Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 4-2 (April 2013)Annet Nieuwhof: Anglo-Saxon immigration or continuity? Ezinge and the coastal area of the northern Netherlands in the Migration Period.

6. Discussion

6.1 The introduction of the Anglo-Saxon style

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The Anglo-Saxon style was introduced to the northern Netherlands during the 4th or 5th centuries, the Migration Period. While it is generally believed that the new style came with immigrants from the Anglo-Saxon homelands in the 5th century AD, the pottery studies of Ezinge as well as Midlaren-De Bloemert show that the Anglo-Saxon style already occurs in the northern Netherlands in the 4th century. Since the evidence for continuous habitation is convincing, the introduction of the Anglo-Saxon style must reflect contacts between different settlements in different regions, rather than migration.

Strong resemblances between the pottery of Ezinge, Midlaren-De Bloemert and the coastal area of north-western Germany indicate that northern Drenthe and Groningen were both part of a socio-cultural network that extended far to the east (Nieuwhof 2011). This was so from the early Roman Iron Age onwards, when the so-called Wierum style was adopted from neighbouring Niedersachsen in Groningen and in northern Drenthe (Taayke 1996, V, 175). It continued during the middle Roman Iron Age, when both the Groningen terp region and northern Drenthe shared the pottery style of the Nordseeküstennahen Fundgruppe with northwestern-Germany (Taayke 1996, V, 177; Schmid 2006, 38-39 ). The network apparently still functioned in the 4th century.

Despite the similarities, the pottery assemblages of Ezinge and Midlaren-De Bloemert differ. Both places clearly went through their own development and history. Although it might be expected that these settlements in the northern Netherlands had more in common than either of them with the Feddersen Wierde, there rather appear to be similarities as well as differences with each of the other settlements. The comparison indicates that the settlements in the northern Netherlands did not all come into contact with pottery in Anglo-Saxon style in the same way. Moreover, other influences, for instance from the south, also must have played a role.

The results from these three settlements need to be compared to better understand the differences between them. For the purpose of the comparison, all finds have been divided in four groups, related to form and probably function: large pots, Dr. K4-beakers, Schalenurnen, and bowls and dishes (Table 2). Large pots are further divided in local G7-pots and specific Anglo-Saxon style pots (usually narrow-mouthed Plettke-types, some without rim). An additional category, consisting of unidentified and exceptional pots, has been left out because their number for the Feddersen Wierde is unknown. This category consists of 35 specimens in Ezinge and 49 in Midlaren-De Bloemert.


Table 2 Ratio of pottery forms (MNI) from the 4th and 5th centuries in four settlements: Ezinge, Midlaren-De Bloemert (both based on data from the author’s research) and the Feddersen Wierde (after Schmid 2006 ). AS: pottery in Anglo-Saxon style; type codes are from the northern-Drenthe typology ( Taayke 1996 ).

* Numbers from the Feddersen Wierde come from the Tafeln in Schmid 2006, probably based on rim sherds. For Ezinge and Midlaren-De Bloemert, MNI is based on rim sherds as well as identifiable wall sherds from AS pots, Dr. K4-beakers and Schalenurnen. Miscellaneous and unidentified forms (35 in Ezinge, 49 in Midlaren) have been omitted since their number for the Feddersen Wierde is unknown.

** In particular narrow-mouthed, decorated pots in Anglo-Saxon style.

Table 2 shows that large pots are most numerous in all three settlements, but the percentage for Ezinge is significantly higher than for the other settlements (percentages of G7 and large AS combined sum to 63% for Ezinge, 46% for Midlaren-De Bloemert and 50% for the Feddersen Wierde). This ratio is contrasted by the percentage of bowls and dishes, which is low for Ezinge, but rather high for both Midlaren-De Bloemert and the Feddersen Wierde. This preference for bowls (this group mainly consists of bowls) may have been caused by influences from the south, where bowls were more numerous. Where they occur in large numbers, for instance in Wijster in southern Drenthe (Van Es 1967, type VIIB2), bowls often served as cooking pots (Taayke 1996, III, 63). In Ezinge, wide-mouthed G7-pots were apparently preferred for the same function. Within the category of large pots, type G7 is most numerous by far in Ezinge and Midlaren-De Bloemert, to the cost of pots in Anglo-Saxon style. At the Feddersen Wierde, there are as many G7-type pots as narrow-mouthed pots in Anglo-Saxon style. The difference may be related to a traditional preference for narrow-mouthed pots on the Feddersen Wierde, for example as containers for liquids. In Ezinge and Midlaren-De Bloemert, narrow-mouthed pots were apparently not thought useful during this period, although they had been part of the common repertoire of the middle-Roman Iron Age (type Ge6).

