Welcome to the Dark Side - disclosing the invisible stages of medieval urbanisation through the integrated study of European Dark Earths

Project Details


Thick, dark-coloured homogeneous deposits, Dark Earths, are a
common phenomenon in European towns. They cover large surfaces
and are often rich in archaeological remains. Their seeming absence
of stratigraphy has in the past resulted in a lack of research or their
discarding. Meanwhile, geoarchaeological research has
demonstrated that Dark Earths contain highly valuable information
impossible to access with traditional methods. For the Early and High
Medieval Period, Dark Earths represent some of the least known
aspects of town development. Micromorphological data from
numerous case studies, primarily in Belgium and Switzerland, are reevaluated 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. All data are entered into a novel two-pillar database system -
the first online standardised tool publicly accessible to the scientific
community. This enables the systematic collection, organisation,
storage, interpretation, and sharing of data, and novel statistical
analyses. The large amount of comparable data thus created leads
to a geoarchaeological synthesis of medieval urban Dark Earths in
Europe. Moreover, thanks to this unique open access system and
image reference collection, the project will have a significant and
lasting impact on how Dark Earths are studied in the future,
preventing further loss of irreplaceable information.
Effective start/end date1/01/2231/12/25


  • Dark Earths
  • Archaeological soil micromorphology
  • early and high medieval urbanism

Flemish discipline codes 2018-2023

  • Archaeology of Europe, the Mediterranean and the Levant
  • Geoarchaeology
  • Historical archaeology
  • Medieval archaeology
  • Settlement archaeology


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