Please have a look at our other projects 

Hidden by fire

Understanding the post-processing of the dead prior to cremation

Cremation was one of the dominant funerary rites before the rise of Christianity in Europe. Thus, in many prehistoric assemblages the treatment of the dead prior to cremation is invisible to archaeologists, due to the drastic series of changes bone goes through when heated. Many archaeologists propose the presence of excarnation before cremation in Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron Age Europe, mostly based on macroscopic observations, such as heat-induced fracturing, and modern analogues in SE Asia. This work aims to determine the time between death and cremation by studying the diagenetic changes bone goes through in different environments and the thermal stability of bioapatite. Previous work by the researcher identified a trace element [potassium(K)]in bone from the extracellular fluid that steadily decreases through decomposition and survives burning. By examining the presence of K in bone, I hope to identify the time elapsed since death, possibly down to a few months. Novel analytical methods are used to study the structural and chemical changes to bone during diagenesis and burning, comparing archaeological samples to synthetic apatite with common 'real' substitutions. The results of this study would confirm the existence of the debated post-processing of the dead prior to cremation and allow the identification of the spatial dispersion, variations and possibly the origin of these pre-cremation practices.

Prehistoric societies in the mirror of mobility

The case of the Late Bronze Age in north-eastern France based on strontium isotopic analyses

Between 2200 and 800 BC, the European Bronze Age is a major historical moment, at the interface of agropastoral and proto-urban societies. Culturally, at that time, northern France is split in two at Ile-de-France along a north-south axis, with Atlantic-Channel-North Sea influences in the west and Middle Rhine influences in the east. Those influences are expressed through material culture and funerary practices. By the end of the Middle Bronze Age (c. 1300 BC), the boundary between the two cultural affinities shifts with a progression of eastern influences to the west (Peake et al., 2017).

Issues related to the movement of populations and intercommunity exchange become crucial to understand the structures of the societies studied. This thesis focuses on the study of the mobility of people, men, women, and children, based on corpus dated from the end of the Middle Bronze Age to the initial stage of the Final Bronze Age (1400-1100 B.C.) and on a geographical area corresponding to northeastern France. For the first time in France, on this period, a new approach is being implemented, that of studying mobility based on cremated archaeo-osteological material. The aim is to characterize the mobility of individuals from different archaeological contexts by identifying local and non-local subjects through the analysis of strontium ratios. The finality of this doctoral research is thus to apprehend the question of mobility and contacts between human groups, all essential elements that will allow a better understanding of the structuring and the social and economic organization of Bronze Age societies in France.

 The Truth in the Tooth 

 Reconstructing and Comparing Human Life Histories in the Mesolithic and Neolithic of Europe. 

Isotopic analyses have cemented themselves as an important tool within the archaeological field. Their application to human remains has revolutionised our understanding of the diets and migration patterns of past populations, especially those dating to the European Mesolithic and Neolithic, where no written record is available. However, methodologies are confined to certain limiting parameters. Most notably, it is the common representation of an individual’s isotopic record from a singular sample, and, as such, a unique moment in their lives. This limitation implies that diet and geographic inhabitancy is consistent through life, and consequently, is unable to detect variations in consumption or mobility that would be expected over a lifetime. 

To overcome these constraints, this project utilises and refines multi-sampling techniques applied to human teeth and bone, enabling changes in isotopic (C, N, O, Sr) values to be mapped over a sequenced period of life. Incremental sampling of teeth enables the tracking of serial isotopic values at a high resolution, which, when combined with microscopy and μCT, will create detailed biographical accounts of individual diets and mobility patterns. Together, these techniques will be applied to Mesolithic and Neolithic individuals from important multi-period sites. This will not only reconstruct life histories during these periods, but reveal how life in Europe may have altered with the sociocultural transition to the Neolithic. 

FWO Fundamental Research Doctoral Fellowship. 


Creating the optimal bioavailable strontium Isoscape for environmental, forensic and archaeological studies in Belgium

Various plant sample types will be analyzed and different plant growing experiments will be conducted to study the impact of fertilizers, pollution, and sea-spray on the biologically available strontium of plants, and how this affects (ancient) human and animal strontium isotope values. The aim is to include all these parameters and variables into an innovative dynamic isoscape using various modelling techniques.

Death and Fire

Investigating changes and specialisation in cremation practices in Belgium during the Metal Ages

The aim of this project is to combine ethnographical evidence, experimental archaeology, and state of the art analytical techniques to assess changes in the way cremation was carried out in Belgium and beyond from the Early Bronze Age to the Late Iron Age with a particular focus on the skills and specialisation of the cremator(s) (i.e. the person(s) carrying out the cremation). Understanding differences within and between archaeological sites represent a fundamental part of this project as it enables the study of the evolution of cremation funerary practices through time and space.


Interaction between bioarchaeological and geochemical research for the analysis of burned human remains from forensic and archaeological contexts.

This project aims to combine different bioarcheological and geochemical methods to increase the rates of correctly sexed and aged calcined human remains from archaeological and forensic contexts. 

Indigenous-led investigations of ancient lithic resource use in the Pacific Northwest

Rhy’s post-doctoral research is focused on conducting extensive field work and laboratory analyses with Indigenous partners as part of a two-year post-doctoral fellowship focused on overcoming the paucity of information on archaeological toolstone sources and ancient raw material procurement strategies in the Pacific Northwest of North America.

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