Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 4-2 (April 2013)Martijn van Haasteren; Maaike Groot: The biography of wells: a functional and ritual life history
5. Rituals surrounding the life of a well

5.2 Taking the well into use

Deposits on the bottom of a well could indicate the moment when the well is taken into use. It seems no coincidence that such offerings would consist of pots (fig. 9). Although some of the pots could have been used for drawing water, Kok believes that the large number of pots found in wells and the combination with other materials is evidence for offerings (Kok 2008, 176-179). Gerritsen also describes the use of pots as offerings, although not in wells but in houses, where complete ceramic containers are the most common building offering (Gerritsen 2003, 74, 95-98). Gerritsen believes that the pots contained fluids or food, and names an example of a pot with barley found in a wall ditch of a house. A similar deposit was found at the bottom of a well in Castricum (Sier 1999, 67). The fact that some of the pots were useless as water containers is another argument for a non-functional interpretation. Just as there is a relationship between offer and occasion for the marking of the construction, in the same way the taking into use of the well is marked by an obvious offering of a container, either for drawing water or holding food.

Other objects may also have played a role in rituals marking the taking into use of wells. The category of ‘animated materials’ is important in this respect. Bradley believes that animated materials were used in deposits in new houses to give life to the house (Bradley 2005, 52). Something similar may have taken place with wells. A deposit of ´living material’ on the bottom of a well may have given life to the well. Fresh animal bones (or animal parts) are not a good choice for such offers, since they will rot and contaminate the water supply. For house offerings, this problem did not occur (Bradley 2005, 52; Gerritsen 2003, 74). Unlike animal parts, plant materials were suitable for giving life to wells, and deposits of cereals, nuts and seeds have been found. Another example is the deposit of medicinal plants. According to Van der Meer, one of the three plants, St John’s wort, represents the blood of the god Wodan to the Germans (Van der Meer 2008, 9; De Cleene & Lejeune 2000, 983-984).

Apart from plants, larger pieces of (unworked) wood may have been offered in the same spirit. In a Late Iron Age well in Oss-Ussen a long oak plank was found. It was carved in the shape of a stylised anthropomorphic figure and is seen as a tutelary deity of water. The statue rested against a large pointed wooden beam that was driven through the bottom of the well (Schinkel 1998, 139; Van der Sanden 1986, 73-78). Kok points out as well that not only certain plants, but also certain species of wood such as oak and alder were associated with gods and blood (Kok 2008, 166-169). The above mentioned ‘flow stakes’ can be seen in this respect as well. The doubts about their practical function and the above mentioned find of a deity statue with a flow stake strengthen a ritual interpretation.