Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 1-1 (May 2009)Leendert P. Louwe Kooijmans: The agency factor in the process of Neolithisation – a Dutch case study1
6 Subsistence

6.1 Hunting and stock keeping

As our understanding of both hunting and stock keeping is based on large bones that are collected by hand, we are able to assess the ratios of these two elements of the subsistence system – contrary to those of other elements. Nevertheless there are quite a few problems concerning these two elements, too.

For a uniform understanding of hunting and stock keeping a number of uniform choices must be made concerning certain aspects. The most important is the distinction between wild boar and pig, which can be made in only a few percent of all identifications. Most bones that cannot be identified to species level (pig/wild boar) are proportionally divided between pig and wild boar, and in this process a substantial error margin is unfortunately introduced – certainly in cases of small numbers of bones. But there is no alternative. This procedure was followed for Wateringen and Rijswijk supplementary to the publications (Zeiler 2006b).

Secondly, for more reliable results it is best to leave (red deer) antler out of consideration, to avoid a bias towards red deer in assessing remains. Because antler is still readily identifiable even among highly fragmented remains, this problem affects sieved fractions in particular. This aspect was not considered in the publication of Wateringen 4 either (Paalman 1996; id. in Raemaekers et al. 1997).[3]

Thirdly, remains of dogs should be left out of consideration, too, because dogs were not consumed and moreover regularly became buried as (parts of) cadavers (see below). And finally, remains of small furbearing animals (martens, polecats, wild cats, foxes, etc.) should be ignored because those animals will not have been shot primarily for consumption and will moreover have provided only very little meat. Being represented in only small quantities, such remains are incidentally usually fairly insignificant.

All this means that we may well use the ratio of large wild animals and livestock, or the ratio of the main meat suppliers (red deer and cattle) as ‘Neolithisation indices’, at least as far as meat supplies are concerned. All other animals will have contributed towards the diversity of the diet, but are of quantitatively minor importance.


Fig. 10 Composition of the mammal remains from Ypenburg, Wateringen, Schipluiden and Rijswijk-Hoekpolder. After De Vries 2004 and De Vries in Koot et al. 2008; Paalman in Raemaekers et al. 1997 and Zeiler 2006b; Zeiler 2006a; Laarman 2004 and Zeiler 2006b, respectively. Represented are the numbers of identifications to species level, excluding small rodents, excluding dogs and excluding (red deer) antler, of the remains collected by hand.

With due allowance for the above considerations, eight faunal assemblages of the Hazendonk sites in Delfland have been compared (fig. 10). Apart from Ypenburg phase 11/K, all the assemblages were large enough for such comparison. The comparison revealed close similarities, except at one site (Rijswijk). Cattle accounted for 40-60% of the total numbers ofbones, sheep/goat were largely or completely absent from all the assemblages, and pig, wild boar and red deer were well represented at all the sites. Only the assemblage from Ypenburg contained a substantial proportion of remains of marine mammals, in particular porpoise, bottle-nose dolphin and grey seal. The Ypenburg assemblage also differed in the complete absence of remains of beaver – an animal that accounted for some 40% of all the bones of furbearing animals at the other sites (fig. 11). Such differences are traditionally attributed to differences in local ecological conditions, but in this case there is little evidence to support such an assumption, as already explained above. We believe the differences instead reflect different preferences for supplementary hunting - at Ypenburg along the coast and at Schipluiden and Wateringen in the swamps. These differences in specialised, supplementary hunting however pale before the most remarkable faunal spectrum of Rijswijk-Hoekpolder, site 1 (Laarman 2004), which is completely agricultural. Hunting was of no importance whatsoever at this site, which was evidently inhabited by a small local community living less than a kilometre from Schipluiden, which had made its own, deliberate choice in favour of a completely agricultural way of life, at least as far as stock keeping is concerned.


Fig. 11 Ratios of the remains of furbearing animals and marine mammals. Assemblages that were too small are hatched. See the caption of fig. 9 for the sources.


Fig. 12 Ratios of the remains of domestic animals and large wild animals (top) and those of cattle and red deer (bottom) as measures of the ratios of the amounts of meat produced via stock keeping and hunting, respectively. Hatched: Vlaardingen culture. See the caption of fig. 9 for the sources.

So how do the choices that were made in Delfland relate to those made elsewhere around the same time? To answer this question we will compare the two ‘Neolithisation indices’ with those of two contemporary assemblages from the Dutch river area (fig. 12). The assemblage of Oosterhout-’t Klumke (near Nijmegen), which is unfortunately rather small (N=59), shows only a modest hunting component (Zeiler inBall & Van den Broeke 2007). It forms a marked contrast with that of the Hazendonk site, with its extremely low percentage of bones of domestic animals and very high beaver scores. The ratios at Oosterhout show that we are to envisage a society entirely dependent on farming there, but also on the adjacent sandy soils, around 3600 BC. This makes Hazendonk (Zeiler 1997) even more incongruous than it already appeared in a previous comparison (Louwe Kooijmans 1993), when most of the data used here were not yet available. In combination with the site’s position on a small sand outcrop in the swamp, the faunal spectrum would even more clearly than before seem to represent a special activity site focusing on the hunting of beavers and otters. The alternative is a local community with an entirely different way of life based largely on trapping and fishing. We find it rather unlikely that there was such a great diversity in ways of life within such a relatively small area (Hazendonk lies 40 km from Delfland and 75 km from Oosterhout) and within a single cultural tradition, especially when we consider that this pattern continued into the last occupation phase at Hazendonk, around 2700 BC, a time in which such a way of life would have been even more incongruous.

The Neolithisation indices can also be compared with assemblages from the subsequent period, from two Vlaardingen sites on slightly younger dunes in the same coastal area: Voorschoten and Leidschendam (Groenman-van Waateringe et al. 1968). The modest diachronic differences can be understood within the context of a continuing Neolithisation process.

We must realise that we are comparing numbers of bones of animals of varying dimensions and meat supplies. This is however not important in comparing individual sites with one another. Fish and birds are for this reason – and because of substantial differences in preservation – however a different story.