The sum of the percentages of Schalenurnen and Dr. K4-beakers in all three settlements is around 30% (31% in Ezinge and Midlaren-De Bloemert, 27% on the Feddersen Wierde).[14] In this case, Midlaren-De Bloemert stands out: not many Schalenurnen have been found there, but there is a striking number of Dr. K4-beakers. In Ezinge and on the Feddersen Wierde, the situation is reversed: many more Schalenurnen than beakers were in use there, although the percentage of Dr. K4-beakers is higher in Ezinge than on the Feddersen Wierde. Both Schalenurnen and beakers were probably used to serve food and drinks. In each settlement, a different choice was apparently made from the contemporary forms that could be used as tableware. The rest of the household pottery consisted of large cooking pots and storage vessels, narrow-mouthed pots, bowls and dishes in various ratios, depending on local preferences and customs, and external influences.

The pottery assemblages described here come from settlements, except for two complete pots found in a small cemetery during the excavation of the settlement of Midlaren-De Bloemert (a K4-beaker and a Schalenurne (88A/79, fig. 10). In the cemeteries near Midlaren-De Bloemert, pottery in Anglo-Saxon style is dominant, almost to the exclusion of indigenous forms. If these were considered in isolation (as they were before the settlement was excavated), it would be self-evident that these pots had come here with immigrants from the Anglo-Saxon area. The early dates of some of the cremation urns (fig. 14) indicate that the people of Midlaren became acquainted with the forms and decoration of the Anglo-Saxon style in the course of the 4th century. The pots in Anglo-Saxon style were either taken to the settlement, perhaps as gifts from visits or by visitors, or they were made in the settlement itself by foreign potters. As was already argued for earlier periods in Midlaren-De Bloemert (Nieuwhof 2008a, 295), female potters probably came to the settlement as marriage partners from elsewhere. The pots in Anglo-Saxon style hardly occur in the settlement itself. What was adopted was the decoration, to be applied especially on the Dr. K4-beakers. Although some exotic beakers were found in the settlement (e.g. find no. 2705, found together with AS-pot no. 2725, fig. 10), most decorated beakers belong to the common local repertoire.

A cemetery from this period has not been found near Ezinge; large pots in Anglo-Saxon style are rare in this settlement. Here, it can be inferred from associated pottery types that the Anglo-Saxon style was probably introduced in the 4th century in the form of Schalenurnen. This type became popular in Ezinge to the cost of Dr. K4-beakers, which did not develop into a common indigenous type here. Many of the beakers found in Ezinge have uncommon characteristics, either in decoration, shape or size, indicating that these beakers were not made locally. Nicely decorated pots may have been common gifts in exchange relations with other settlements. It is noticeable that a number of Schalenurnen in Ezinge is of Schmid’s variant 3. On the Feddersen Wierde, this wide Schalenurne is far less common than the variants 1 and 2 (only 37 out of 625 Schalenurnen in this settlement). Finds of this type are concentrated in the area of the so-called Herrenhof and the associated assembly hall, which probably was the socio-political centre of the settlement (Schmid 2006, 60). It is possible that such Schalenurnen were specifically used as tableware in ceremonial meals, which took place in the assembly hall. They may have come to Ezinge via political contacts.

The early dates of the pots in Anglo-Saxon style found in Midlaren-De Bloemert and Ezinge show that the socio-cultural network of which these settlements were part, enabled the rapid spread of new stylistic elements. However, the forms available in the Anglo-Saxon home area were not adopted indiscriminately, as the differences between Ezinge, Midlaren-De Bloemert and the Feddersen Wierde show. In particular large, narrow-mouthed pots, which are very common on the Feddersen Wierde, hardly occur in the settlements of Ezinge and Midlaren-De Bloemert. The ordinary household ware for the preparation of food in these settlements barely changed under the influence of the Anglo-Saxon style, apart from the general development of forms that occurred everywhere in the inhabited parts of the northern Netherlands and north-western Germany during this period. The Anglo-Saxon style in the northern Netherlands was specifically adopted for pottery with special functions, such as tableware and cremation urns.

