Reconstruction of the diet in a mediaeval monastic community from the coast of Belgium

Medieval food - cook serving food

Medieval food – cook serving food

Reconstruction of the diet in a mediaeval monastic community from the coast of Belgium

C. Poleta,and M.A. Katzenberg

Journal of Archaeological Science: 30 (2003) 525–533


Stable isotope analysis was applied to a Belgian coastal population from the Late Middle Ages: the monastic community of the Dunes abbey in Koksijde (12–15th century). Carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios were measured in bone collagen from 19 humans (11 adults and eight children) and 10 animals. Results show that diets were largely based on terrestrial foods, but marine resources also formed a source of protein. Results also suggest differences in human diets that may be related to social status.

The diet of mediaeval populations is mostly known from written and iconographic sources [23,25,26]. How- ever, these documents mainly concern the upper classes of the population and the reality may have been, in some cases, embellished [7]. It is therefore necessary to combine these cultural data with those derived from other fields of research such as the study of artefacts related to food use and the analysis of remains of animals, plants and humans [14]. Human remains constitute a precious source of information and the morphological and chemical analyses of bones and teeth may provide clues for reconstructing diets and for detecting nutritional stress. Stable isotope analysis of bone collagen has proven efficient for reconstructing human diets. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes have been used to reveal variations in the proportions of terrestrial versus marine food [8] and animal versus vegetal dietary resources (reviewed by Schwarcz and Schoeninger [41]). They can show the introduction of new plant species such as maize into the diet [45] and they can also detect changes in diet,
as for example in weaning [20].

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