Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 1-1 (May 2009)E. Smits; J. van der Plicht: Mesolithic and Neolithic human remains in the Netherlands: physical anthropological and stable isotope investigations
3 Background: Mesolithic and Neolithic sites in the Lower Rhine basin (c. 5500-3500 cal BC)

3.1 Late Mesolithic sites

From the Late Mesolithic the most important sites are both sites at Hardinxveld-Giessendam: Polderweg (5450-5050 BC.) and De Bruin (5250-4500 BC, Louwe Kooijmans 2001a, 2001b; Mol & van Zijverden 2007). The sites are located on river dunes that were, at least in their first phase, occupied in winter. Apart from profuse habitation remains, several graves and isolated scattered human bones were recovered, in total representing 19 individuals. At Polderweg one complete and one disturbed grave were excavated. The complete grave held the skeletal remains of an elderly woman, the oldest known skeleton from the Netherlands. She was buried on the back with stretched limbs. Some tiny pieces of red ochre were also recovered from the grave pit as well. At the site of De Bruin one of the graves contained the bones of a man from which an originally sitting position could be deducted. An interesting observation is a healed depression fracture on the right parietal bone of the skull (fig. 2). The size and shape indicates a blunt force trauma with a longitudinal object like a club. A third grave had been disturbed in ancient times leaving only the upper half of the skeleton. It belonged to a man who had been buried in a supine position just like the Polderweg woman. From the graves with the skeletal remains of the male individuals no grave goods were recovered.


Fig. 2 Hardinxveld-De Bruin, burial 2, skull of an adult man with healed depression fracture on the right parietal bone, Late Mesolithic (after Louwe Kooijmans & Smits 2001)

The physical anthropological study of the human skeletal remains indicate the presence of men, women and children which show the occupation of both sites by family groups (Smits & Louwe Kooijmans 2001; Louwe Kooijmans & Smits 2001). This finding supports the archaeological evidence concerning the varied toolkit, the long occupation period and the presence of formal burials, which typify these sites as base camps (Louwe Kooijmans 2001a, 2001b).

At Mariënberg an extensive complex of Middle and Late Mesolithic hearth pits was excavated, together with some Beaker burial pits. A group of six Mesolithic pits, indirectly dated to c. 5100 cal BC., were interpreted by the excavator as grave pits, in view of the presence of red ochre colouring of the pit fills and some specific objects, especially so-called arrow shaft polishers. The deceased would have been buried in a sitting position (Verlinde 2005; Verlinde & Newell 2006). This interpretation is disputable, mainly because no human remains were preserved (Louwe Kooijmans in press).

Two sites yielded a few cremated remains in a settlement context; these are Dalfsen (Verlinde 1974) and Oirschot (Arts & Hoogland 1987). The interpretation of the remains at Late Mesolithic Dalfsen is unclear, as only a few calcinated bones were recovered from the fills of some domestic pits. At Oirschot a distinct concentration of cremation remains of one subadult individual, 10-13 years of age, were found, associated with a small pit and a small flint scatter. The complex is dated to the Middle Mesolithic on the basis of microlith typology and several 14C dates, one from the cremated bone itself (GrA-13390 8320 ± 40 BP, Lanting 2001).