6.2 Habitation during the 4th century

The numerous pottery finds, the continuous development of pottery and the associations of 4th and 5th century pottery with older and younger types indicate that in Ezinge, habitation was continuous from the Roman Iron Age into the early Middle Ages. The introduction of pottery in Anglo-Saxon style is clearly not to be taken as evidence of immigration by Anglo-Saxons. The question arises whether this conclusion is compatible with the observation by Van Giffen (1936) that the settlement of the Migration Period was built on a burnt layer, which was taken by him and by Boeles (1951) as an indication that invading Anglo-Saxons had burnt the preceding village down and then took it over. As we have seen, this argument played an important part in the discussion on the events at the end of the Roman Iron Age in the terp region. The Odyssee-project, which was the incentive for this article, was only meant to study the find material and did not allow of a thorough investigation of the field drawings. De Langen and Waterbolk (1989, 104) already noted that the Anglo-Saxon village, as published by Van Giffen, in reality never had existed. All features were projected by him on one level, without taking the considerable differences in height into account. That in itself already questions the traditional interpretation of the burnt layer as evidence of an Anglo-Saxon take-over.

The small inland settlement of Midlaren-De Bloemert was also inhabited continuously during the 4th and 5th centuries. Even clearer than in Ezinge, a continuous development of pottery style, including the gradual adoption of Anglo-Saxon style decoration, can be traced there. The third settlement, the Feddersen Wierde, was inhabited continuously from the 1st century BC onwards, as can be inferred from unbroken series of settlement phases and continuous pottery development, as well as from the large number of finds from all periods. There, habitation came to an end in the course of the 5th century.

These three settlements were not isolated. They were situated in densely populated areas, especially the coastal terp settlements. If we want to learn more about the occupation history of different areas, finds from other settlements will have to be considered as well.

In northwestern Germany, the Feddersen Wierde is one of many terp settlements. The German terps were not quarried and levelled as many in the northern Netherlands were. The informative, large corpus of finds from the destructive quarrying phase and the overview of habitation history that it provides, is therefore missing in northwestern Germany. The number of excavated settlements is relatively small, as it is in the Netherlands. From the excavation results, a somewhat different picture arises. There is no evidence for discontinuity during the 4th century in northwestern-Germany, except perhaps for some terps in the Krummhörn, the salt marsh area east of the Ems estuary (Knol 1993, 19). Some areas were possibly abandoned in later periods, but there are considerable regional differences and presumed discontinuity may well be due to a Forschungslücke (Bärenfänger 2001, 296).

In the province of Groningen, a number of pots from the 4th century (types Gr. K7 and G7, Taayke 1996, III) is known from some quarried terps, indicating continuous habitation of these settlements. Only a small number of terp excavations have been carried out in this province. Ezinge is the only excavated settlement for which continuous habitation can be demonstrated on the basis of pottery types, continuous typological development and a sufficient number of finds. Another terp that was possibly inhabited during the 4th century is the small settlement of Heveskesklooster in the eastern part of Groningen, near the coast of the Ems estuary. It was excavated between 1982 and 1988. Boersma (1988, 74-76) assumes that Heveskesklooster was inhabited in the 4th century AD, on the basis of a pot from this period found in a well. This provisional conclusion still waits to be confirmed by the results of full pottery research.

