NonSurvivors. Childhood diet, disease, and death as telltale signs of the physical and social environment in post-medieval Aalst

Vroeg overleden. Ziekte, voeding en sterfte in de kinderen van postmiddeleeuws Aalst als symptoom van de fysieke en sociale omgeving
Start - End 
2020 - 2023 (ongoing)
Department of Archaeology
Research Focus 



This project assesses the physical stress children in post-medieval Aalst faced, in relation to socio-economic status and living conditions. Historical sources show a low child survivor rate in poor families in this context, yet do not elucidate why. NonSurvivors will analyze the children’s skeletal remains for direct data on disease, diet, and death. The archaeological wealth of Aalst, with exceptional preservation of human remains of all socio-economic statuses from different concurrent cemeteries, facilitates this. Children are also excellent indicators of societal health. From a biological perspective, they are vulnerable: their bodies expend considerable energy to grow and are less resistant to health hazards, making them the first to suffer and the first to succumb. By analyzing these young individuals who perished, we effectively target the “canaries in the coalmine”. 

NonSurvivors combines macroscopic and biomolecular methods to assess diet and disease, as well as pioneering cutting-edge proteomic analyses to detect infectious load. These health data will be linked to social differentiation and environmental factors such as air quality and occupation density, allowing for an in-depth assessment of the impact of the social and physical context of the town on its people. On a wider scale, NonSurvivors will create a new, childhood-based reference frame for archaeological and contemporary analyses of urban health.






Maarten Dhaenens

Proteomics Laboratory - UGent