A Spotlight on Freelancers in Physical Anthropology with Davina Craps and Hélène Déom

A spotlight on freelancers in physical anthropology with Davina Craps & Hélène Déom

Dr. Davina Craps and Hélène Déom are two of our founding members. They both work freelance, respectively in Flanders and Wallonia. This month's spotlight will focus on freelance work in Belgium and some of the projects they have worked on.

Davina helene freelance physical anthropologists 3


Dr. Davina Craps is a freelance physical anthropologist (Osteoarc.be / SMartbe). She specializes in human osteology, funerary archaeology, rheumatology and physical anthropology. She finished her doctoral degree at Durham University in 2015, which focused on osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis in the post-medieval period in Northern England. She has two Master of Arts and two Master of Science degrees, respectively from the Free University Brussels, the Catholic University Leuven, the University of Sheffield and Durham University. Her master's dissertations have focused on the burial of children in Cyprus, morphometric analysis of baboon skulls, facial reconstruction, and methodology in palaeopathology.


Hélène M.A. Déom is a freelance physical anthropologist (TIBIA / SMartbe). She is specialized in inhumated human skeletons from prehistory to post-medieval times. After she studied archaeology in Belgium, she graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2014, where she studied human osteology and funerary archaeology. Her master's dissertations focused on Neolithic human bones and burials in Belgium and England.


We - archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, etc. - are lucky to study what brought our society where it is now. Indeed, working on ancient bones, objects and structures permits us to know more about our past and the societies that enabled us to build our identity as a civilization. Each detail noted on the bones contributes to the reconstruction of past civilisations' lifestyles. This is why we believe it is essential to make research in physical anthropology go forward.



TIBIA offers help to archaeologists from Wallonia and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. The services comprise excavation support on the field and recording skeletons, as well as the macroscopic study of human bones in the lab. Demography, health and occupation is determined as much as possible according to preservation state. Results are delivered in a detailed report accompanied by a synthesis that can be published and/or presented at conferences.


Osteoarc.be specialises in the detailed assessment and analysis of human skeletal remains from archaeological contexts. These services are offered to commercial units, museums, and universities. The services include the creation of databases with the results of the analysis or assessment, osteoarchaeological reports that are ready to be included in publications, assistance with distributing the results to the public, presentations at conferences and assistance in the field.



TIBIA - Merovingian skeletons and sarcophagi at Saint-Léger (prov. Luxembourg)

Human remains in and around two sarcophagi were found in 2014 and 2016 in Saint-Léger (South of Belgium). Denis Henrotay, archaeologist from the Public Service of Wallonia (DGO4, Heritage Department), and his team excavated the burials and its surrounding area in a rescue process that took no more than 3 days. Hélène Déom helped the team to excavate and record the human remains. Then, she analyzed the bones in the lab and participated to the press release made by the archaeologist to local journalists.

A fibula and a knife date back the two skeletons to the 7th century, i.e. the final part of the Merovingian period. A heap of bones was also found next to each sarcophagus, at the level of the lid. This funerary treatment called a reduction, consists in removing a previous body from the sarcophagus and placing it on the side, in order to lay down a more recent deceased.

Anthropological analysis counted minimum 5 individuals in total, for now: 4 skeletons and a few supernumerary bones. These individuals were relatively old adults, women and men. One woman had a little benign tumor (ivory osteoma) on the parietal bone and a man exhibits healed fractures to the ribs.

P.S.: In gratitude to the team's gentle and effective field work, the owners of the house, their parents, colleagues and students from the Athénée Royale de Neufchâteau-Bertrix offered a sarcophagus chocolate cake with its skeleton.



- Henrotay D. & Déom H., 2014. Le cimetière mérovingien de Saint-Léger, Chronique des Musées Gaumais, p. 5-9.

- Henrotay D. & Déom H., 2015. Le cimetière mérovingien de Saint-Léger (Lux), Archaeologia Mediaevalis - Chronique 38, p. 124-126.

- Déom H., 2015. Études anthropologiques des sépultures mérovingiennes de Saint-Léger et du cimetière médiéval de Virton. In Frébutte C. (dir.), Pré-Actes des Journées d'Archéologie en Wallonie, Rochefort 2015, Namur : éd. Service public de Wallonie (Rapports, Archéologie, 1), p. 75-76.

Some publications might be available online.

Osteoarc.be -

In 2016, Dr Craps was contacted to do an assessment on human skeletal remains from three test-pits that were dug during preliminary archaeological excavations in 2015 in Aalst by SOLVA. Through historical research it was determined by SOLVA that the remains belonged to the city burial ground that was in use from 1784-1867. The goal of this project was to make an assessment of the research potential of the collection that had been excavated already.

All the individuals recovered have been buried according to Christian burial tradition of inhumation. However, due to soil conditions and disturbances, the preservation of the remains was variable. After the assessment was conducted it was deduced that a total of 40 individuals were present, which indicated that there was a high density of burials in the burial ground, which is not uncommon for 18th-19th century cemeteries. Fragmentation of the osteological material also varied between the different test pits.

Sex assessment determined that there was a 2:1 ratio of females to males within the sample. However, this ratio might be adjusted if a larger proportion of the cemetery were to be excavated. If this ratio is maintained, then it could indicate that women had greater health risks in Aalst during the 18th-19th century. Age assessment showed that there were only two non-adults and 38 adult individuals. The non-adults were children aged 5-6 years and 10-12 years old. The children were separated in their burial from the adults, according to conversations with the archaeologists, this could be further examined through both historical and archaeological research. Many of the adults were skeletally mature but could not be assigned a specific age category due to the absence of, for example, the pubic symphysis, auricular surface or the skull.

Different pathologies were observed, but as this was an assessment and not a full analysis, they were not discussed in detail. Arthritis, periosteal reactions and a developmental disorder (lumbosacral caudal border shift - lumbarized 1st sacral expression) were among the pathologies observed.

Included in the report was an appendix, which contained guidelines on the excavation and cleaning procedures for human skeletal remains.

Current work

TIBIA has recently published a few case studies on (post-)medieval cemeteries and is currently working on an excavation site with Christian Frébutte, one of the Public Service of Wallonia's archaeologists. It consists in a medieval cemetery established next to a rural chapel. Several construction phases are recognizable for this building. Demography is remarkable for the presence of numerous children. More details will be released soon.

Osteoarc.be is currently in the process of writing several articles and is hoping to further develop their services in the future.

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