Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 3-1 (November 2011)R.J. van Zoolingen: Rural cult places in the civitas Cananefatium

7 Singular structured depositions and other offering sites

Rectangular and U-shaped structures are not the only ritual contexts in a rural setting. Singular depositions are also found. Whereas the cult places were designed to function over a period of time, these depositions were obviously not. Foundation deposits for instance are the result of a single act. The potential resemblance between singular depositions and cult places lies in the associated material culture. Foundation deposits often include pottery (Gerritsen 2003, 63-66), most commonly hand-shaped wares, sometimes even miniatures (fig. 12). Some examples in the study area are those at The Hague-Jan Willem Frisolaan (Waasdorp 1995, 374), The Hague-Hoge Veld (Siemons & Lanzing 2009, 79) and Schipluiden-Harnaschpolder (south) (Goossens 2006b, 191).


Figure 12 Miniature hand-shaped pots found as foundation deposits at The Hague-Hoge Veld; scale 1:2 (after Siemons & Lanzing 2009, fig. 6.15).

Other forms of ritual depositions, for instance in pits or wells, reveal a greater diversity of materials and objects. Features containing complete or partial animal skeletons are regularly found during excavations (Groot 2009). A well at Katwijk-Zanderij yielded four bovine skulls and a large fragment of a grinding stone (Van der Velde 2008, 69). This deposition is interpreted as an abandonment rite. Next to the foundation deposit of The Hague-Jan Willem Frisolaan a pit contained the skull and legs of a horse. Multiple (sometimes incomplete) animal skeletons of horses, oxen, sheep and dogs were found at the Hoge Veld in The Hague (Nieweg 2009, 307-311). In the northern settlement of Schipluiden-Harnaschpolder, a pit containing the skull of a horse was found aligned with a nearby post configuration (Goossens 2006a, 115). A final example comes from another settlement in the Harnaschpolder, where the skull and some bones of at least one dog together with a fragment of wheel-thrown Low Lands ware pottery were found at the bottom of a pit. This deposition stands out as the pit was completely filled with the extraordinary number of 79 loom-weights (Bakx & Jongma 2009) (fig. 13). All weights were hand-shaped, though of four different types. Based on the excavation level the pit seems to have been dug relatively late. Conclusive interpretations are currently not possible since the excavation reports are in preparation.


Figure 13 Concentration of 79 hand-shaped loom weights from Schipluiden-Harnaschpolder (photograph: Erfgoed Delft).

The deposition of a skull and lower leg of a cow at the indigenous Roman settlement of Poeldijk-Westhof (Groot 2007b, 86) is remarkable because of the surrounding context of other depositions. One of the excavated features is a small square shaped area enclosed by ditches and pits (Blom & Van der Feijst 2007, structure GS1, 29) (fig. 14A). The area measured 7 by 8 m and lay parallel to a farmstead to the northeast. The bottom part of a dolium was found in situ at the north end of the easternmost ditch. Six big lumps of rust were unearthed directly next to it, weighing approximately 8 kilograms in total (Blom & Van der Feijst 2007, 61-62). X-ray photography revealed folded metal bands in some of the lumps. These bands can be interpreted as bucket or barrel hoops. Another possibility is that the bands had been part of a lorica segmentata (plate armour). Several types of tools are also recognizable on the X-ray photographs, some of which originally had wooden handles. Other finds from the enclosed area include some glass fragments, hand-shaped pottery, wheel-thrown Low Lands and colour-coated ware (fabric C). The pottery dates the structure to the second half of the 2nd century AD.


Figure 14 Schematic plan of sites Poeldijk-Westhof and Schiedam-Polderweg (after Blom en Van der Feijst 2007, fig. 4.12; Van Londen 1996, fig. 5).

Although it is uncertain whether the deposited metal at Poeldijk-Westhof belonged to plate armour, the ritual deposition of military objects would not be exceptional. Such objects are frequently part of ritual depositions at rural sites in the Batavian area and are related to veterans of the Roman army (Nicolay 2007, 181 ff.; Vos 2009, 196-203). An interesting parallel comes from the rural settlement of Houten-Hofstad (site 16), where fragments of plate armour were found in association with cheek covers of seven helmets (Vos 2009, 160-162). The careful arrangement of the objects indicates a ritual deposition. The offering of militaria is however not unique to the civitas Batavorum. For example, large numbers of weaponry, coins and fibulae were collected from an offering site at Velserbroek (site B6; Bosman 1992, Bosman 1993; Therkorn 2004, 107-117). This site is situated on a sand ridge in a swamp, close to the Roman fort at Velsen. The site shows strong parallels with Schiedam-Polderweg, a rural settlement located along a creek, dated to the 1st and 2nd centuries AD (Van Londen 1996). A path of branches and trunks ran from the settlement along the creek, towards an offering site characterized by deposition in the creek (fig. 14B). The remarkable concentration of finds comprises militaria, imported pottery and various metal finds, such as a compasses and several axes (Van Londen 1996, 17-21). An arc of four posts was erected to the west of the offering site. Besides the creek itself, this structure could have formed a physical boundary between the bringers and receivers of the sacrifice. The material culture indicates that the inhabitants were in contact with the Roman army, which is confirmed by the presence of construction materials such as window glass and a bone pin with inscription militis.

If we consider the idea of depositions being the result of an act that is broadly related to the religious practices associated with rectangular and U-shaped structures, a major difference contradicting the assumption is the arrangement of features. Apart from the offering site at Schiedam, all depositions mentioned above lack a fixed outline, indicating the singular nature of the act. In contrast, the rectangular and U-shaped structures were meant to be used over a long period of time, with the features transforming the symbolic boundary between the profane and sacred worlds into a permanent physical one. As this difference in arrangement indicates a difference in frequency of worship, the question arises whether this also points to various types of religious acts. For example, variation may lie in the importance of the message sent to the deities. If singular depositions were meant to only obtain a single favour, religious practices within the permanent and more considerately arranged cult places might have aimed at achieving higher goals over a longer period of time. More specifically, the different practices could also point to different uses. Whilst singular depositions could indicate ritualized symbolic activities associated with water, boundaries, changes in occupation, etc., fixed cult places could be related to a more traditional practice of worship.