Lactase persistence and the early Cultural History of Europe  
line decor

The Vrije Universiteit (VU) covers a broad range of fields of education and research. The Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences consists of 8 research institutes. The institute for Geo and BioArchaeology (IGBA) is a multidisciplinary research group applying methods from the Earth and Life Sciences to archaeological problems and questions. Current research projects include the preservation of botanical (macro) remains in situ, geochemical archaeological prospection and the preservation of bone and DNA (MCOIF BacBone FP6; contract no 022210). The Institute has a strong international research and teaching network; it is currently involved in two EU funded projects: SPARC and BacBone. Together with the Universities of York (UK) and Stockholm (Sweden) a Master class is provided for Master’s level students with the exchange of students as well as lecturers. The IGBA recently successfully organised and hosted the third PARIS (Preserving Archaeological Remains In Situ) conference.


ESR13 Diagenetic screening of bone samples
Prof. Henk Kars / Dr Miranda Jans

Isotopic and genetic analyses require selection of optimal samples in order to obtain reliable results. Alteration of the bone in its burial environment can lead to loss of biomolecules or contamination of the material, which seriously complicates research. Characterisation of sample preservation is in fact one of the key authentication criteria in aDNA research (Cooper & Poinar 2000, Science). Bone samples will be analysed on the microstructural level (type of biological degradation, Oxford Histological Index, presence of foreign material) and be screened for mineral change (e.g. splitting factor, C/P ratio). These results will be combined with the analysis of organic preservation. Data will include presence and quality of total organic faction and new specific analyses such as those developed at UoY to detect the presence of cooking. Histological analysis has been established as a standard approach in archaeological heritage management in the Netherlands, and shows promise as a screening method for biomolecular preservation (Gilbert et al., J. Arch Sci., 2005, 32, 785). The combination of microscopical analysis (histology) with detailed analysis of bone chemistry will be used to develop a bone sample preservation profile used in the evaluation of analytical results from ESR4, ESR6, ESR8 , ESR10 and ESR11).
An earlier EU project we coordinated yielded the largest and most complete dataset of bone degradation in relation with the archaeological context, soil environments, and climatic-geological circumstances, revealing four major diagenetic pathways (papers in JAS 2007, 34, 1485 & 1494). This previous work will ensure that the work package is embedded in a well-matched research environment. This project will screen bones provided by ESR1, ESR4, ESR6 , ESR10, ESR11 , and feed back to ESR2. It is hope that during the course of LeCHE, ESR13 will eventually be able to provide some predictive capacity for sample selection.


Prof Henk Kars interests lie in in situ preservation of archaeological heritage. He participated in and coordinated EC-funded projects, studying the in situ deterioration of artefacts. In addition to this he was member of the management team of the Dutch National Service for Archaeological Heritage (ROB) for more than five years and is now a member of the Dutch delegation to the World Heritage Committee.

Dr Miranda Jans is currently a post-doctoral Marie Curie Outgoing Fellow, Project Bacbone (FP6, contract nr 022210), and works at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL, USA) where she is researching early post mortem degradation of bone and its relationship with DNA preservation.


The institute has access to both geological and biological laboratories. The microanalysis laboratory offers excellent facilities for thin section microscopy, as well as scanning Electron Microscopy for high magnification/resolution and EDS for fast elemental analysis. Furthermore XRD as well as XRF are available. The Mass Spectrometry laboratories are state of the art for light as well as heavy stable isotope analysis. The IGBA offers a two year Master Course in Geo and Bioarchaeology, ensuring that advanced courses in archaeology, GIS, biomolecular archaeology and osteology are readily available fulfill the ESRresearchers’ needs.


1. Smith CI, et al. Bone diagenesis in the European Holocene I: patterns and mechanisms. (2007) Journal of Archaeological Science 34:14851.

2. Nielsen-Marsh et al., Bone diagenesis in the European Holocene II: taphonomic and environmental considerations. (2007) Journal of Archaeological Science 34:1523.

3. Jans MME, et al., The characterisation of microbial attack in archaeological bone. Journal of Archaeological Science 31,:87.