Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 1-2 (November 2009)Maaike Groot: Searching for patterns among special animal deposits in the Dutch river area during the Roman period
7 Recognising patterns

7.4 Animal deposits in farmhouses and house ditches

In some cases there is a clear association between a special animal deposit and a farmhouse. A cattle skull was found in a ditch surrounding a Late Roman house at Tiel-PH. This complete skull does not seem to have been thrown in the ditch, but was positioned so that it looked toward the house (fig. 19). The ditch also contained animal bone refuse. Just outside the other Late Roman house, a horse skull-and-lower-legs deposit was found. A ditch surrounding an earlier house contained two dog burials, one of which was associated with large pottery sherds (see below; fig. 20). Deposits of a concentration of horse bones and a dog skull were located close to two other houses from the same period. A single lower leg of a horse was found in the ditch of an Early Roman house. Another find in a house ditch from this period is a deposit of articulated remains of sheep. It is unlikely that the deposit represents rubbish since no other bone refuse was found in the ditch. A large quantity of pottery was found nearby. This kind of refuse has been connected with abandonment rituals (Gerritsen 2003, 97). A combination deposit of a complete sheep and a calf’s head (see below) was located close to a farmhouse. Figure 21 shows the distribution of special animal deposits in phase 2 at Tiel-PH. The three special deposits that are interpreted as ritual are all associated with houses. The only deposit from Geldermalsen that could be directly associated with a farmhouse is that of a concentration of horse ribs. Butchery marks on the ribs indicate that these are consumption waste. This, however, does not imply that the deposit could not have been meaningful.


Fig. 19 Cattle skull found in a house ditch at Tiel-Passewaaijse Hogeweg (illustration: Jan van Renswoude, ACVU-HBS).


Fig. 20 Plan of a farmhouse with two dog burials in the surrounding ditch. Tiel-Passewaaijse Hogeweg (illustration: Jan van Renswoude, ACVU-HBS).


Fig. 21 Distribution of special animal deposits and their interpretation for phase 2, Tiel-Passewaaijse Hogeweg (illustration: Stijn Heeren and Bert Brouwenstijn, ACVU).

An example from another site in the Dutch river area is the settlement of Druten, where four pits containing complete or partial horse skeletons were found associated with late 1st-century farmhouses (Lauwerier 1988, 104-105). Two of the pits were located next to the entrance of a house. Only one of the horses was complete. One of the skeletons was missing all lower limbs, another both forelegs and the left lower hind leg, and of the last animal, only the back half was present (with the left hind lower leg missing). It is not entirely certain whether these parts were lost due to bad preservation or were removed intentionally, for instance for bone-working (Lauwerier 1988, 107). A dog at Tiel-Bedrijvenpark (Medel site 6) was buried in a pit next to an Early Roman house ditch (Groot 2005, 63).

Animal burials are also associated with houses outside the Dutch river area. In an Iron Age site at Ezinge, the skulls of a horse, cow and dog were found next to the outer wall of a farmhouse. This find was interpreted as a foundation deposit (Van Giffen 1963, 246-248). In Wijster (Drenthe) burials of horses and cattle could be linked to houses and granaries. Preservation was not good at this site, so there is very little information on the burials (Van Es 1967, 114-117, 371, 374, 376). A cattle burial was also related to a house at Heeten (province of Overijssel; Lauwerier et al. 1999, 180). At Schagen-Muggenburg I and Midden-Delfland site 01.17 dogs were buried close to farmhouses (Therkorn 2004, 24; Van Londen 2006, 27). At Schagen-Muggenburg III a complete hind leg of a horse was buried under the threshold of a house (Therkorn 2004, 47-48).