Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 1-2 (November 2009)Maaike Groot: Searching for patterns among special animal deposits in the Dutch river area during the Roman period

7 Recognising patterns

Several recurrent patterns can be found among the special animal deposits from the Dutch river area, both with regard to the contents of the deposit and the location. The patterns described below are based on my personal observations of special animal deposits at Tiel-PH, Geldermalsen, and several smaller excavations: Tiel-Bedrijvenpark Medel site 6 in the Dutch river area, and Poeldijk-Westhof site 3 and Naaldwijk-Holland College in the western coastal zone (Groot 2005; 2007; 2008a; 2008b; 2008c; 2009). I will also refer to published data from other sites, both on special animal deposits and other finds. In describing the patterns, I will depart from the categorisation of deposits described above. This categorisation is merely used in the field and during analysis to identify possible deposits and I have tried to go beyond this in my approach below.

7.1 Deposits in wells

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Wells sometimes contain striking bone deposits. We would not expect deposits of animal remains to be made during the use of a well, as this would contaminate the water, but when a well was no longer in use it was a convenient place to dump rubbish. This makes the interpretation of animal deposits in the fills of wells difficult. Special finds of other materials demonstrate that deliberate deposits also occurred in wells. The special animal deposits in wells should be seen as one aspect of this tradition. In some cases, special animal deposits are found in an otherwise findless fill, suggesting that the well was not systematically used as a rubbish bin, but only on a special occasion.

Non-bone deposits

No one doubts the ritual context of deposits of certain objects in wells, such as a beautifully decorated part of a helmet found in a well outside the castellum of Leidse Rijn-De Woerd ( This metal object was deliberately bent, making it unfit for further use. The excavators see the deposit of this object in a well as an offering. A well in the temple compound at Empel contained several remarkable finds: a complete helmet, a shield boss and the partial skeleton of an eagle owl (Roymans & Derks 1994, 25; Seijnen 1994, 164, 171). The two metal objects were interpreted as offerings and I would suggest a similar explanation for the exceptional bird remains. An axe, complete with handle, and fragments of a wooden lid and bowl were found at the bottom of the pit dug when the well was constructed. These objects must have been left there during the construction (Hiddink 1994, 63, figs. 7 and 8). While finds such as this are often interpreted as accidental loss, the recurrence of tools found associated with wells is suspicious (see below).

While these deposits are from wells in non-rural contexts (military, temple), remarkable but somewhat less spectacular finds are known from rural settlements. Some of the wells at Roman sites near Breda also contained remarkable finds. An iron ploughshare, the bronze rim of a bucket and a bronze helmet were found in the pit dug during the construction of a well (Hoegen 2004, 253-254; Hoegen et al. 2004, 366-367). In another pit containing a well a nearly complete salt container was found (Van Enckevort 2004, 347). Two complete pots were found in the fill of a third well (Hoegen 2004, 258). They were interpreted as accidental losses during water collecting or cleaning of the pots (Van Enckevort 2004, 346). A small amphora was seen as an intentional deposit because it was found in a depression left by an Iron Age well (Van Enckevort 2004, 346).

The most remarkable non-bone find from a well at Geldermalsen consists of a complete bronze vessel and a ceramic jug (fig. 8). The vessel was repaired at least three times and must have been in use for a long period of time. The jug was placed inside the vessel before being deposited in the well. This find was interpreted as an abandonment deposit (Van Renswoude 2009c, 271).


Fig. 8 A complete jug and bronze vessel from a well at Geldermalsen-Hondsgemet (photo: ACVU-HBS).

