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The Make-Up of the City

St Nicholas Ypres 1564

ABOUT the project

Between 1000 and 1800, the Low Countries were among the most densely urbanised regions of Europe. City-dwellers came to represent an ever-growing portion of the population and were the prime drivers of social, economic and cultural (ex)change. Despite this significance and an impressive tradition of urban historical research, our knowledge of the actual composition of these urban societies remains highly fragmentary. Due to the absence or biased nature of written records, often the most basic questions concerning the make-up of medieval cities are overlooked. This problem can be overcome by adopting a transdisciplinary investigative approach.


In this project, two PhD researchers trained in osteoarchaeology and isotopic analysis respectively will analyse a collection of 1,200 skeletons from medieval Ieper (Ypres), assisted by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel’s leading researchers in urban history, archaeology, chemistry and anatomy. Isotopic and elemental analyses of human remains will be used to reveal the diets and geographic origins of city-dwellers, while an osteological investigation will provide essential information about their age, sex, health, activities and living conditions. Our findings, which will be made available in a series of publications in peer-reviewed journals, hold the potential to completely transform current understandings of Ieper, once a textile boomtown and medieval giant.

We still praise famous men, for [it] would be a poor historian who could spare one of the great figures who have shed glory or romance upon the page of history; but we praise them with due recognition of the fact that not only great individuals, but people as a whole, unnamed and undistinguished masses of people, now sleeping in unknown graves, have also been concerned in the story.
Eileen Power, Medieval People 1924

Effects of Good Government in the City b
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