The very small number of finds from the 4th century in the terp region of Groningen indicates that this region did not remain as densely populated as it was in the Roman Iron Age. Many settlements were abandoned there in the course of the 3rd or the early 4th century and were only reoccupied on a small scale in the 5th century. The pottery assemblages and excavation results from the terps of Englum and Wierum (Nieuwhof 2008b; Nieuwhof et al. 2006) may serve as evidence. In Englum, the number of pottery individuals from the 3rd century is small compared to earlier habitation periods. There are no 4th century finds, and only ten sherds in Anglo-Saxon style. Habitation must have come to an end in the 3rd century; the terp was reoccupied in the 5th century, but only on a small scale. In the excavated part of the terp of Wierum, layers from the early Middle Ages directly cover layers from the middle Roman Iron Age. The excavation produced only one sherd in Anglo-Saxon style, which can be added to only three more, found during quarrying (Miedema 1983, Type XA). The ‘frustrated terps’ of Paddepoel in Groningen, excavated by Van Es (1970), were abandoned in the course of the 3rd century, after which they were silted over. Unlike Ezinge, Englum and Wierum, the Paddepoel terps were only small and not reoccupied later.

Midlaren-De Bloemert is one of a series of settlements with continuous habitation in the Pleistocene sand region of northern Drenthe, where Taayke identified 21 sites with pottery from the 4th and 5th centuries. Pottery from the middle Roman Iron Age was found in many of them. Moreover, pottery in Anglo-Saxon style was usually combined with indigenous types (Taayke 1996, II, 77-78). It may be concluded that habitation was continuous in this period in northern Drenthe. A recently excavated settlement in this area is Eelde-Groote Veen, which was inhabited during the middle Roman Iron Age. From the number of K4- and G7-sherds and a very small number of associated sherds in Anglo-Saxon style, it can be concluded that habitation came to an end around AD 400.[15] Taayke argued for a change in settlement locations in this area around AD 500 (ibid.).

The Frisian coastal area was virtually empty as from the early or middle 4th century (the latter date is argued by Lanting & Van der Plicht 2010, 76). In the eastern part of the present province of Friesland, Oostergo, the number of pottery finds that can be dated to the end of the 3rd century is only 20% of that from the previous period (Taayke 1996, IV, 140). There is a dramatic decrease in the number of inhabited terps in this period. The terp of Leeuwarden-Oldehoofsterkerkhof, for instance, was abandoned no later than AD 300 (Dijkstra, Gerrets & Nicolay 2008, 317). A continuous development in pottery style cannot be established for Oostergo. Pottery finds dated to the 4th century are exceptional. A very small number of terps may, however, have been continuously inhabitated. One of them is Jelsum, which was excavated in 1981 and again in 2010.[16] During both excavations, a very small number of pottery finds from the late Roman Iron Age and the Migration Period were found; finds from both periods were possibly associated.[17]

There is no evidence of continuous habitation in the 4th century in the western part of Friesland, Westergo. Many terps were already abandoned in the 3rd century (Knol 1993, 19). The large archaeological collections of the Fries Museum and the Noordelijk Archeologisch Depot in Nuis do not include finds from the 4th century from this area. The terp Tjitsma near Wijnaldum, excavated between 1991 and 1993, was uninhabited between ca AD 325 and 425 (Gerrets & De Koning 1999). More recent excavations[18] did not produce any 4th century finds either. It may be concluded that Westergo was deserted in the 4th century.

We do not know where the emigrants went after they left the terp region. An increase of settlements has not been observed elsewhere. Driesum-style pottery has not been found in other parts of the Netherlands, but it has been found in Zele in Belgian Flanders. This very well fits the hypothesis that part of the Franks, who during the 4th century were moving south, were migrants from the northern Netherlands (De Clerq & Taayke 2004). That does not necessarily imply that the entire population went south. Part of the migrants, especially from the Groningen region, may well have stayed in their own cultural and social environment, moving only a short distance to the east. Since they shared the same material culture, these migrants were not recognisable as separate groups.

6.3 Reasons to leave or to stay

Depopulation started in the 3rd century in Friesland as well as in Groningen. Most modern authors consider coinciding socio-political factors such as tribal unrest related to the collapse of the Roman Empire as the cause of the large-scale emigration, rather than natural conditions (e.g. Dijkstra, Gerrets & Nicolay 2008, 309). However, if socio-political unrest were the prime mover of depopulation, it is hard to understand why only the terp region was abandoned and not the Pleistocene upland. Although the destabilizing socio-political events of this period may well have played a role, environmental causes should not be totally ignored.

