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The skeleton as a source of information

Bones contain a wealth of information about a person's life. Leiden archaeologists glean information from skeletons about human development and find ways of combating diseases. Read more in the research dossier on 'The skeleton as source of information'.

Researchers at the Laboratory for Human Osteoarchaeology at Leiden University study human remains.  The research dossier ‘The skeleton as source of information’ describes the treasure trove of information hidden within a skeleton. 

Bone research contradicts written sources

A good example of this is an excavation in 2011 in the North Holland village of Middenbeemster, carried out by Leiden archaeologists. The church was being extended and so the graveyard had to be excavated. This gave archaeologist Menno Hoogland the chance to study the population of Middenbeemster between 1615 and 1866. As Middenbeemster is a closed community and there are ample written sources available, this was an excellent opportunity to research family relations, genetic diseases and the kind of work done by the family members. The research on the skeletons generated a detailed picture of the health of the community. We now know, for example, that many ancestors from Middenbeemster suffered from tooth decay, plaque and mouth abcesses. Dental research also showed that the children experienced a high level of stress, probably as a result of illness and undernourishment.  These characteristics are not surprising in themselves compared with other early communities, but the find is nonetheless remarkable. According to written sources, the population of  Middenbeemster enjoyed good health, but osteoarchological research can refute these claims conclusively. 

A better understanding of leprosy

Bone research also gives us information that helps in combatting diseases. If we study the skeletons of people who died of leprosy, for example, we can gain a better understanding of the disease. How does leprosy develop within a community? Does everyone develop the illness, or are particular groups less susceptible? Do they eat certain foods or work under conditions that exclude the disease?  

Researchers from Leiden University collaborate with different disciplines to create a safe, healthy, sustainable and just world. You can read more about this in our research dossiers. The skeleton as source of information is one of these dossiers. Click in the column to the right to find a list of all the research dossiers.

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