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

5 The settlement system

The three sites differ considerably in size and layout. The differences between Wateringen 4 and Ypenburg can be explained by the substantial difference in size between the dunes in the west and the east of the plain. At Schipluiden on the contrary, the people made a distinctly different, more Neolithic choice in the layout of their settlement.

5.1 Wateringen 4 and Wateringse Veld

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Fig. 6 Wateringen 4, schematic plan. Scale 1:500. Redrawn after Raemaekers et al. 1997.

The simplest site with the most straightforward layout is Wateringen 4 (fig. 6). Although it hasn’t been excavated in its entirety, the site can still be well characterised (Raemaekers et al. 1997). On top of a relatively small, low dune was a concentration of around 90 postholes measuring approximately 12 x 25 m, within which a two-aisled houseplan of 4 x 11 m was distinguished. Remains of the wooden posts (alder and juniper) had survived in the features, showing that the water level had risen substantially by that time and implying that the site will have been abandoned shortly after. The other postholes may have belonged to one or two previous buildings. At the foot of the dune were a few pits. In view of their situation and the fact that they apparently became filled with clean sand fairly soon it is assumed that they represent temporary sources of drinking water. Settlement refuse was found mainly across the entire old dune area, but some refuse, in particular bones, was also found in the dune’s surroundings, which were bogs at the time. So the site’s dimensions more or less coincide with the dimensions of the dune: 35 x 50 m, based on the distribution of the wells, or 45 x 60 m based on the distribution of the artefacts. Wateringen 4 was unmistakably a single-house site that was used for the duration of at most three successive houses (‘house generations’), or 50 to 75 years. This does not necessarily mean that the occupants deliberately chose to use the site for such a relatively short period of time; they simply won’t have foreseen the rise in water level – when they settled here the dune will have seemed to afford a high and dry place for them to live. The house need not have been entirely isolated either; it may well have formed part of a settlement along with other houses on similar dunes nearby. This option is unfortunately not supported by the sites in Wateringse Veld, where four similar dunes were used by humans, but not as settlement sites (Bakker & Burnier 1997).

5.2 Wateringen 4 versus Ypenburg

Fig. 7 Ypenburg, schematic plans, phases 3/C (top) and 11/K (bottom). Scale 1:5000. N.B. the cemetery cannot be dated to any of the phases. Redrawn after Koot et al. 2008.

The occupation remains on the large dune of Ypenburg can be regarded as representing a multiple of Wateringen 4 (Koot et al. 2008). The entire dune complex originally measured 100 x 750 m, but the eastern half later disappeared due to erosion by a younger tidal channel. Two main occupation phases were distinguished, separated by a period of frequent sand drifts. Seven concentrations of postholes were found on the surviving part – three dating from phase 3/C and four from phase 11/K – with dimensions ranging from 20 x 20 m to 30 x 40 m (fig. 7). In four cases the plan of a small, rectangular, two-aisled house measuring at most 4.5 x 10 m could be made out. Many wells were found in association with these concentrations of postholes/house sites. Most had been dug next to the houses, in groups at the periphery of the dune, allowing us to distinguish activity areas with diameters between 50 and 80 m. Not clear is whether the concentrations of postholes dating from each of the two phases represent several contemporary or successive houses. Arguments favouring the first option are that the plans lie at fairly regular distances from one another – centre-to-centre distances of 100-150 m – and that they are separated by areas with very few features and finds. This holds for the plans from both occupation phases.

In terms of numbers of features – postholes, pits, wells – Ypenburg is roughly ten times the size of Wateringen, which is in accordance with the theory that the seven concentrations plus the features that have not been dated to either one of the two phases coincide with the same number of ‘Wateringens’. Considering the number of features and the identifiability of the plans, the Ypenburg concentrations will likewise represent only a few house generations. The comparison however falls short when it comes to the numbers of finds. This is attributable to differences in the archaeological formation processes: burial, preservation and disturbance.

5.3 Wateringen 4 and Ypenburg versus Schipluiden

Fig. 8 Schipluiden, schematic plan. Scale c. 1:1000. Redrawn after Louwe Kooijmans & Jongste 2005.