Wooden ladders have been found in wells at several Roman sites throughout the Netherlands, such as Kesteren-De Woerd, Deurne-Groot Bottelsche Akker, Geldermalsen-Hondsgemet, Midlaren-De Bloemert and Den Haag-Uithofslaan (fig. 9; Kooistra & Van Haaster 2001, 327-332; Hiddink 2008, 185-189; Kooistra 2009, 427-428; Hänninen 2008, 453-454; De Hing & Van Ginkel 2009, 73). Wooden ladders, especially when they are broken, are easily discarded as rubbish. A ladder is not perceived by archaeologists as a surprising find since wells had to be cleaned occasionally. It is assumed that people would not bother to remove a broken ladder from a well. Hiddink sees the small effort needed for the quick construction of the ladder from Deurne as a reason for abandoning it (Hiddink 2008, 189). When seen from another perspective, this is strange, since even a broken ladder could be repaired or reused, if nothing else as firewood. The ladder from Kesteren is complete and of a height that is much too short to provide access to a well and is more likely to have been used to access granaries. An additional reason for not interpreting the ladder as abandoned after a cleaning operation is that it was found upside down (Kooistra & Van Haaster 2001, 331; pers. comm. L.I. Kooistra).


Fig. 9 Wooden ladder in a well at Deurne-Groot Bottelsche Akker (photo: ACVU-HBS).

The location of a wooden spade from Deurne-Groot Bottelsche Akker indicates that this is not simply an abandoned object. The oak spade was found at the bottom of the pit that contained the well, outside the wooden lining and left there when this lining was constructed (fig. 10; Hiddink 2008, 185). This is reminiscent of a foundation deposit. Both location and material type ('tool') are similar to the axe from Empel. Another wooden spade was found in a well at Nederweert-Rosveld, but in this case in the fill (Hiddink 2005, 169-170). Wooden bowls have also been found in wells. Two examples are broken and therefore interpreted as rubbish (Hiddink 2005, 169; Kooistra 2009, 428). As with the ladders, throwing away wood when this was the main source of fuel seems strange.

Another category of wooden objects found in wells are wagon wheels. When deposited at the bottom of a well, a wheel can play a functional role in the construction. However, wheels or parts of wheels are also found in the fill of wells (for instance at Weert, pers. comm. H.A. Hiddink; and the Roman town of Forum Hadriani, Kooistra & Kubiak-Martens 2007, 18-20).


Fig. 10 Wooden spade deposited on the outside of the wooden lining of a well at Deurne-Groot Bottelsche Akker (photo: ACVU-HBS).

The examples above are not an exhaustive list. Every field archaeologist probably knows some examples. While former wells were certainly used for dumping rubbish, some of the finds cannot be explained in purely functional terms. Remarkable finds from wells seem to be common in Roman sites. Like farmhouses, the construction and abandoning of wells seem to have been surrounded by rituals. Finds in the pit outside the core or wooden lining of the well, such as the wooden spade from Deurne and the ploughshare and bronze finds from Breda, should be seen as foundation deposits, left during the construction of a well. Finds in the fill may be considered as abandonment deposits. The bronze vessel from Geldermalsen is the best example but some of the animal deposits may also be understood in this way. A third category of deposit is found in the upper fill of a well or in the depression left when a well was filled up and went out of use. The depression may have been merely considered as a convenient location for deposition but in some cases earlier ritual may have been commemorated.

Deposits of (parts of) animals

While non-bone finds are sometimes interpreted as ritual deposits, when it comes to animal remains in wells these are nearly always seen as the dumping of rubbish, if interpreted at all. Special animal deposits in wells vary from complete skeletons to skulls. They can be present in the fill of a well, in the pit dug when the well was constructed, or in the depression left after a well had been filled up. Dogs seem to be regularly deposited in wells that were also used as rubbish dumps. A skeleton of an adult dog was found in a well at Tiel-PH together with more animal bones. At Geldermalsen an adult male dog was found in the fill of a well (fig. 11). With a withers height of 73 cm, this dog is at the upper end of the range in size of dogs in the Roman Netherlands. An incomplete cattle skull was found next to the dog, but it is not certain whether they were deposited at the same time. Again this well contained some fragmented animal bones from various other animals. In another well, a dog was found in the upper fill. A large bone concentration was found lower in the well (see below). Finally, a partial dog skeleton was found in a well at Naaldwijk, together with bone refuse (Groot 2008c, 180). While the deposition of dogs in wells must have been a deliberate act, the choice for wells that were in use as rubbish dumps suggests that convenience rather than ritual was the motivation behind this act. That is not to say that the disposal of dogs in this way was not surrounded by affinity or affection, as the carcasses could also have been left where they died or dumped outside the settlement.


