Flanders monks cultivated wetlands to ease overpopulation

Evidence from an archaeological excavation at Boudelo Abbey, once part of the medieval county of Flanders, Belgium, shows that the monks who lived there went to great lengths to cultivate the area's wetlands, building structures on artificially raised soil and providing new lands for occupation.

"They placed these abbeys in all sorts of marginal areas to cultivate," said study researcher Philippe De Smedt, a soil scientist at Ghent University in Belgium. In the High Middle Ages between the 12th and 14th centuries, Europe's population was growing, De Smedt told LiveScience. Monk labor provided a solution to the crowding by making the land livable.