If natural causes indeed played a role, a period of marine transgression at the end of the Roman Iron Age, which in the past has often been mentioned as a reason for the abandonment of the area (cf. Knol 1993, 19-23), can be excluded. People in the terp region had been accustomed to living in an environment that was regularly flooded by seawater for centuries. Their terp settlements were well protected against floods (Bazelmans et al. 2012). However, drainage of inland parts of the salt marsh area became increasingly problematic in the middle-Roman Iron Age, due to the high cap ridges that had formed along the northern coast.[19] As long as the area had been drained well, floods did not pose a major problem. A permanently waterlogged landscape and prolonged periods of inundation, however, were much more difficult to cope with. This might well have been the incentive of the emigration that started in the 3rd century or even earlier. It probably was a combination of factors at which we can only guess, which subsequently made the inhabitants of terps in well-drained areas leave as well.

It may be asked why some settlements in Groningen, such as Ezinge, were not abandoned in this period. The answer to this question is partly related to the surrounding landscape of these settlements, which must have been relatively well-drained, but that cannot be the only reason. People from terps in well-drained areas in Friesland, for instance Wijnaldum, did leave during this period. A second important factor is the social environment. As from the first century AD, the population of the Groningen coastal area had been part of a socio-cultural network that also included northern Drenthe and that reached far into Niedersachsen. This network saved the remaining population of Groningen terps in the 4th century from social isolation. Friesland had only come under the influence of this network in the 3rd century, as is indicated by the new Driesum-style pottery. However, it was an already depleted population that adopted the new style; these people were not part of this network in the same way as their Groningen neighbours. Existing social networks in the large salt marsh area of Friesland must have gradually weakened because of the exodus that started in the 3rd century. The increasing influence from the east could not prevent their collapse or stop the emigration process.

6.4 Reoccupation

The coastal area started to be reoccupied in the 5th century. Lanting and Van der Plicht (2010) argue that the Frisian coastal area was not reoccupied by immigrants from the Anglo-Saxon area, which is the traditional view, but by people from Groningen and Drenthe, areas which had not been abandoned. This is, however, not very likely. In the first place, the remaining population of the Groningen coastal area cannot have been numerous. It is well possible that people from the few inhabited terps started to colonize abandoned terps in the 5th century, but this cannot have been a large-scale phenomenon. In the second place, there are no indications that the population of Drenthe was large enough to fill the empty space of the entire coastal area. A ‘settlement’ like Midlaren-De Bloemert consisted of no more than one house per generation during the 4th and 5th centuries. Eelde-Groote Veen, where habitation ended around AD 400, probably was not any larger. Such settlements could not contribute much to the repopulation of the terp area. It therefore still seems most likely that a large part of the new settlers came from the traditional homelands of the ‘Anglo-Saxons’: the extensive coastal areas of Niedersachsen and Schleswig-Holstein.

6.5 Identity

The identity of the inhabitants of the northern Netherlands, before as well as after the 4th century, must to a large extent have been defined by their involvement in one or several networks with a social, cultural or political character. What defined their ethnic identity is unknown. It was probably based on intangible cultural elements, such as more or less mythical stories about their descent, and not on aspects of their material culture such as the style of their pottery. Nevertheless, the events that took place in the 4th and 5th centuries in the northern Netherlands coastal area do suggest that in this case, pottery was an important aspect of at least cultural identity. The decoration possibly played an important role; it spread within a cultural network where its meaning was understood. This same network prevented the remainder of the population of the Groningen terp region from social isolation when a large part of the terp region was abandoned around AD 300. The cultural network clearly functioned as a social network as well. That implies that the people of this area must have identified themselves somehow as being part of this socio-cultural network. We can call this network ‘Anglo-Saxon’, but whether they considered themselves ‘(Anglo-)Saxons’ after this network, or ‘Frisians’ on the basis of old stories about their origins, we do not know. The new inhabitants of the terp region were later called Frisians in historical sources. That may be taken to indicate that the name was associated with the geographic region, and was adopted by the newcomers, or that the name was given to the new population by the Franks, who knew the name from older written sources (Bazelmans 2002; 2009). Another possibility, which is not unlikely in the light of the above, is that the name was kept alive by the small remaining population, which apparently considered themselves Frisians, or by migrants who did not try their luck in the collapsing Roman Empire, but only moved within the Anglo-Saxon area. In any case, it indicates that ethnic identity is something fluid that may be reinvented over and over.