Fig. 11 Dog skeleton and cattle skull in a well at Geldermalsen-Hondsgemet (photo: ACVU-HBS).

Two wells at Tiel-PH contained skulls that have been interpreted as ritual deposits. The first is the skull of an adult mare with cracks in the frontal bone, indicating that she did not die a natural death. The well contained very few other bones, which indicates that it was not used for dumping rubbish. The second case comprises two complete sheep skulls. Very few other bones were found in the well, but it did contain the mandibles from one of the skulls, as well as three complete cattle scapulae. In this case, the absence of rubbish and the coincidence of finding three complete scapulae is taken as an indicator of intentional deposition. A third example is the nearly complete but not freshly deposited cattle skull in an otherwise empty well at Geldermalsen.

Another deposit of quite different composition from a well at Geldermalsen is a large concentration of cattle bones, representing six cows that were killed and butchered in one event (fig. 12). Of course, it is possible that a disused well was simply seen as a convenient spot to dump a large amount of refuse, but why was it only used as a rubbish dump on one occasion? An argument against an interpretation as a rubbish dump is the inclusion in the deposit of two skulls of other species. Skulls from a male horse and a male sheep were found among the cow bones (fig. 13). The burial of a dog in the top fill of the same well does not seem coincidental and may indicate a communal memory of the location of the previous deposit. Deposits of a horse skull and lower legs were made in the top fills of other wells at Tiel-PH and Geldermalsen (see below).


Fig. 12 Concentration of cattle bones from a well at Geldermalsen-Hondsgemet (photo: ACVU-HBS).


Fig. 13 Skulls of horse, cattle and sheep from the bone concentration in fig. 12 (photo: ACVU-HBS).

It is hard to interpret many of the animal deposits in these wells, especially when the well was clearly used for dumping rubbish. Those that are found in an otherwise empty well, however, are unlikely to represent waste. Deposits of animal remains in wells fit in with other, special non-bone finds from wells in rural settlements.

7.2 Emphasising and manipulating (lower) limbs

A common type of special animal deposit is that of a skull and lower limbs and variations on this theme. Traditionally, this deposit type was seen as typical butchery waste, based on the fact that skull and lower limbs contain little meat. An animal skull does, however, carry some meat, and the brain is a delicacy in some cultures. Besides, there is another reason for seeing these deposits in a different context: missing legs.

The first example is from Tiel-PH, and consists of an adult horse skull with mandibles and three lower limbs. The right foreleg is missing. This deposit was found in the upper fill of a well. A second deposit, also from a well, comprises the skull, neck and three lower limbs of an adult sheep, the left hind leg is missing in this case. The third deposit, this time of a calf, consists of a skull with mandibles and three lower limbs and the right foreleg is missing (fig. 14). An example from Geldermalsen is a horse skull (without mandibles) buried upside down with two crossed lower legs (fig. 5). This deposit was found in the fill of a well outside the settlement. The smashed frontal bone is a sign of a non-natural death. Cut marks indicate the removal of the mandibles and the tongue. Only the two forelegs were present. A cattle skull and two lower forelegs were buried in another pit at the same site. A deposit of a horse skull and two lower legs from Tiel-Bedrijvenpark (Medel site 6) looks very similar to one from Geldermalsen (fig. 15; Groot 2005, 63, 68).


Fig. 14 Deposit of a cattle skull and three lower legs from Tiel-Passewaaijse Hogeweg (photo: ACVU-HBS).


Fig. 15 Deposit of a horse skull and two lower legs from Tiel-Bedrijvenpark (Medel vindplaats 6) (photo: ACVU-HBS).

