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
3 Background: Mesolithic and Neolithic sites in the Lower Rhine basin (c. 5500-3500 cal BC)

3.2 Middle Neolithic sites

The Swifterbant site cluster is eponymous for the Swifterbant-culture, as characterized by specific point-based pottery with wide flaring rims. The cluster comprises several river dunes and river banks on which settlement traces, burials and isolated human bones have been discovered (Van der Waals 1977). Formal burial grounds were located on the sites of S11 and S21-23, dating from the period 4200-4000 BC. Burial practices are comparable with those witnessed at Hardinxveld-Giessendam, indicating that the dead were buried in a supine position without grave goods except for a few amber beads.[3] The study of the human remains of c. 66 individuals, based on the burials and the isolated human bones, provided insight into the population structure with the presence of men, women and children indicating the use of these areas by family groups (Meiklejohn & Constandse-Westermann 1978; Constandse-Westermann & Meiklejohn 1979).

At Zoelen an extraordinary grave was excavated dating from c. 4000 cal BC. An association with a nearby settlement is unknown as the excavation was limited to this location. This grave contained the skeletal remains of three individuals, two women and one child. At the bottom of the grave the articulated skeletal remains of a child of c. 7 years old at death were discovered. It had been buried face down. Positioned on top of this child were the articulated bones of a woman of c. 50-70 years of age, positioned face down as well. Deposited on top, separated by a thin layer of organic remains like plants or leaves, were a few unarticulated bones belonging to another woman of c. 30-60 years of age. Apparently this was a burial of a number of skeletonised remains after decomposition of the body (Hogestijn & Lauwerier 1992).

Near Urk a small burial ground from c. 4200-3400 cal BC was discovered on the highest part of a dune that was used as a settlement site in the same period, although not necessarily at the same time (Peters & Peeters 2001). Five grave pits were found, which held the skeletal remains of eight individuals. The burial position is variable. Five individuals were buried extended on the back, another may have been buried on the right side in a crouched position, but the interpretation of the incomplete and badly preserved remains is problematical. In addition there was a grave with remains of three individuals. Apart from these burials two isolated skulls – one with articulated mandible – were found that might have been discarded, as no traces of a pit were present. But as the bone tissue was badly preserved it is not improbable that the remainder of the skeletons have decayed altogether and in absence of more precise evidence these skulls might best be interpreted as the last remains of formal burials. The bad preservation conditions could also explain the almost complete absence of the skeletons of young children and infants, which if present originally, will have fully decayed as well. The top of the dune was moreover eroded. Shallow graves may thus have disappeared. The total number of individuals from this site amounts to ten. The sex and age diagnosis indicated the presence of adult men and women and a single bone of a child.

One grave contained five amber beads, which were probably part of a necklace. No other gifts or material items were present.

On a coastal dune at Schipluiden, a settlement has been excavated, dating from c. 3600-3400 BC, as well as a small burial ground and scattered human bones. The layout shows that this was a permanent settlement of several cooperating households; the analysis of the archaeozoological and archaeobotanical remains supports a year round occupation (Louwe Kooijmans & Jongste 2006).

The individuals were positioned in the graves with tightly flexed limbs. The position of the trunk showed some variation, on the chest, on the back, on the left or right side. The skeletal remains of seven individuals were discovered in six graves, one of which was a double grave. At least another eight individuals were represented in the scattered bones around the site. The human remains represent mainly adult men and children. Only one isolated bone was identified as being (possibly) from a female individual. The anthropological findings, both from the graves and the scattered bones, indicate the presence of family groups (Smits & Louwe Kooijmans 2006).

Grave goods were almost absent; one child was buried with a few beads made of bird bone and one man originally held a strike-a-light, consisting of several flints and a fragment of pyrite, in his hand.

An extensive Middle Neolithic settlement area with a cemetery, dating from the same period as Schipluiden, has been excavated at Ypenburg (Koot et al. 2008). The cemetery could, however, not be associated with any of the seven house sites, nor attributed to one of the occupation phases. Two clusters of graves comprise 31 graves with a total of 41 individuals. Some loose human bones were recovered as well from domestic refuse. Most of the dead were buried with flexed limbs in shallow grave pits. Twelve individuals were deposited on the left side, 8 on the right side, and 5 in a supine position. Only 2 individuals were buried in a stretched posture. Of 14 individuals the exact position is unknown owing to the unarticulated arrangement of the skeletons in these graves, caused by post-depositional disturbances. The population comprised men, women and children indicating the presence of complete households (Baetsen 2008). No relation between burial position, sex and age could be attested. Material items were limited to some personal adornments like beads, associated with 9 individuals, comprising 1 men, 2 women and 6 children.