Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 2-1 (May 2010)W.A. van Es; W.J.H. Verwers: Early Medieval settlements along the Rhine: precursors and contemporaries of Dorestad
3 Other Early Medieval settlements along the Rhine
3.3 Oegstgeest, Rijnsburg, The Hague-Frankenslag, Katwijk-zanderij Westerbaan and Valkenburg-De Woerd

Parts of similar settlements have been uncovered near the mouth of the Oude Rijn (Hamburg & Hemminga 2006; 2007). Oegstgeest-Rijnfront and Rijnsburg are fine examples. Oegstgeest is dated between 525/550 and 800 and Rijnsburg from the seventh to the tenth centuries. No Roman precursors were found, probably because these Early Medieval settlements, like Koudekerk, lay on the opposite side of the Rhine in the former Roman military zone. Both had direct or indirect access to the river. It is clear that the excavations revealed parts of farmstead clusters laid out on a grid. Rijnsburg is thought to have been much larger than the excavated area. The same structure was observed at The Hague-Frankenslag. The excavations at Katwijk-zanderij Westerbaan were fairly extensive. Still, the recently published detailed excavation report does not manage to answer all the questions (Van der Velde 2008).

The sand quarry (zanderij) Westerbaan lies on the Roman side of the Rhine and here an earlier occupation phase did precede the Early Medieval settlement. The situation parallels that of De Geer in several respects. The Roman occupation phase ended in the second half of the third century and here too was followed by an episode marked by a lack of evidence either of occupation or of abandonment. This quandary is due in part to the difficulty of dating imported pottery from the late third and early fourth centuries and the fact that its production went into crisis in the second half of the fourth century (Steures 2009).[10] At any rate, the Early Medieval settlement in the north of the excavated area immediately adjoins the Roman settlement.

The beginning of the Early Medieval phase at this site is dated to about 450/475. From then on it was intensively occupied right into Carolingian times. Its heyday is thought to have been between AD 550 and 700. The layout of the settlement is hard to reconstruct. There seem to have been several habitation nuclei in a methodically parcelled landscape. The largest excavated settlement fragment is a complex of three or four adjoining farmsteads presumably laid out along a road. The full extent of this settlement site is unknown. The area as a whole may have accommodated some 16 to 22 farms, allowing 4.5 to 6 hectares of arable and grassland for each. Apart from farmhouses – longhouses – of normal length, there also were short houses with little byre space, which may indicate a differentation in terms of wealth and/or occupation among the occupants. The number of inhabitants of Katwijk-zanderij Westerbaan is estimated to have been about 100 to 165. There is no doubt as to their (mainly) agrarian way of life.[11] According to Blok, the Early Medieval name for Katwijk was Houerathorp, which is believed to mean ‘village of farmhouse dwellers’ and maybe this name referred to one or more of the habitation nuclei uncovered at the sand quarry (Van der Velde 2008, 409-410).

It remains unclear whether the Early Medieval farms of Katwijk-zanderij Westerbaan were part of any villa or villae. The settlements were of a fairly dynamic nature and in the course of the Merovingian-Carolingian era at least partially shifted their location. The origin of the settlers is uncertain. Those who exploited the third-century farms are called newcomers, arriving either from north of the limes or from elsewhere within the region. Given the problem of continuity in the Late Roman period, the question arises whether the fifth-century inhabitants can also be branded as newcomers. On the basis of his analysis of the metal finds, Knol’s conclusion is that initially Frankish connections prevailed, followed by strong Frisian links (Knol 2008).

Thus far, all excavations around the mouth of the Rhine have only revealed settlements made up of multiple dwellings. There seem to have been no scattered, isolated farmsteads.

Imports and traces of artisanal production have been found in all of these settlements. This implies that they were part of a (supra-)regional, indeed international socio-economic exchange network (Van Es 1990) but not that they were specialised trading or production sites. Artisanal activities up to a certain point were an everyday part of the farming economy. There is no evidence that the settlements in question exceeded the agrarian ‘standard’. The excavated part of Oegstgeest-Rijnfront does not appear to warrant the conclusion that that it ‘occupied an important position in the region and functioned as a trading and (production) site of regional significance’ (Hamburg & Hemminga 2006, 307). Such places without doubt did exist in this region and, in our opinion, are sooner to be expected at the former vicus sites near castella, as at Roomburg. Another good candidate is the (also very partially excavated) Early Medieval site of Valkenburg-De Woerd.

The history of Valkenburg-De Woerd begins at the establishment of the Roman limes. In the mid-first century AD a military entrepot harbour was laid out here, which must have been part of the vicus of castellum Valkenburg. The distance between the two is just over half a kilometre. After studying the recovered terra sigillata stamps, J.H.F. Bloemers and H. Sarfatij believe that the larger settlement which in the second century replaced the port, became more ‘civilian’ in character (Bloemers & Sarfatij 1976). Yet this is unlikely to mean that De Woerd ceased to be fiscal territory and that we are now dealing with a purely civilian vicus. Roman occupation ceased around AD 230. Between that year and the seventh century there is a lack of finds. If we want to propose any kind of continuity between the Roman and the Early Medieval occupation phases, this must again be on the strength of Early Medieval princes harking back to Roman imperial prerogatives.