Outside the research area, a deposit of a skull and one lower leg of a young cow occurred in a ditch enclosing a small rectangular area at Poeldijk (Groot 2007, 86). A deposit of a horse skull and four lower legs found near a house at Den Haag-Johan Willem Frisolaan was interpreted as a foundation deposit (De Hingh & Van Ginkel 2009, 103). One of the possible interpretations of this structure was a ritual enclosure. A cow skull and three lower legs were found at Schagen-Muggenburg II (Therkorn 2004, 51). A deposit from Naaldwijk probably represents a double burial of the ‘skull-and-three-legs’ deposit, with two horse skulls, six lower legs and a series of vertebrae (fig. 16; Groot 2008c, 187).


Fig. 16 Concentration of horse bones from Naaldwijk (photo: ADC).

An interesting phenomenon occurring in deposits of skull and lower legs is that often one or more legs are absent. This is not simply a result of elements being accidentally removed during excavation; in that case, at least some of the smaller bones of the missing leg would be present. The recurrent pattern of missing legs is an argument against an interpretation as butchery waste. It also makes it less likely that the skull and lower limbs represent animal skins.

There is also a series of finds of one or more lower limbs without skulls. An example of a deposit of all four lower limbs is from Tiel-PH, where four horse lower legs were buried without a skull. A single right lower back leg from a young horse was buried in a ditch surrounding an Early Roman house at Tiel-PH. A front leg of a horse, complete from the radius down, was found in a ditch at Geldermalsen together with the phalanges of a second leg. The ditch was part of a ditch structure where several other remarkable finds were encountered, including a concentration of burned cereals (barley, emmer wheat and oat), three brooches, a piece of La Tène glass, two pots and several pieces of stone (Van Renswoude 2009a, 95). Two front legs of a horse were found together at the settlement of Rijswijk-De Bult (Clason 1978, 426). A deposit of three lower legs of a horse was found in a pit at Schagen-Muggenburg I (Therkorn 2004, 24). Articulated horse legs were also deposited at sites in Midden-Delfland (Van Londen 2006, 131, 150).

Further evidence for the manipulation of (lower) limbs is found in animal burials. Several lower limbs were missing from horse burials at Druten (see below), as was the right lower forelimb of a calf buried in Midden-Delfland (Van Wijngaarden-Bakker 1996, 20, 23). In a horse burial from Naaldwijk, all four lower legs of a 12-month-old horse were absent (Groot 2008c, 184; fig. 17). In a second horse burial at Naaldwijk, the front legs were missing but some smaller bones are present. Since the humeri are damaged, it is almost certain that the front legs were accidentally removed during excavation. This is clearly different from the first horse, where no bones from the lower limbs were present at all and no damage to the other limb bones was observed. Missing foot bones in a horse burial have also been noted for Schagen-Muggenburg I (Therkorn 2004, 24). A possible explanation for missing limbs in otherwise complete animal burials is that elements have been removed for bone working, although the author also considers the possibility that excavation methods are responsible for the missing bones (Lauwerier 1988, 107). While metapodials of horse and cattle were certainly used for making artefacts, they are frequently found intact among refuse in rural settlements. It seems unlikely that they were removed from an animal that was buried when so many were routinely discarded during butchery. An additional argument supporting a symbolic explanation is a dog burial from Schagen-Muggenburg I, where seven toes had been cut off (Therkorn 2004, 24).


Fig. 17 Burial of a horse at Naaldwijk. The lower legs are absent (photo: ADC).

