Rosalie Hermans

Agricultural land use in the Middle Ages: phytoliths as a key to unravel ancient urban soils

I am a PhD candidate at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel active in the field of archaeobotany. I study mineral plant microfossils (phytoliths) in ancient soils to investigate the role of agriculture in medieval towns. Phytoliths are formed in plant tissues and deposited in the soil when plants decay. After studying phytoliths using a light microscope, they can provide information on the original plant taxa that used to be present.

Overall, phytoliths are a rather unexplored proxy for medieval archaeology, making its study challenging but compelling. To better understand these microfossils in archaeological contexts, a major part of my PhD aims to understand and explore phytoliths in modern plants (development of a modern plant-based phytolith reference collection).

In 2022, with the support of a Belgian American Educational Foundation (BAEF) grant, I was  able to visit Professor Caroline Strömberg's lab at the University of Washington in Seattle (USA) mainly working on the 3D visualization and shape analysis of modern cereal phytoliths (wheat, barley, oats, rye), which should enable a better botanical attribution of cereal phytoliths from archaeological deposits. 

Background

  • MSc in Management (2020), Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
  • MA in Art Sciences and Archaeology (2019), Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium 
  • BA in Art Sciences and Archaeology (2018), Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium

Key Research Interests

  • Phytolith research
  • Archaeobotany
  • Confocal microscopy and geometric morphometric analysis 
  • Medieval archaeology
  • Urban archaeology

Main Publications

  • Devos, Y., Vrydaghs, L., Collette, O., Hermans, R., & Loicq, S. (2022). Understanding the formation of buried urban Anthrosols and Technosols: An integrated soil micromorphological and phytolith study of the Dark Earth on the Mundaneum site (Mons, Belgium). CATENA, 215

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