Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 2-2 (November 2010)Bart Vanmontfort; Marijn Van Gils; Etienne Paulissen; Jan Bastiaens; Marc De Bie; Els Meirsman: Human occupation of the Late and Early Post-Glacial environments in the Liereman Landscape (Campine, Belgium)

6 Discussion

The data currently available in the Liereman Landscape point to an extensive Federmesser occupation that focused on the northeast-southwest oriented wet depression. It is likely that this depression formed part of a wider hydrographic system, playing a major role in people’s orientation and mobility (see De Bie & Van Gils 2009). Most traces of occupation have been observed to the north of this depression, where waste material accumulated on a 3 km long dune ridge. The lateral extension of this site only seems delimited by the geomorphological situation.

Such Final Palaeolithic (and Mesolithic) extensive site complexes on well-drained terrain, often low ridges, bordering former wet depressions with possibly open water are typical for the Campine coversand region. Their size in terms of number of artefacts is most likely the result of repeated visits of hunter-gatherer groups over a period of several centuries and they seem to be the standard rather than an exceptional situation. Returning to the same or different spots at the same preferential location, people gradually littered the entire ridge with the waste of their lithic production, eventually creating a huge site complex. Most probably some of the finds in the wider environment also form part of this settlement pattern, which makes the Liereman Landscape a microregional version of the idea of ‘persistent place’.

Two hypotheses can be formulated to characterise this ‘persistent microregion’ and to interpret the difference between the intensive occupation on the southern ridge and the ephemeral findspots in the wider region. In the first hypothesis, all of these remains reflect similar activities that took place all over the landscape. This makes the relationship between two distinct concentrations on the ridge similar to that between concentrations on and off the ridge. The higher concentration of activities on the southern ridge can in this view be explained by the advantageous conditions of this zone in terms of the particular topographical and ecological conditions and the availability of water.

In the second hypothesis activities deployed on and off the ridge were different. Off-ridge sites could be the remains of particular activity areas in relation to habitation on the southern ridge. Such a hypothesis best fits the idea of nomadic groups travelling within a landscape and orienting themselves on the basis of the hydrographical network. Revisiting the southern ridge along the wet depression would then not be a random act, but one reflecting a clear planning of movement within a familiar landscape. This hypothesis fits with the idea of a high residential mobility in an immediate return economy as for instance defined by Binford (1980; see also Amkreutz 2009).

Interpreting individual locations within this landscape, or even individual scatters on the southern ridge, both in terms of their function and of their precise position within a settlement system can, evidently, only be based on their detailed characterisation by further fieldwork. Palaeo-ecological research on Allerød peat will also provide a better understanding of the changes in the past environment, and the role played by fires and human occupation in these changes (as presumed at Milheeze for these early periods by Bos & Jansen 1996). The Allerød peat also offers excellent opportunities to study the Federmesser material culture if organic archaeological remains may be conserved and buried artefacts can be dated.

Very little information on the ecology of the early Holocene is available. Although the general morphology of the region was not significantly altered by the Younger Dryas aeolian deposits, the continuous presence, nature and extent of the wet depressions is unknown. The presence of numerous artefact scatters within the upper horizons of the Holocene podzol profile, attested in nearly every surveyed zone on the southern ridge, however suggests a similar occupation pattern for at least the Early Mesolithic period. The occupation was possibly interrupted during the major part of the Younger Dryas, for which no occupation in the region has been attested thus far. Whether the pattern persists to the end of the Mesolithic needs to be confirmed by further fieldwork. In any case, aside from clear evidence for Final Palaeolithic and Mesolithic occupation at the same locations, intermittent occupation continued over thousands of years in the same preferred zones in the Liereman Landscape during both the Allerød and the Early Holocene (Van Gils & de Bie 2008; De Bie & Van Gils 2009).