7.3 Arranging skeletal elements within a deposit

Unequivocal evidence for arranging of skeletal elements is uncommon but it is found in several deposits. A convincing example is a burial of a sheep at Tiel-PH, where the sheep’s head was removed and replaced by the jaws of a calf (fig. 18). The sheep’s head was found near the back end of the skeleton, together with remains from two neonatal lambs. The dog buried in the lower half of an amphora at Tiel-PH provides another example of the arranging of elements within a deposit. The crossed legs of the skull-and-lower-legs deposit from Geldermalsen seem to be deliberately arranged (fig. 5), as do the legs from two other deposits, which are lying parallel with all feet pointing in the same direction (figs. 14 and 15). Two horse skulls in a pit at Tiel-PH were lying parallel to each other, leaving most of the pit empty. They seem to have been deposited in a deliberate manner. The mandibles from one of the skulls were found at the other side of the pit. The horses were of a similar age (younger than 2.5 years), which could indicate deliberate selection of animals for burial.


Fig. 18 Burial of a sheep at Tiel-Passewaaijse Hogeweg. The sheep’s head has been replaced by the jaws of a calf (photo: ACVU-HBS).

The possibly deliberate arrangement of horse skeletal elements was also encountered at Naaldwijk (Groot 2008c, 187). Two skulls and mandibles, six lower legs and cervical and thoracic vertebrae were placed in a ditch. The arrangement looks deliberate, with the skulls touching and flanked by a line of vertebrae on one side and metapodials on two of the other sides (fig. 16). At two sites in Midden-Delfland, legs had been removed from cattle and buried next to the body. Further evidence of manipulation may be identified in the deposit of a stork where the head and several other elements were removed (Van Londen 2006, 64, 70, 131).

7.4 Animal deposits in farmhouses and house ditches

In some cases there is a clear association between a special animal deposit and a farmhouse. A cattle skull was found in a ditch surrounding a Late Roman house at Tiel-PH. This complete skull does not seem to have been thrown in the ditch, but was positioned so that it looked toward the house (fig. 19). The ditch also contained animal bone refuse. Just outside the other Late Roman house, a horse skull-and-lower-legs deposit was found. A ditch surrounding an earlier house contained two dog burials, one of which was associated with large pottery sherds (see below; fig. 20). Deposits of a concentration of horse bones and a dog skull were located close to two other houses from the same period. A single lower leg of a horse was found in the ditch of an Early Roman house. Another find in a house ditch from this period is a deposit of articulated remains of sheep. It is unlikely that the deposit represents rubbish since no other bone refuse was found in the ditch. A large quantity of pottery was found nearby. This kind of refuse has been connected with abandonment rituals (Gerritsen 2003, 97). A combination deposit of a complete sheep and a calf’s head (see below) was located close to a farmhouse. Figure 21 shows the distribution of special animal deposits in phase 2 at Tiel-PH. The three special deposits that are interpreted as ritual are all associated with houses. The only deposit from Geldermalsen that could be directly associated with a farmhouse is that of a concentration of horse ribs. Butchery marks on the ribs indicate that these are consumption waste. This, however, does not imply that the deposit could not have been meaningful.


Fig. 19 Cattle skull found in a house ditch at Tiel-Passewaaijse Hogeweg (illustration: Jan van Renswoude, ACVU-HBS).


Fig. 20 Plan of a farmhouse with two dog burials in the surrounding ditch. Tiel-Passewaaijse Hogeweg (illustration: Jan van Renswoude, ACVU-HBS).


Fig. 21 Distribution of special animal deposits and their interpretation for phase 2, Tiel-Passewaaijse Hogeweg (illustration: Stijn Heeren and Bert Brouwenstijn, ACVU).

An example from another site in the Dutch river area is the settlement of Druten, where four pits containing complete or partial horse skeletons were found associated with late 1st-century farmhouses (Lauwerier 1988, 104-105). Two of the pits were located next to the entrance of a house. Only one of the horses was complete. One of the skeletons was missing all lower limbs, another both forelegs and the left lower hind leg, and of the last animal, only the back half was present (with the left hind lower leg missing). It is not entirely certain whether these parts were lost due to bad preservation or were removed intentionally, for instance for bone-working (Lauwerier 1988, 107). A dog at Tiel-Bedrijvenpark (Medel site 6) was buried in a pit next to an Early Roman house ditch (Groot 2005, 63).

