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You are here: Home / Library / RBINS Staff Publications 2022 / Colourful rivers: archaeobotanical remains of dye plants from fluvial deposits in late medieval towns in Belgium

Lien Speleers, Ina Vanden Berghe, Julie Timmermans, Valérie Ghesquière, Stephan Van Bellingen, Marc Meganck, Sidonie Preiss, and Devos Yannick (2022)

Colourful rivers: archaeobotanical remains of dye plants from fluvial deposits in late medieval towns in Belgium

In: 19th Conference of the International Workgroup for Palaeoethnobotany, 13-18 June 2022, ed. by Jaromír Beneš, Michaela Ptáková, Alex Bernardova, pp. 190, University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice.

During the late medieval period, the southern low countries were among the most densely urbanised areas in Europe. The towns owned part of their growth and prosperity to the flourishing cloth industry, in which dyestuffs played an essential role. Throughout this period dye plants were intensively cultivated, traded on a large scale, and widely used by specialised craftsman organised in guilds. Due to the need for constant water supply and wastewater discharge, dyeing activities were often concentrated in the proximity of rivers. Although dyeing practices are well documented in late medieval historical sources, material evidence remains scarce. The aim of this presentation is to describe and discuss archaeobotanical finds of dye plants, recently found in urban fluvial deposits from Brussels and to put these in perspective with finds from other towns in the area. In 2019 a large excavation in the city centre of Brussels revealed the remains of the late medieval port. Besides the discovery of impressive quay walls, meters thick excellently preserved fluvial deposits were excavated and extensively sampled. One of the most remarkable characteristics of the macrobotanical assemblages dating from the 13th to the 15th century is the presence of numerous weld (Reseda luteola) seeds and madder (Rubia tinctoria) root fragments, found in nearly all studied samples. Several samples also contained woad (Isatis tinctoria) pod fragments. These three species are considered as the most important medieval dye plants in the region. Additionally, fruits and flower head fragments of fuller's teasel (Dipsacus sativus) were observed in most samples. Most likely all these plant remains must be interpreted as waste from textile working, discarded in the urban waters.
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