Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 1-1 (May 2009)Wouter van der Meer: Harvesting underwater meadows, use of eelgrass (Zostera spp.) as indicated by the Dutch archaeological record.

8 Conclusion

Recent history shows that eelgrass was of some value to small coastal communities, providing them with an easily collectable vegetable resource that served different purposes in construction and agriculture. Contrary to many other natural resources, collecting drifting eelgrass had a minimal impact on ecosystems important to human society. Even though earlier use is very likely, archaeological finds can only trace the use of eelgrass in the Netherlands as far back as the Early Middle Ages. One cannot argue from the absence of evidence, but it is possible that before the Early Middle Ages the ecologic requirements for eelgrass to flourish were not yet present in the Netherlands. The first real evidence for the processing of eelgrass comes from the High and/or Late Middle Ages, when it was apparently burned for mineral extraction, most likely its salt. At this time eelgrass could potentially be used to create a marketable commodity, but one of probably low quality and value. From the High Middle Ages onward its greatest value for the Dutch would be as a material for dike reinforcement. Suddenly eelgrass would be in great demand, probably stimulating the development of a sideline industry for fishing villages and other coastline communities. Even after eelgrass ceased to be used in dike construction, after the early 18th century, the industry continued when new applications were sought and found in connection with furniture making. When the eelgrass all but disappeared from the Dutch coast, the industry went with it. Excluding the fairly late large-scale application of eelgrass in dikes and, afterwards, furniture making, other uses of this plant remained very localized, finds being restricted to those areas where it occurred naturally. Its name seems to reflect the purposes it was used for. Like true sea algae, it was collected for manure, mulch or as a source of minerals, while on the other hand it could replace real grasses for thatching, cattle fodder or bedding for livestock.