Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 1-1 (May 2009)E. Smits; J. van der Plicht: Mesolithic and Neolithic human remains in the Netherlands: physical anthropological and stable isotope investigations

7.6 Conclusions

The mortuary ritual between 5500-3500 cal BC in the Lower Rhine Basin displays a dichotomy, namely burials and above-ground treatment of the corpses.[7] The cemeteries comprise mostly single burials, but double, triple or communal graves also have been identified. These practices may be related to the cause of death, either natural or unnatural and to the traditions of social-cultural subgroups. The burial traditions comply in general with those of contemporary European groups. The isolated scattered human bones recovered from refuse zones may be partly the result of taphonomic processes but can indicate various rituals as well, ranging from excarnation to cannibalism.

The sites concerned are interpreted as base camps that were inhabited by families. The Ypenburg population is best suited to drawing inferences with respect to demography and health. Child mortality was high, which means fertility was high as well, leading to the assumption of population growth. Although the data on diseases and trauma are sparse, physical stress markers on the skeletons indicate a daily heavy workload.

The isotope study of diet reveals a distinct aquatic component for the three populations with variations, which are explained by the exploitation of the local habitat. The presence of outsiders partly explains the heterogeneity of the results, but locally born and grown people also display terrestrial values in some cases. Variation in burial practices sometimes coincides with the isotopic results concerning diet and provenance.

Patterns, in which subgroups are linked with a certain diet and burial rituals, cannot be established at this stage of the research. These results, however, lead to the formulation of new research questions, which incorporate the analysis of dispersed human bones. Efficient sampling strategies are imperative to recover such remains.