Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 1-1 (May 2009)Leendert P. Louwe Kooijmans: The agency factor in the process of Neolithisation – a Dutch case study1
5 The settlement system

5.4 Structure and agency

It would seem that we may regard Wateringen, Ypenburg and Schipluiden as representing varying local expressions of a single settlement form. On the basis of Schipluiden we assume that the local community consisted of a number of cooperating households that chose to settle on the dunes in the beach plain. On the large dune of Ypenburg there was enough space for 3-4 clearly distinct yards. We assume that Wateringen was not an isolated settlement, but that the small dunes in that area led to the establishment of separate farmsteads on the individual dunes. The occurrence of house remains, the ranges of artefacts and the (semi-)agricultural subsistence system together allow little room for doubt concerning the permanent character of the settlements for a period of more than one house generation. So in this respect they are purely Neolithic and comparable with what is known from other countries (the British Isles, Denmark) from this period (Darvill & Thomas 1996; Grogan 2004).

Schipluiden clearly presents a different picture. Here, four or five households settled at a site that did not afford the same amount of room as was used at the other sites. Why this site’s occupants made this choice is not clear, especially as there was a much larger dune immediately to the north of the site that was only extensively used. From the Rijswijk-Hoekpolder site we however know that the territory of another group lay only a short distance away. So maybe the occupants of Schipluiden did not have that much choice after all. Whatever the case, the Schipluiden group developed a much greater collectivity than the other two groups. In the first occupation phases the sources of freshwater for the entire community were concentrated in one area on the northwest side of the dune. Later, in the two last phases, the entire settlement was enclosed by a fence, which was kept up. This upkeep was clearly a collective action of the entire community. In the context of the tentative Neolithisation of the plain to the north of the loess belt this is quite remarkable. It represents the physical isolation of a domestic space from its surroundings, carried out by a collective group, and not an individual household. The fence most probably had a practical function, for example to keep the livestock out of the settlement, and its erection may also have been partly prompted by the wetter conditions in the site’s surroundings and the occupants’ and animals’ competition for the scarce dry areas. Nevertheless I do not believe that we may assume that the people were forced to make this effort by the local conditions. The decision to enclose the settlement in this way was a primary choice, made by the occupants themselves. In this respect Schipluiden is more Neolithic than the other two sites. This is also reflected by the permanence of occupation at the same site, from the very beginning until further occupation became impossible because the site’s surroundings changed into a peat bog and the dune was swallowed by the expanding bog. Abandoning a settlement meant relinquishing all the investments made in the site, breaking an ancestral tradition and in the long term possibly surrendering the territory. That was a consequence that the people who chose to live in such a dynamic landscape had possibly not foreseen.