Little over a century ago, Jan Hendrik Holwerda, then curator of the Dutch department in the National Museum of Antiquities (RMO) in Leiden, spent several years researching prehistoric barrows in the Veluwe area (central Netherlands). During the 1907 campaign Holwerda excavated a barrow west of Vaassen in the vicinity of Niersen. This barrow, G4, covered an exceptional primary grave with human skeletal remains of more than one individual, which were reasonably well-preserved, a rare situation on the Dutch sandy upland. Holwerda consolidated the grave by using plaster and lifting it en bloc. The grave was transported to Leiden where measures were taken to preserve the find. The grave was on display to the public for several years. At some point during the early part of the 20th century, the grave was stored in the museum and has been there ever since.
Recently, the Niersen find has attracted new scientific interest. In 2008 a new NWO-funded research programme started at the Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University. This multidisciplinary programme, titled Ancestral Mounds aims to investigate the role and meaning of barrow landscapes dating from the Late Neolithic to the Middle Bronze Age in the southern and central part of the Netherlands (visit www.grafheuvels.nl). The project, which also involves the National Museum of Antiquities and the State Service for Cultural Heritage (RCE), focuses on the analysis of already excavated and published data on burial mounds in conjunction with new limited fieldwork (Bourgeois 2008). In this respect the Niersen burial is of special interest since it offers the opportunity to re-analyse both the original fieldwork and field data. Hundreds of barrows were excavated in the 20th century, but barrows with good preservation conditions are very rare in most regions where barrows are located. The Niersen burial thus provides insights into what we are missing and offers opportunities for the application of new scientific methods and perspectives. It may eventually become worthwhile to re-trace Holwerda’s initial steps and re-investigate the burial mound itself.
This paper offers a new analysis and interpretation of the Niersen burial based on recent investigations of the excavation data, the burial, the human remains and some associated finds. We firstly present the history of the find and a description of the current state of the burial. Subsequently the results of the physical anthropological examination will be presented and the excavation data will be reviewed.
Fig. 2 The Niersen burial after it was rediscovered and cleaned.