Unraveling past urbanisation: geoarchaeology brings to light the invisible record of towns in Northwestern Europe

Project Details


In Northwestern Europe, two so-called “waves of urbanisation” can be distinguished that date to the Middle Ages. Archaeologically and historically, these have been the subject of longstanding debate. However, several important questions about towns’ origins, formation, and character remain unanswered, as research regarding their very core, namely the sedimentary matrix from which artefacts are retrieved, has remained largely untapped. Moreover, for the Early Medieval Period, written sources are scarce. For the High Medieval Period, these have been used as a dominant source to shape past narratives. In the meantime, archaeological data have held a far less prominent position in the debate on late medieval towns despite their ability to provide a vast amount of unique and complementary information. This project will challenge this status quo by investigating two types of stratigraphical challenges commonly faced in urban archaeology, namely Dark Earths and thinly stratified deposits. Dark Earths, seemingly homogeneous deposits, represent some of the least known aspects of town development. Thinly stratified deposits are too thin to investigate by the naked eye. Geoarchaeology, and micromorphology in particular, is the ideal method to overcome these challenges. This method is applied in an integrated study in order to answer fundamental questions about medieval towns, through characterisation of human activities, natural processes, and taphonomical changes that shaped them. Ultimately, this leads to a synthesis of how the geoarchaeological research of towns significantly shapes, alters, and enhances our understanding of medieval towns.
Effective start/end date1/07/2130/06/25


  • Geoarchaeology
  • soil and sediment micromorphology
  • Urban archaeology
  • Scandinavia
  • Low Countries
  • emporia
  • Viking-age towns
  • medieval urbalisation

Flemish discipline codes in use since 2023

  • Archaeology of Europe, the Mediterranean and the Levant
  • Geoarchaeology
  • Settlement archaeology
  • Archaeology of the Low countries or Belgium
  • Historical archaeology
  • Archaeology not elsewhere classified
  • Medieval archaeology


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