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.

1. Introduction

The coastal area of the northern Netherlands, the terp region,[1] has a long occupation history, starting in the middle pre-Roman Iron Age (fig. 1). Occupation is, however, not continuous over the ages. There are indications that habitation of many of the artificial dwelling mounds of the area (the terps) came to an end in the course of the 3rd century AD and that the area, at least the Frisian terp area, was virtually deserted in the 4th century. This hypothesis is largely based on the absence of finds and features from this period, as well as on significant changes in the material culture, settlement structure and burial ritual after this period (Bazelmans 2002; Nieuwhof 2011; Knol 2011). New inhabitants are thought to have arrived in the 5th century. Their material culture resembles the material culture that is common in the coastal areas of northwestern Germany and Schleswig-Holstein, which are usually considered the homelands of the Saxons and the Angles. The supposed immigrants of the 5th century AD in the northern Netherlands are therefore usually called Anglo-Saxons, their material culture ‘Anglo-Saxon’. They are believed to have come to our coastal area as part of the Anglo-Saxon migrations, most of which ended on the British coast.


Figure 1 Palaeogeographical map of the northern Netherlands around AD 800. Location of places (not necessarily inhabited around AD 800) mentioned in the text: 1: Ezinge; 2: Englum; 3: Wierum; 4: Paddepoel; 5: Heveskesklooster; 6: Eelde; 7: Midlaren; 8: Jelsum; 9: Leeuwarden: 10: Wijnaldum. (After Vos & Knol 2005).

This view is not generally accepted in all its details. Within the discussion, two areas of attention can be distinguished. In the first place, there are many uncertainties concerning the occupation history at the end of the Roman Iron Age. Was the area really abandoned, or can we just not recognize human presence in this period because of our limited knowledge of the material culture? Can we date the occupation hiatus? Were the northern Netherlands entirely abandoned or do regional differences occur? And what caused the abandonment of the area?

In the second place, the problem of ethnic identity is at stake. Although the material culture of the inhabitants of the 5th century is clearly related to the material culture of the home areas of the Angles and Saxons, it may be oversimplifying the matter to just call them Anglo-Saxons. The identity of the inhabitants before the hiatus is not entirely clear either. Can they all be considered Frisians, as is customary, or are there differences between areas in the present provinces of Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe? Is it possible at all to say something about their ethnic identity on the basis of their material culture?

In the discussion, arguments from both areas of attention are usually mingled. For example, in their recent critique on the above general model, Lanting and Van der Plicht (2010, 29; 130-131) state that not Anglo-Saxons but people from Groningen and Drenthe who had not left the area, reoccupied the abandoned terps of Friesland. Their alternative view is a sign that the occupation history of the coastal area of the northern Netherlands is still largely unknown. The few data we have can be interpreted in different ways.

New data have recently become available thanks to the Odyssee-programme of the Netherlands Organisation of Scientific Research (NWO), which in 2011 enabled full study of the find material from the terp of Ezinge in the province of Groningen, in particular the large assemblage of handmade pottery.[2] This paper aims at answering some of the above questions on the basis of the results from the research of the Ezinge pottery and of a comparison of this material with the pottery from two contemporaneous settlements, notably the northern-Drenthe settlement of Midlaren-De Bloemert (Nieuwhof 2008a) and the Feddersen Wierde on the coast of Niedersachsen (Schmid 2006).