.org/10.1002/rcm.9038

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Weis D, Kieffer B, Maerschalk C, Barling J, De Jong J, Williams GA, Hanano D, Pretorius W, Mattielli N, Scoated JS, Goolaerts G, Friedman RM, Mahoney JB (2006) High-precision isotopic characterization of USGS reference materials by TIMS and MC-ICP-MS. Geochem Geophys Geosyst 7:Q08006. https://doi.org/10.1029/2006GC001283

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Williams H (2002) Cemeteries as central places: landscape and identity in Early Anglo-Saxon England. In: Hardt B, Larsson L (eds) Central places in the migration and Merovingian periods: Papers from the 52nd Sachsensymposion, Lund, pp. 341-362.

  • Wojcieszak M, Van den Brande T, Ligovich G, Boudin M (2020) Pretreatment protocols performed at the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (RICH) prior to AMS 14C measurements. Radiocarbon 62:e14–e24. https://doi.org/10.1017/RDC.2020.64

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This project was made possible thanks to the financial support of the FWO-FRS-FNRS with the EOS project No. 30999782 CRUMBEL. Cremations, Urns and Mobility – Ancient Population Dynamics in Belgium. We would like to thank the Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek – Vlaanderen (FWO) for E. Stamataki’s and M. Hlad’s doctoral fellowships, for R. Annaert’s special doctoral fellowship, and the Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS) for A. Sengeløv’s doctoral fellowship and C. Snoeck’s post-doctoral fellowship. We are thankful to F. Lippok and F. Theuws (Leiden Universiteit) for their valuable help. Thanks to G. Thijssen (GEM Bocage Beheer B.V.) and S. Kusters (Depot Limburg) for giving us access to the collection of Echt-Bocage. G. Capuzzo would like to thank G. Bowen for organizing the SPATIAL Short Course - Isotopes in Biogeochemistry & Ecology at the University of Utah.

Availability of data and material

Full data set is available in the paper (main text and as supplementary information) and will be shared in the online database IsoArch (Salesse et al. 2018).

Code availability

Not applicable

Funding

This study is supported by the FWO/F.R.S.-FNRS - EoS project CRUMBEL (30999782).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Barbara Veselka.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

ESM 1

(DOCX 441 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Veselka, B., Capuzzo, G., Annaert, R. et al. Divergence, diet, and disease: the identification of group identity, landscape use, health, and mobility in the fifth- to sixth-century AD burial community of Echt, the Netherlands. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 13, 97 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-021-01348-7

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-021-01348-7

Keywords

  • Cremation
  • Meuse Valley
  • Strontium isotope ratios
  • Strontium concentrations
  • Post-Roman
  • Early Medieval