Delhaize is building a completely new supermarket in Oscar van Kesbeeckstraat that will open its doors at the end of 2022. The site is located entirely within the territory of the former Groot Begijnhof, which was located there until its destruction around 1560. It stretched from the Dyle to the Elektriciteitsstraat and the Maurits Sabbestraat and at the time formed the largest beguinage in the Netherlands.
“Very well preserved”
The rich history of the area means that specialists from Adede from Ghent already carried out an initial exploratory study on the Delhaize site in September. During the construction of the Amelinckx blocks decades ago, traces of that beguinage were already found. Not so with the realization of the neighboring Dreamland and this time the archaeologists are lucky again.
The researchers made several work pits. In two of them, they have recovered graves with human remains. “The cemetery is located at a depth of about 2 meters”, says David Janssens, general manager of Adede Belgium. His team recovered the skeletons of eight people in a 36-square-meter zone. “These skeletons are very well preserved and the delineation of the coffins was also visible.”
The work pits are located to the north of a vanished church erected in the area in 1279. “It was common practice for burials to take place near a beguinage. Whether any beguines are buried remains to be seen from further research,” says Janssens.
Men and children too
Remarkable: during the pilot investigation, the archaeologists also found fragments of skeletons of men and children. “Archaeological excavations should provide us with more clarity about this,” says researcher Merel Van Eynde. Excavations started on Wednesday.
The Groot Begijnhof can be seen on the map of Deventer (1545-1575). “We also know from a charter that this beguinage was built between 1259 and 1284. If we find an orientation in the skeletons that is uniform, then we can make a statement about where the beguinage was located. In the Christian faith, the people were buried facing the church,” explains David Janssens.
Near the graves, the archaeologists have also recovered a masonry well and a lot of pottery, from pitchers and pitchers to cooking pots and even a colander. “All these finds can be dated to the Middle Ages. What we have already found is confirmation of the information on the oldest maps,” says Janssens.
Incidentally, it is not the intention to carry out excavations on the entire site. “Apart from the realization of a cellar, the work for the new Delhaize is limited to the construction of a floor slab. For those zones, we recommended conservation in situ. As long as the subsoil is not disturbed, we must preserve the archeology for future generations,” says David Janssens.
Any more skeletons?
The archaeological investigation on the site itself takes ten to fifteen days. The finds will be moved to a recognized heritage depot. “It is difficult to say how many skeletons we will find in the coming days. Based on the pilot study, we made a rough estimate for the entire area of 675 square meters. The number of skeletons that we actually find can deviate greatly from this,” says Janssens.
Delhaize indicates that the archaeological investigation will not jeopardize the timing for the opening of the new store. “We will open our most modern supermarket in the country in Mechelen at the end of next year,” says Roel Dekelver, spokesperson for Delhaize.