Our image of Early Medieval Valkenburg-De Woerd can only be based on the very provisional evidence published in 1986 and 1988, immediately after the excavations (Bult & Hallewas 1987; Bult et al. 1990). The results were not very clear-cut, the reconstructed house plans in particular being quite different from what might be expected. In our opinion the settlement is best characterised as a miniature Dorestad. Its physiography perfectly matches the part of Dorestad excavated along the Hoogstraat. In both cases the settlement was laid out along the inner curve of a Rhine meander, on a natural levee originating in or directly after the Roman period in a river basin in which the meandering river shifted its bed from west to east. This natural process continued after the Early Middle Ages. At Valkenburg-De Woerd, the habitation might have reoccupied part of the site of the Roman settlement behind it (i.e., west of it). The layout of Early Medieval Valkenburg-De Woerd also seems to parallel that of Dorestad. The shore was divided into fairly narrow plots at right angles to the river. The width of the plots it still difficult to ascertain but a riverside abutment is thought to have been about 12 metres wide. According to the excavators, the houses were rectangular, measured 5.5 x 10 to 11 metres, and in some cases were aligned one behind the other, all at right angles to the river, like the plots. Their plans are so unusual, however, that one wonders whether these posthole patterns are not more likely to represent substructures of houses. Just as at Dorestad, wells are remarkably numerous and often placed in rows. There is evidence of bone and antler working and of livestock rearing or, at any rate, the butchering of fairly young livestock.

If anywhere, it is at Valkenburg-De Woerd that archaeology has hit upon one of those small, secondary trading settlements of which there must have been many in the delta and which are occasionally referred to in written sources, e.g. at Meinerswijk. It is an interesting possibility that De Woerd and the castellum were still part of a single estate even in the Early Middle Ages. The church in the castellum is believed to have been one of the earliest in the western Netherlands and according to the List of Landed Property it belonged to St Martin’s at Utrecht. The donor must have been none less than the king. It is possible that De Woerd was also crown land. The List of Landed Property expressly mentions the church cum omnibus appendiciis ... totum et integrum, but it is unclear whether this included De Woerd (Bult et al. 1990, 165). For the early church of Oegstgeest, a foundation date ‘in the first quarter of the eighth century or a little later’ has been suggested as part of a donation to St. Willibrord (Bult & Hallewas 1990, 86; Halbertsma 2000, 175-179, 203-205). That Oegstgeest-Rijnfront was anything other than a rural settlement is unlikely, if only because of its location on the Rhine across from Valkenburg-De Woerd but on the bank that started to be eroded in the Early Middle Ages. It is imaginable that De Woerd and Rijnfront were complementary settlements, which would present an interesting parallel to Leut situated across the river from Dorestad.

The farming settlement at Rijnsburg is one of those rare cases where the archaeological evidence is supplemented by the names and social background of its owners. In an important study, Sarfatij demonstrated that the excavated remains belong to the Rothulfuashem villa mentioned in the List of Landed Property, the precursor of today’s Rijnsburg (Sarfatij 1977).[12] According to Henderikx it was an early donation dating from the early years or the first half of the eighth century. The donors were probably relatives, among whom Rothulf, presumably a descendant of the villa’s original name-giver, seems to have been the most important. Also mentioned are Aldberga (Rothulf’s wife?) and one Erulf. The family possessed more landed property in the region than just Rothulfuashem and donated other properties to Utrecht. They clearly were major landowners. The information about Rijnsburg in the document is exceptionally elaborate. It says that Rothulf and Aldberga lived locally at their villa. Did they move out after donating it or was their family line dying out? Of course we remain ignorant of most of the story. However, we do learn that the actual settlement (ofstedi) lay at Rijnsburg south of the river Vliet and the associated farmland (a total of 26 mansa) on the opposite side. This covered an area of about 157 hectares. Of the ofstedi Rothulfuashem, three houses (i.e. three farmsteads?) have been excavated. There must have been far more indeed, in order to farm such an expanse of land. We do not know whether the family’s possessions included harbourage on the Rhine. If so, it was not immediately connected with Rothulfuashem as the distance to the river is about half a kilometre. The nearest harbour presumably was at Valkenburg-De Woerd.

There is a possibility that the villa excavated at Koudekerk belonged to a larger complex. It has been suggested that Koudekerk was one of the toll ports of the Carolingian realm (Verkerk 1992). If this was the case, it cannot have been at the excavated site, which lacked access to the Rhine. On the riverbank today we do find the church and it cannot be ruled out that this church had an Early Medieval predecessor. Harbour facilities might then be sought in the vicinity of the church, together with any dwelling for the owner or the steward of the estate. In the Early Middle Ages Koudekerk was known by a different name, now lost. It has been suggested that Koudekerk should be identified with a place called Holtlant, or with yet another still enigmatic place name mentioned in the Utrecht List of Landed Property (Van der Linden 1998). This would mean that Koudekerk had been wholly or in part donated to the diocese by wealthy landowners. Thus there are several pointers to suggest that in the Early Middle Ages Koudekerk was an estate comprising various elements, the excavated farmhouses representing the agrarian component.