The Roman to Medieval Landscape Transformation at Aardenburg (Southern The Netherlands) Based on Palynology and Diatom Analysis

André, Coralie, Dante de Ruijsscher, Wim De Clercq, Frieda Bogemans, Bart Van De Vijver, Annelies Storme, and Stephen Louwye. 2023. “The Roman to Medieval Landscape Transformation at Aardenburg (Southern The Netherlands) Based on Palynology and Diatom Analysis.” BOREAS.


The region of Bruges (Flanders, Belgium) was an economic and cultural centre during the Late Middle Ages because it was connected to the North Sea via a large tidal inlet called the Zwin, along which smaller towns developed. One of these towns was Aardenburg (Zeeland, The Netherlands), which developed from a Roman castellum to become one of the important medieval towns in the hinterland of Bruges. Unfortunately, archaeological, historical and (palaeo)environmental data about the Roman to medieval evolution of the Zwin area are scarce. However, the continuous occupation of Aardenburg during the first millennium AD and its location on a Pleistocene sand ridge bordering the coastal plain provide a unique opportunity to investigate the natural dynamics of the coastal evolution and the interplay with the human impact that shaped the Zwin region before its heyday. The variable character of the depositional environments on the dynamic coastal plain makes local environmental studies essential for understanding larger patterns, which were previously reduced to a simplistic outdated model over the entire region. Palynological and diatom assemblages of two sequences in Aardenburg allow the reconstruction of the terrestrial and aquatic palaeoenvironments from the Middle Holocene to the high Middle Ages. The results reveal landscape evolution in relation to woodlands, peat bogs, coastal environments and human presence, consistent with previous regional landscape evolution. A distinct increase in marine influence during the Roman and early medieval periods, when human activities played a significant role, was followed by an increase in inland indicators from the high medieval period onwards. This evolution is in accordance with the expansion of the town and the reclamation of the coastal landscape as it evolved to become a cultural centre in the Late Middle Ages.