Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 1-2 (November 2009)Quentin Bourgeois; Luc Amkreutz; Raphaël Panhuysen: The Niersen Beaker burial: A renewed study of a century-old excavation
4 A Re-evaluation of the grave and the burial mound

4.7 Dating of the barrow and the burials

In general it can be assumed that the grave dates to the Late Neolithic, the combination of the crouched burial, the east-west orientation of the female and the palisaded trench surrounding the grave are all typical for the Late Neolithic[7] in the region (Lanting & Van der Waals 1976). However, the exact dating of the barrow and its primary grave is proving difficult. No charcoal was preserved in the lifted grave and attempts at radiocarbon dating the skeleton have so far proven futile. There are no inorganic grave gifts. Only a tiny fragment of pottery was found in the fill of the grave. Holwerda claims that it is a fragment of a beaker vessel, but it is so small that nothing can be said of its age, neither of its association with the grave. The quartz-temper and two nail-impressions, however, do not oppose a Late Neolithic date.

Two sherds of a Veluwe Bell beaker were found in the mound, but their exact position is unknown, so their relevance for dating the barrow is limited. They may have been brought up with material used in the construction of the mound and thus give a terminus post quem, or they may have been deposited on top of the already existing barrow and thus deliver a terminus ante quem (cf. Van Giffen’s extensive critique, 1930, 144-154).

The large cremation grave that was dug into the barrow delivers a more reliable terminus ante quem. This practice is dated to the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age. The cremation remains were not preserved and could thus not be directly dated.

The orientation of the grave is no help either, since west-east orientation occurs throughout the Beaker period (e.g. Lanting 2008, 35, 60). The Hocker-position of the crouched inhumation (lying on its side, with the arms in front of the body and the knees drawn up at a right angle to the body) is also typical during the entire Beaker period.

The repositioning of secondary decomposed remains in the same grave is, albeit extremely rare, not unknown. In a Bell Beaker grave at Ottoland-Kromme Elleboog, a skeleton was found with its head orientated to the east and facing south. At the feet of the skeleton, a bundle of longbones belonging to a second individual was found (Louwe Kooijmans 1974, 312). The similarity between both graves is striking. A radiocarbon date of the disarticulated longbones from the Ottoland burial, places it between 2450 and 2140 cal. BC (GrN-6384; 3820±45BP; Louwe Kooijmans 1974, 312). Recently a new radiocarbon date was obtained from the skeleton which can be dated between 2280 – 1955 cal. BC (GrA-15919; Lanting & Van der Plicht 1999/2000, 92). In this case it would thus seem that the disarticulated bones belonged to at least one individual who had died roughly a century before being placed in the grave pit.

Equally rare is the deposition of faunal remains within grave pits, which are rarely well documented. At Emst-Hanendorp tumulus II, Holwerda (1911, 19) discovered the skull of a cow (he interpreted it as a horse, but close inspection of the glass negatives of the photograph of the object, kept at the RMO, reveals the specific dental patterns of a cow; Wentink in prep.). In the grave, an All Over Ornamented beaker was found, together with a smaller beaker, a Grand-Pressigny dagger and several flint flakes, allowing the grave to be dated to the period 2600–2450 BC (Lanting & Van der Plicht 1999/2000, 81). The grave is interesting in its own right, since it is part of the so-called Bell Beaker road (Bakker 1976) on which the barrow of Niersen is also situated. The Emst barrow lies some 3 km to the north of the Niersen barrow.

At Garderen-Solsche Berg, also on the Veluwe, the silhouette of a large mammal (probably a cow) was found in a grave pit under a barrow (Bursch 1933, 69-70). The primary grave was associated with a GP-dagger, a flint axe and amber beads, dating the grave to the second half of the Late Neolithic A. Faunal remains deposited in graves also occur in later Beaker contexts (cf. Zeijen and Molenaarsgraaf; Louwe Kooijmans 1974, 321-323).

Indirect dating evidence comes from parallels in the structure of the grave and the surrounding feature. Reliable parallels for palisaded ditches are found all over the Netherlands, dating to the second half of the Late Neolithic A (cf. Eext, Van Giffen 1939, 6-8) or the earlier half of the Late Neolithic B (e.g. Lunteren-Vlooienpol, Bloemers 1981, 49; Bennekom-Kwade Oord, Van Giffen 1954).

Rectangular large grave pits, with planks lining the edge of the pit, occur in the same period (N=23). Two such graves at Anlo were radiocarbon dated to the Single Grave culture (grave A and E, Waterbolk 1960, Jager 1985, fig. 22). A three-period barrow at Mol (Belgium) had three maritime Bell Beakers in its primary grave. A patch of charcoal on top of the (primary) barrow was dated between 2565 and 2300 cal. BC. Molenaarsgraaf grave I is also a close parallel, but dates several centuries later, between 2130 and 1900 cal. BC (Louwe Kooijmans 1974, 249).

The Niersen grave can thus, on the basis of parallels, be dated to the Late Neolithic. It might be possible to refine this dating range to 2600 till 2200 BC, if we combine the evidence of the surrounding feature, the grave pit, and the parallels for animal burials and secondary depositions. However, this is only a suggestion; direct dating of the grave would of course be preferable. If the conservation conditions permit it, radiocarbon dating of teeth enamel will be attempted in the future.