With its finds and features covering a distribution area of 70 x 120 m, Schipluiden (fig. 8) is quite a bit larger than Wateringen 4 and the individual concentrations of Ypenburg (Louwe Kooijmans & Jongste 2006). The site has a very high density of features, covering the entire dune area, but especially the highest part. In the course of the occupation period, but above all in the earliest phases, an impressive number of 145 wells were dug on the northern side and to a lesser extent in other parts of the dune. At some stage the occupants enclosed their entire settlement with a fence erected precisely at the boundary between their site and the surrounding aquatic deposits. This fence was replaced by a new structure on two occasions, each time a little higher up the slope due to the rising water level (fig. 9). On the basis of the posthole concentrations and the distribution of finds in the adjacent long refuse zone, and the continuity in the deposition of that refuse throughout the four distinguished phases, it is assumed that the site represents the permanent settlement of four or five households over a period of roughly 250 years. The fact that no unmistakable house plans can be made out in the posthole concentrations is assumed to be attributable to long-term use of the same house sites.


Fig. 9 Schipluiden. Features of one of the fence enclosures. After Louwe Kooijmans & Jongste 2005.

The number of pits and wells found at Schipluiden is one-and-a-half times that found at Ypenburg and thirteen times the number at Wateringen. This agrees well with the differences in intensity of use. Schipluiden had four to five times as many households as Wateringen and was occupied for a period three to four times as long. It also agrees with the view that Ypenburg was occupied by three or four households in two phases that will together not have exceeded the period of occupation of Schipluiden. So in these respects the evidence presents a consistent picture and the three sites do not seem to differ materially from one another. The greater number of postholes at Schipluiden (a factor of four greater), however, cannot be attributed to such factors as differences in preservation or the employed excavation methods. It must imply a considerably greater number of structures at this settlement – most probably fences. There are some substantial differences in the ratios of the different categories of finds and features. For example, in comparison with Schipluiden, a relatively large amount of pottery was found at Wateringen. This can be attributed to differences in deposition and erosion between the two sites. At both sites the pottery was concentrated around the settlements; this was particularly evident at Wateringen. At Schipluiden the distribution pattern had been severely disturbed by the erosion of the top part of the dune, which led to the disappearance of many remains. When we add to this the destructive effect of trampling during the intensive occupation of Schipluiden the differences between the sites are largely explained. The ratios of the flint and stone objects will have suffered less disturbance because erosion and trampling will have had a much lesser impact in the case of these categories.

5.4 Structure and agency

It would seem that we may regard Wateringen, Ypenburg and Schipluiden as representing varying local expressions of a single settlement form. On the basis of Schipluiden we assume that the local community consisted of a number of cooperating households that chose to settle on the dunes in the beach plain. On the large dune of Ypenburg there was enough space for 3-4 clearly distinct yards. We assume that Wateringen was not an isolated settlement, but that the small dunes in that area led to the establishment of separate farmsteads on the individual dunes. The occurrence of house remains, the ranges of artefacts and the (semi-)agricultural subsistence system together allow little room for doubt concerning the permanent character of the settlements for a period of more than one house generation. So in this respect they are purely Neolithic and comparable with what is known from other countries (the British Isles, Denmark) from this period (Darvill & Thomas 1996; Grogan 2004).

Schipluiden clearly presents a different picture. Here, four or five households settled at a site that did not afford the same amount of room as was used at the other sites. Why this site’s occupants made this choice is not clear, especially as there was a much larger dune immediately to the north of the site that was only extensively used. From the Rijswijk-Hoekpolder site we however know that the territory of another group lay only a short distance away. So maybe the occupants of Schipluiden did not have that much choice after all. Whatever the case, the Schipluiden group developed a much greater collectivity than the other two groups. In the first occupation phases the sources of freshwater for the entire community were concentrated in one area on the northwest side of the dune. Later, in the two last phases, the entire settlement was enclosed by a fence, which was kept up. This upkeep was clearly a collective action of the entire community. In the context of the tentative Neolithisation of the plain to the north of the loess belt this is quite remarkable. It represents the physical isolation of a domestic space from its surroundings, carried out by a collective group, and not an individual household. The fence most probably had a practical function, for example to keep the livestock out of the settlement, and its erection may also have been partly prompted by the wetter conditions in the site’s surroundings and the occupants’ and animals’ competition for the scarce dry areas. Nevertheless I do not believe that we may assume that the people were forced to make this effort by the local conditions. The decision to enclose the settlement in this way was a primary choice, made by the occupants themselves. In this respect Schipluiden is more Neolithic than the other two sites. This is also reflected by the permanence of occupation at the same site, from the very beginning until further occupation became impossible because the site’s surroundings changed into a peat bog and the dune was swallowed by the expanding bog. Abandoning a settlement meant relinquishing all the investments made in the site, breaking an ancestral tradition and in the long term possibly surrendering the territory. That was a consequence that the people who chose to live in such a dynamic landscape had possibly not foreseen.