A new puzzle piece has been revealed in the “Merovingian Flanders Story.”

A new puzzle piece has been revealed in the “Merovingian Flanders Story.”

Image: When the Merovingian cemetery at Koksijde was discovered, there was uncertainty about the period in which the individuals were buried: was it a plague cemetery? Vikings? Or the first community of monks from the nearby monastery of Ten Duinen? Dating research has indicated the remains of a Merovingian settlement and a late burial field. (Source: Immovable Heritage Agency)

Due to the lack of historical and archaeological sources, little is known about the population of Flanders during the early Middle Ages. DNA research carried out at a Merovingian cemetery in Coxegde from the late 7th and early 8th centuries sheds new light on the origins of the population at that time. The genetic diversity among 30 Coxegde skeletons was found to be surprisingly high, and shows that individuals from two separate ancestral groups lived together at that time: individuals of Germanic origin from the North Sea and of Gallic origin from the north. Although the Merovingian period may not be (yet) in our collective memory, this period seems to be important to the DNA of Flanders.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD and the so-called population movements, the Merovingian kings ruled for three centuries an area that included large parts of what are now the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, and Germany. Despite the strong political, cultural, and religious influence of this period, little is known about the origins and lifestyles of the general population. DNA research on human skeletal material has the potential to provide answers to these questions.

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However, human skeletal material from the Merovingian period is scarce. In Flanders, the bodies of the deceased have long been cremated, making DNA testing impossible. An accidental discovery in Koksijde in December 2016 changed this. Archaeologists discovered traces of a late Merovingian settlement and a burial field with burials from the second half of the 7th century.to to mid 8My lady a century. Through a large team of Flemish and Estonian researchers, we conducted extensive genetic research on 30 coccidioid skeletons.

Initially, archaeologists believed that the site at Koksidi was a closed family communityHowever, the first genetic results immediately showed that there were few close relationships between individuals. Further research revealed a surprisingly high diversity, suggesting a dynamic and mixed population. We even identified two groups of different origins living together in Flanders during the Merovingian period: a large group of individuals with a “North Sea Germanic ancestry” genetically similar to their contemporaries in Britain and the Netherlands; and a smaller group of “Northern Gallic ancestry,” linked to individuals from the Late Iron Age in France.

In the large North Sea Germanic group, individuals were usually distantly related to each other, but this was not the case for the small North Gallic group, which showed no kinship at all. Individuals in this small group also showed more bone wear and therefore performed more hard work during their lives. Furthermore, we found that these two groups had different diets based on isotope analysis, which was also linked to genetic differences in their ability to process foods such as milk.

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We found evidence that the fusion of the two ancestral groups was still in progress when the individuals were buried. Thus, we found a mother-daughter relationship among the graves examined, with the mother belonging to the North Gallic group and her daughter’s father to the North Sea Germanic group. The grave goods also showed a connection to the origins of the buried individuals. Archaeologists found a Frisian silver coin (sciata), common at that time around the North Sea, on a man of “North Sea Germanic” origin. A cloak pin (fibula) typical of northern France was found on a woman of “North Gallic” origin.

Finally, our study also showed genetic links with late medieval skeletons from the nearby town of Walben. This finding suggests that genetic influences from the early Middle Ages had a lasting impact on the composition of the Flemish population. To fully understand the DNA of Flanders, it is also necessary to study the often forgotten Merovingian period. So you can see that the story of Flanders has not yet been fully written.

The results were published in the scientific journal People.

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