Animal burials are also associated with houses outside the Dutch river area. In an Iron Age site at Ezinge, the skulls of a horse, cow and dog were found next to the outer wall of a farmhouse. This find was interpreted as a foundation deposit (Van Giffen 1963, 246-248). In Wijster (Drenthe) burials of horses and cattle could be linked to houses and granaries. Preservation was not good at this site, so there is very little information on the burials (Van Es 1967, 114-117, 371, 374, 376). A cattle burial was also related to a house at Heeten (province of Overijssel; Lauwerier et al. 1999, 180). At Schagen-Muggenburg I and Midden-Delfland site 01.17 dogs were buried close to farmhouses (Therkorn 2004, 24; Van Londen 2006, 27). At Schagen-Muggenburg III a complete hind leg of a horse was buried under the threshold of a house (Therkorn 2004, 47-48).

7.5 Other deposits associated with houses

Special animal deposits within or close to farmhouses should be seen in the same context as complete pots found in postholes, namely as part of a ritual related to the building, use or abandonment of the house. At Tiel, five finds from farmhouses were interpreted as foundation deposits. All were complete pots and in one case two pots and a coin (fig. 22). Four of the five deposits were placed in one of the main postholes and one in a ditch outside the main entrance. A concentration of silver coins was found in a corner posthole. The coins were interpreted as a hoard and not a foundation deposit, since the latter are usually of little value (Heeren & Van Renswoude 2006, 215, 219, 225, 229, 234, 246-247; Aarts 2007, 126-127). In contrast to Tiel-PH, deposits from farmhouses are not found at Geldermalsen. A complete strainer from the core of a posthole of an Early Roman granary is interpreted as an abandonment deposit (Van Kerckhove 2009, 157). Two pots were buried in the upper fill of Late Iron Age postholes, suggesting that these are also abandonment deposits (Van Kerckhove 2009, 191). The postholes could not be associated with buildings, but are likely to have belonged to small granaries.


Fig. 22 Foundation deposit from Tiel-Passewaaijse Hogeweg and a reconstruction of the moment when the pots were buried (illustration: Mikko Kriek, ACVU-HBS).

Animals or animal parts do not seem to have been deposited as house offerings in Midden-Delfland. Foundation deposits in that region were placed in the north-eastern corner of the house and include a willow wreath and a metal object that could be a curved knife or a horseshoe. A Mesolithic flint core was buried in a wall ditch, resting on top of a complete coarse ware lid. An example of a deposit from a house ditch is an iron shoe of an ard (Van Londen 2006, 36, 147-149). At Schagen-Muggenburg III an inverted pot was found under the threshold of a house entrance, while the hearth was built over three partial cooking pots which were placed in a row (Therkorn 2004, 48-49).

Foundation deposits are usually found at the base of postholes, in wall ditches and near the entrance of the house. Gerritsen suggests that they generally consist of complete pottery vessels, but Van Londen’s and Therkorn’s studies have shown their variability (Gerritsen 2003, 63-65; Van Londen 2006; Therkorn 2004). A recent study claims that the contents and location of house deposits varies according to the region (Van Hoof 2007). Deposits made during the habitation of the house are so-called site maintenance practices. When habitation of the house ended, abandonment deposits could be made. These typically consist of pits filled with large quantities of refuse (Gerritsen 2003, 97-102). Gerritsen mentions the use of organic material as a possible explanation for the relative paucity of foundation deposits in his study area (Gerritsen 2003, 64-65). It has indeed been suggested that it is the contents of the complete pots that are the real offering (Gerritsen 2003, 64); these are seldom preserved. A find from Schagen-Muggenburg I supports this idea; while not associated with a house, a near complete pot contained the edible seeds of orach and chickweed (Therkorn 2004, 35).

