Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 1-1 (May 2009)Leendert P. Louwe Kooijmans: The agency factor in the process of Neolithisation – a Dutch case study1

8 Deposition

Three of the excavated sites (Schipluiden, Ypenburg and Rijswijk) yielded unmistakable evidence of different forms of deliberate deposition. The deposits are predominantly remains of animals, in particular dogs. Like the absence of human skeletal elements, the absence of deposits at Wateringen 4 cannot be attributed to the more limited size of this site. The differences between the other sites do not seem to be fundamental, and can be adequately explained by differences in preservation.


Fig. 16 Schipluiden, partial depositions of four dogs. The recovered remains are indicated in black.

At Schipluiden four incomplete skeletons and seven complete heads - that is, skulls with the lower jaw and in some cases an atlas, axis and/or a few cervical vertebrae - were found in the deposition zones next to the dune (fig. 16; Zeiler 2006a, 392 f, and Appendix 22.3). Comparable observations had previously been made at Rijswijk: at site 4 were the remains of an entire dog in anatomical position in the fill of a well, along with the incomplete remains of a second individual, at site 1 was an incomplete skeleton and at site 2, entirely isolated, a skull with a fitting atlas and axis (Laarman 2004, 54). At Ypenburg, finally, two incomplete skeletons of an adult and a young dog were found together (De Vries 2004, 22). So in a few cases the remains were buried, but more often the dogs were killed in the context of a remarkable ritual, according to which the remains were collected and dumped only after some time, the heads often separately.

Occasionally other animals were deliberately buried. Site 4 of Rijswijk-A4 yielded the remains of two small pigs, one of which was 8 months old and complete except for the lower legs, the other was an incomplete piglet.

In addition, ‘deposition pits’ were found at both Schipluiden and Ypenburg. They are small pits with remarkable contents, which we assume were intentionally deposited in the pit. At Schipluiden one such a pit was found, at the northern periphery of the dune. It contained many bones of three bovine animals and the smashed skull of a dog. A fairly small pit at the periphery of the dune at Ypenburg was found to contain a complete earthenware pot and a granite quern. At this same site was another small pit, with a diameter of only 10 cm, containing nine pieces of flint, among which were six axe flakes (Houkes & Bruning in Koot et al. 2008).

These depositions belong to a tradition that was widespread throughout the Lower Rhine area from the beginning of the Swifterbant culture. Noteworthy are burials of a young wild boar and a group of deposition pits at Hardinxveld-De Bruin whose contents included a large pot (Louwe Kooijmans 2001b), pots found at Bronneger, Urk and Ede-Rietveld, and flint deposits in the peripheral zone of the Hoge Vaart site, all of which date from the first half of the 5th millennium (Peeters 2007, 201). The oldest deposits of antler and cattle horn sheaths found in the province of Drenthe date from the same time (Prummel & Van der Sanden 1994; Ufkes 1997). A major difference, however, is that these objects were deposited in the ‘wilderness’, in ‘waterlogged depressions’ and in stream valleys and bogs, and not in or at the periphery of a settlement’s domestic space. Of slightly younger date is a series of stray, complete pots of the Michelsberg culture found in the north of Belgium and in the Dutch province of Limburg (Louwe Kooijmans & Jongste 2006, 495-496).

In the Lower Rhine area a varied tradition evolved from the beginning of the Swifterbant culture onwards – a tradition of on- and off-site deposition practices that gradually acquired a new meaning in the course of the Neolithic through the use of new objects, in particular axes. These depositions reflect a new or more intensive form of communication with the spirits of nature that was unknown in the preceding Mesolithic (cf. Ebbesen 1993). The Swifterbant communities may have taken over the farmers’ views on the surrounding wild nature (what Hodder (1990) termed the agrios) and have made efforts to pacify the forces in that nature – a nature into which, with their livestock and fields, they were now penetrating in a different way than in the past. In that sense this deposition custom is an essential aspect of the Neolithisation process. The prominent role played by dogs in this custom goes back to the special status of dogs in the Late Mesolithic, as expressed by deliberate burials, a good example of which in the Netherlands was found at the Late Mesolithic site of Hardinxveld-Polderweg (Louwe Kooijmans 2001a).