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

10 Retrospective

The above was an exercise to break the common archaeological custom of defining monolithic cultures bottom up, with the sites being taken as the constituent elements, by instead approaching things from the opposite direction and searching for differences between sites that resemble one another in many other respects – in age and culture, in landscape setting and function – in order to obtain an understanding of the degree of freedom of action of the local communities. This we have been able to do thanks to the high quality of the evidence obtained in Delfland. The aspects that the individual sites have in common reflect the structure of the regional society, while the differences between the sites show the local communities’ practices, the choices they made to suit their needs.

In structural terms the community coincided with the transition from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic, what is known as the ‘substitution phase’, a period of change that covered a long time – many centuries – in the Low Countries. Those changes are clearly observable in many aspects of the society. The individual contemporary sites – which had all reached the same stage in the Neolithisation process – however differ from one another in important social aspects, the differences being quite substantial in some cases. To a point, the people followed their own course in the Neolithisation process. The settlements vary from compact, collective and site-bound to mobile and open. As far as subsistence is concerned, one group (Rijswijk) had by this stage abandoned hunting and fishing, and in the other we observe site-bound preferences – not so much in the basic subsistence system as in the hunting of furbearing animals and birds and in fishing. Widely differing choices were made in the treatment of the dead, too. Other social aspects (deposition, material culture) show more subtle differences, in particular concerning the sources of uncommon mineral raw materials.

An approach as adopted above may prove fruitful in other regions with a rich archaeological record. The past few years, for example, the former ‘uniform interpretation’ of the LBK has given way to a new approach in which the emphasis is on the diversity observable at all levels, from Europe as a whole to within the southern part of the Dutch province of Limburg (Modderman 1988; Amkreutz 2006; Van Wijk & Van de Velde 2007). Now that the cultural construction work has been more or less completed, it is interesting to shift our focus to the pluriformity of the communities behind the ‘cultures’ we have defined in order to obtain a better understanding of the people who formed part of them. This study of Delfland around 3500 BC is a finger exercise in this respect.