7.6 Burials and deposits in enclosure ditches

Special animal deposits are often found in settlement enclosure ditches. Skeletons of a cow, a dog, a red deer, a combination deposit of a complete dog and a horse skull, several horse skulls and one dog skull were all recovered from Middle and Late Roman enclosure ditches at Tiel-PH (fig. 23). The skull and mandibles of a ram were found in the eastern enclosure ditch of Geldermalsen phase 4, right across from the main entrance point to the settlement (fig. 24; Groot 2009, 392). Other finds from enclosure ditches include a skeleton of a piglet, two cow skeletons, two dog skeletons and a horse skull. The animal deposits are not confined to corners or entrances. It may be that marking the boundary between settlement space and outside space was one of the aims. The horse skull from Geldermalsen (fig. 4) was found in a ditch surrounding a farmyard for which the percentage of horse bones was relatively high. A specialisation in horse breeding was suggested for the family inhabiting this house; in that case, the choice of animal for the deposit reflects the livelihood of the family.


Fig. 23 Distribition of special animal deposits and their interpretation for phase 7, Tiel-Passewaaijse Hogeweg (illustration: Stijn Heeren and Bert Brouwenstijn, ACVU).


Fig. 24 Skull of a ram found in the enclosure ditch of Geldermalsen-Hondsgemet (photo: ACVU-HBS).

At Heeten, horse and cattle burials were related to enclosure ditches by orientation and proximity. A burial of a red deer was located just outside the enclosure and therefore associated with the natural world outside the settlement (Lauwerier et al. 1999, 180-181, 186). Two animal burials are interpreted as having marked the entrance to the settlement; the others are seen as site sacrifices, demarcating or confirming the enclosure of the settlement. A similar interpretation is given for two complete pots in a pit in the south-western corner of the enclosure (Lauwerier et al. 1999, 186).

A region where animal deposits have also been linked with enclosures is Midden-Delfland. Animal burials were often present at the boundaries of settlement space. A revealing result of the excavation methods of the large-scale research in this area – ditches were followed into the surrounding land and complete field systems could thus be reconstructed – is that special deposits also occur in isolated locations. Three cattle burials were found in the middle of a field system. A cluster of pits containing several special animal deposits was located between two settlements (Van Londen 2006, 70, 85, 131). At Geldermalsen a skull-and-lower-legs deposit was also found in a field ditch outside the settlement.

Coin finds from Geldermalsen can also be related to enclosure ditches, with a concentration of coins found in the western corner of the settlement enclosure and a high number of coins deposited on one side of the entrance to the settlement (Aarts 2009, 293, 296). While coins may have a higher chance of being lost along roads and at settlement entrances, this does not explain their concentration on one side and near absence on the other side of the entrance. Entering or leaving the settlement was clearly associated with ritual practices. Apart from coins and animal deposits, complete pots are also found in ditches at Geldermalen (Van Kerckhove 2009, 183). A complete coarse ware pot was also found in the main ditch of a field system in Midden-Delfland site 01.23, opposite the farmhouse, and interpreted as a ritual deposit (Van Londen 2006, 36).

7.7 Combination of animal remains with other finds

In some deposits animal remains are buried with other finds, such as metal objects and pottery. Two complete bronze brooches were found with a horse burial at Tiel-PH. Their location and the fact that the brooches were intact and closed suggest that the horse was covered by a piece of cloth which was fastened by the brooches. A parallel is known from Oosterhout, where dismembered parts of a horse seem to have been wrapped in a cloth held together by a brooch (Van den Broeke 2002, 16; 2004, 8). Another remarkable deposit from Tiel-PH is that of a horse skull, a complete crow and an iron knife, all buried in a pit (fig. 25). In a settlement at Beuningen a large 7-year-old male horse was buried with its head gear. This burial was explained as a possible offering to the gods from a grateful veteran soldier (Van der Kamp & Polak 2001, 23, 25). At Den Haag-Wateringseveld a horse burial was associated with a large fragment of a quern stone (Nieweg 2009, 307-308; fig. 26). Two deposits of combinations of horse remains and other finds are known for the Roman period in Midden-Delfland where the hind legs of a foal were deposited with an unbaked axe-shaped clay object and, at another location, the hind legs of a horse were associated with several wooden pegs (Van Londen 2006, 131, 150).


