Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 4-2 (April 2013)Martijn van Haasteren; Maaike Groot: The biography of wells: a functional and ritual life history


This article discusses the lifecycle of wells in Late Iron Age and Roman settlements in the Netherlands. This lifecycle consists of different phases: construction, taking into use, the period of use, abandonment, and the period after abandonment. During these phases different kinds of objects can enter a well. This can happen in two ways: as a result of functional use or when objects are placed in wells during rituals. It is important to understand the ‘normal’ pattern of finds associated with the functional side of wells to be able to distinguish between lost items, rubbish and ritual deposits.

By discussing ‘special’ deposits in wells from Dutch archaeological sites it becomes clear that the location of the deposit within the well is related to the moment within the well’s life. There are indications that the phases of a well’s lifecycle were marked by rituals. By combining the functional and ritual aspects connected to a well it is possible to write a biography of the well.

The analysis of finds from wells is an important contribution to the discussion about the existence of a division between functional and ritual practices, since both can be recognised in wells.