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Faunal Remains from Archaeological Sites Document Human Impact on the Terrestrial and Aquatic Environment: examples from the last thousand years in Belgium

Bea De Cupere and Wim Van Neer

Cite this as: De Cupere, B. and Van Neer, W. 2023 Faunal Remains from Archaeological Sites Document Human Impact on the Terrestrial and Aquatic Environment: examples from the last thousand years in Belgium, Internet Archaeology 62.


Small fragments (about 2mm wide) of remains of smelt
Remains of smelt (Osmerus eperlanus) from a 15th century layer of a cesspit in Brussels (De Cupere et al. 2022).

The aim of this article is to demonstrate how animal remains from archaeological sites can contribute to a better understanding of human impact on the terrestrial and aquatic environment over time. A number of case studies, mainly from Belgium, illustrate the possible effects of deforestation, overhunting, overfishing and water pollution on wildlife. Species extinctions and introductions from the last millennium are also discussed. It is shown how relevant these results are and how they can be communicated to the general public, the wider scientific community and stakeholders.

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  • Keywords: archaeozoology, zooarchaeology, deforestation, overhunting, overfishing, pollution, extinction, introduction, science communication
  • Accepted: 14 November 2022. Published: 23 March 2023
  • Funding: The publication of this article is funded by the European Archaeological Council.
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Corresponding author: Bea De CupereORCID logo
Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences

Wim Van NeerORCID logo Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences / Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

Full text

Summary figure: Remains of smelt (Osmerus eperlanus) from a 15th century layer of a cesspit in Brussels (De Cupere et al. 2022).

Figure 1: Side view of a right maxilla fragment of wolf (Canis lupus), with third and fourth premolar, found in the historical centre of Brussels (second half 13th to first half 14th century AD - site of Parking 58). It is the only known wolf find for medieval Brussels and, by extension, Flanders

Figure 2: Cranial view of a right humerus of brown bear (Ursus arctos), from a young individual, found in the historical centre of Brussels (10th century AD - site of Parking 58)

Figure 3: Dorsal plate of an Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus), from an individual of approximately 2.8m long, found in the historical centre of Brussels (end 13th to beginning 14th century AD - site of Parking 58)

Figure 4: Finds from the archaeological excavations at the late medieval port of Brussels were shown to the public through an exhibit. One of the finds presented in the display cabinet is a bone of the great bustard (Otis tarda), attesting the rare occurrence of this species during past times in Belgium

Figure 5: Reconstruction of the Roman landscape at Brussels, based on the archaeozoological and archaeobotanical data (De Cupere et al. 2017)

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