Fig. 25 Impression of special animal deposit of a horse’s head buried with a crow and an iron knife, Tiel-Passewaaijse Hogeweg (illustration: Mikko Kriek, ACVU-HBS).


Fig. 26 Horse buried with a large fragment of a quern, Den Haag-Wateringseveld (photo: Gemeente Den Haag, Afdeling Archeologie).

In Tiel-PH there are two known examples of dogs found associated with pottery. One dog was placed on top of the bottom of a vessel that was already broken and incomplete when it was buried; the dog was not placed inside it (fig. 27). Although the dog’s head and feet were missing, the presence of a single phalanx and damage to the lower tibias make it likely that these parts were accidentally removed during excavation. A second dog was found close to the first one. Another association of a dog with pottery is known from Tiel-PH, but in this case the dog was lying partly on top and partly next to some large sherds (fig. 28). Again, a second dog was buried close to the first; both were buried in house ditches.


Fig. 27 Dog buried on the bottom half of a vessel. Tiel-Passewaaijse Hogeweg (photo: ACVU-HBS).


Fig. 28 Dog buried with large sherds of pottery at Tiel-Passewaaijse Hogeweg (photo: ACVU-HBS).

Dogs buried with pots are also known outside the Dutch river area. In Midden-Delfland site 01.23 a dog skeleton was deposited in a ditch next to a partial Belgic ware pot (Van Londen 2006, 40, 43). The otherwise clean ditch and scattered bones were seen as indications that this was a ritual deposit in a ditch that was carrying water. In another site in this area, the skull and forelegs of a young dog were deposited in a pit in the southwestern corner of the main settlement area together with a partial native ware pot (Van Londen 2006, 119). In the terp De Leege Wier at Englum, Groningen, dog remains were found under a pot that was placed upside down (Nieuwhof 2007, 222-223; Prummel 2007, 152-153). The remains probably represent a dog skin since only skull, feet and tail were recovered, together with three ceramic game counters. A second pot contained an intriguing mix of pottery, animal bones, stone, manure and part of a dog coprolite. The two pots were found in a long pit or ditch dating to the 1st century AD. A similar feature, dated to the 1st century AD and with a similar orientation, was located close to this pit or ditch, suggesting an approximate contemporaneity. In it remains of a cod were deposited between sherds of three pots, possibly complete when buried (Nieuwhof 2007, 226-227). The cod was not complete, only the middle (meatiest?) section was present. A single cod fragment was also present in the feature with the dog skin and two pots. Cod was not found in other features (Prummel 2007, 153).

At Heeten, the head and three lower limbs of cattle were found in a posthole together with a large fragment of a pot (Lauwerier 1999, 186). In Midden-Delfland a complete coarse ware pot in the deposits of a muddy pool close to a farmhouse contained the remains of three geese (Van Londen 2006, 144). Only the bones carrying flesh were present (Groot 1998). This could be seen as a pot of food or food remains. A comparable find is published for Schagen-Muggenburg I, where the remains of a lamb were deposited in the base of a broken pot. It shows the active collecting of consumption waste and the secondary use of a broken pot (Therkorn 2004, 36).

An Early Roman concentration of sheep bones (skull and at least three legs) from Geldermalsen was located close to a deposit of three loomweights. Although it is not certain whether the two pits are associated, it is tempting to link the deposits in view of the relation between species (sheep) and object (processing wool). The find of an articulated horse leg in a ditch at Geldermalsen, close to other finds including burned cereals, brooches and two pots must also be mentioned here. Human remains were not found as special deposits at Tiel-PH, but at Geldermalsen a dog skeleton was deposited close to a human skull.

An association between an animal deposit and other finds is rare for any site but the resemblance between some of the deposits is striking. The presence of other finds in or near special animal deposits points to the selection of both animal and object and to deliberate burial.