Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 4-2 (April 2013)Annet Nieuwhof: Anglo-Saxon immigration or continuity? Ezinge and the coastal area of the northern Netherlands in the Migration Period.
6. Discussion

6.2 Habitation during the 4th century

The numerous pottery finds, the continuous development of pottery and the associations of 4th and 5th century pottery with older and younger types indicate that in Ezinge, habitation was continuous from the Roman Iron Age into the early Middle Ages. The introduction of pottery in Anglo-Saxon style is clearly not to be taken as evidence of immigration by Anglo-Saxons. The question arises whether this conclusion is compatible with the observation by Van Giffen (1936) that the settlement of the Migration Period was built on a burnt layer, which was taken by him and by Boeles (1951) as an indication that invading Anglo-Saxons had burnt the preceding village down and then took it over. As we have seen, this argument played an important part in the discussion on the events at the end of the Roman Iron Age in the terp region. The Odyssee-project, which was the incentive for this article, was only meant to study the find material and did not allow of a thorough investigation of the field drawings. De Langen and Waterbolk (1989, 104) already noted that the Anglo-Saxon village, as published by Van Giffen, in reality never had existed. All features were projected by him on one level, without taking the considerable differences in height into account. That in itself already questions the traditional interpretation of the burnt layer as evidence of an Anglo-Saxon take-over.

The small inland settlement of Midlaren-De Bloemert was also inhabited continuously during the 4th and 5th centuries. Even clearer than in Ezinge, a continuous development of pottery style, including the gradual adoption of Anglo-Saxon style decoration, can be traced there. The third settlement, the Feddersen Wierde, was inhabited continuously from the 1st century BC onwards, as can be inferred from unbroken series of settlement phases and continuous pottery development, as well as from the large number of finds from all periods. There, habitation came to an end in the course of the 5th century.

These three settlements were not isolated. They were situated in densely populated areas, especially the coastal terp settlements. If we want to learn more about the occupation history of different areas, finds from other settlements will have to be considered as well.

In northwestern Germany, the Feddersen Wierde is one of many terp settlements. The German terps were not quarried and levelled as many in the northern Netherlands were. The informative, large corpus of finds from the destructive quarrying phase and the overview of habitation history that it provides, is therefore missing in northwestern Germany. The number of excavated settlements is relatively small, as it is in the Netherlands. From the excavation results, a somewhat different picture arises. There is no evidence for discontinuity during the 4th century in northwestern-Germany, except perhaps for some terps in the Krummhörn, the salt marsh area east of the Ems estuary (Knol 1993, 19). Some areas were possibly abandoned in later periods, but there are considerable regional differences and presumed discontinuity may well be due to a Forschungslücke (Bärenfänger 2001, 296).

In the province of Groningen, a number of pots from the 4th century (types Gr. K7 and G7, Taayke 1996, III) is known from some quarried terps, indicating continuous habitation of these settlements. Only a small number of terp excavations have been carried out in this province. Ezinge is the only excavated settlement for which continuous habitation can be demonstrated on the basis of pottery types, continuous typological development and a sufficient number of finds. Another terp that was possibly inhabited during the 4th century is the small settlement of Heveskesklooster in the eastern part of Groningen, near the coast of the Ems estuary. It was excavated between 1982 and 1988. Boersma (1988, 74-76) assumes that Heveskesklooster was inhabited in the 4th century AD, on the basis of a pot from this period found in a well. This provisional conclusion still waits to be confirmed by the results of full pottery research.

The very small number of finds from the 4th century in the terp region of Groningen indicates that this region did not remain as densely populated as it was in the Roman Iron Age. Many settlements were abandoned there in the course of the 3rd or the early 4th century and were only reoccupied on a small scale in the 5th century. The pottery assemblages and excavation results from the terps of Englum and Wierum (Nieuwhof 2008b; Nieuwhof et al. 2006) may serve as evidence. In Englum, the number of pottery individuals from the 3rd century is small compared to earlier habitation periods. There are no 4th century finds, and only ten sherds in Anglo-Saxon style. Habitation must have come to an end in the 3rd century; the terp was reoccupied in the 5th century, but only on a small scale. In the excavated part of the terp of Wierum, layers from the early Middle Ages directly cover layers from the middle Roman Iron Age. The excavation produced only one sherd in Anglo-Saxon style, which can be added to only three more, found during quarrying (Miedema 1983, Type XA). The ‘frustrated terps’ of Paddepoel in Groningen, excavated by Van Es (1970), were abandoned in the course of the 3rd century, after which they were silted over. Unlike Ezinge, Englum and Wierum, the Paddepoel terps were only small and not reoccupied later.

Midlaren-De Bloemert is one of a series of settlements with continuous habitation in the Pleistocene sand region of northern Drenthe, where Taayke identified 21 sites with pottery from the 4th and 5th centuries. Pottery from the middle Roman Iron Age was found in many of them. Moreover, pottery in Anglo-Saxon style was usually combined with indigenous types (Taayke 1996, II, 77-78). It may be concluded that habitation was continuous in this period in northern Drenthe. A recently excavated settlement in this area is Eelde-Groote Veen, which was inhabited during the middle Roman Iron Age. From the number of K4- and G7-sherds and a very small number of associated sherds in Anglo-Saxon style, it can be concluded that habitation came to an end around AD 400.[15] Taayke argued for a change in settlement locations in this area around AD 500 (ibid.).

The Frisian coastal area was virtually empty as from the early or middle 4th century (the latter date is argued by Lanting & Van der Plicht 2010, 76). In the eastern part of the present province of Friesland, Oostergo, the number of pottery finds that can be dated to the end of the 3rd century is only 20% of that from the previous period (Taayke 1996, IV, 140). There is a dramatic decrease in the number of inhabited terps in this period. The terp of Leeuwarden-Oldehoofsterkerkhof, for instance, was abandoned no later than AD 300 (Dijkstra, Gerrets & Nicolay 2008, 317). A continuous development in pottery style cannot be established for Oostergo. Pottery finds dated to the 4th century are exceptional. A very small number of terps may, however, have been continuously inhabitated. One of them is Jelsum, which was excavated in 1981 and again in 2010.[16] During both excavations, a very small number of pottery finds from the late Roman Iron Age and the Migration Period were found; finds from both periods were possibly associated.[17]

There is no evidence of continuous habitation in the 4th century in the western part of Friesland, Westergo. Many terps were already abandoned in the 3rd century (Knol 1993, 19). The large archaeological collections of the Fries Museum and the Noordelijk Archeologisch Depot in Nuis do not include finds from the 4th century from this area. The terp Tjitsma near Wijnaldum, excavated between 1991 and 1993, was uninhabited between ca AD 325 and 425 (Gerrets & De Koning 1999). More recent excavations[18] did not produce any 4th century finds either. It may be concluded that Westergo was deserted in the 4th century.

We do not know where the emigrants went after they left the terp region. An increase of settlements has not been observed elsewhere. Driesum-style pottery has not been found in other parts of the Netherlands, but it has been found in Zele in Belgian Flanders. This very well fits the hypothesis that part of the Franks, who during the 4th century were moving south, were migrants from the northern Netherlands (De Clerq & Taayke 2004). That does not necessarily imply that the entire population went south. Part of the migrants, especially from the Groningen region, may well have stayed in their own cultural and social environment, moving only a short distance to the east. Since they shared the same material culture, these migrants were not recognisable as separate groups.