3,000 year old cultivated fields unearthed in the Netherlands

Dr. Stijn Arnoldussen, an archaeologist at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, has unearthed prehistoric cultivated field sites constructed more than 3,100 years ago that were subsequently used for centuries.

3,000 year old cultivated fields unearthed in the Netherlands
[Credit: Stijn Arnoldussen, University of Groningen, the Netherlands]
Dr. Arnoldussen’s research focuses on long-term development of cultural landscapes from the Late Neolithic onwards, with specific attention for the interplay of funerary and settlement domains within the wider cultural landscape, and additionally on Bronze Age settlements as foci for patterned deposition and the nature and dynamics of the Celtic field system of the later Bronze Age and Iron Age. Side-projects include pottery analysis (from the Neolithic up to the Roman Period), analyses of Bronze artefacts, computer applications in fieldwork and editorial work for the Journal for Archaeology in the Low Countries.

In a new report titled Celtic fields of Wekerom: small-scale excavations of banks and field plots of a later prehistoric field system (Wekerom: kleinschalige opgravingen van wallen en velden van een laat-prehistorisch raatakkersysteem) , Dr. Arnuldussen details the results of small-scale excavations of Celtic field banks and field plots in the Celtic field of Lunteren (Wekerom/ De Vijfsprong), the Netherlands. Though detailed sampling programs and combined archaeological, geochemical, micromorphological, pedological and palaeobotanical (pollen, macro-remains) analyses, information on the nature and agricultural use of the banks (ridges) and field plots has been revealed.

The report notes that Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) — a technique for dating last exposure to light or heat sources of quartz minerals of the banks developed in collaboration with the Netherlands Centre for Luminescene dating at Wageningen University — has shown that bank formation started at the end of the Middle Bronze Age- B (ca. 1300-900 cal BC) and continued to be formed into (and after?) the Late Iron Age ca. 300 BC 0 AD). This means that this is an agricultural landscape of unprecedented time-depth (spanning at least 700 years). Remarkably, the banks were shown to be built-up of non-local plants and sediments from the more lower-lying, wet, parts of the landscape, manure and settlement debris.

Dr. Arnuldussen observes that presumably wet heathland sods and alder plants brought into the byres (as bedding and/or fodder), were mixed with manure and settlement debris such as small sherds, burnt firewood. and manure then carted back into the fields to be used as fertilizer. Through the uprooting of field weeds which were tossed to the sides of fields, sediment amassed near the fields’ edges gradually formed the Celtic fields banks. He notes that palaeobotanical evidence has shown that barley and wheat were grown locally (also Triticum aestivum), and possibly rye as well.

3,000 year old cultivated fields unearthed in the Netherlands
Excavation of a Celtic field system near Wekerom, the Netherlands
[Credit: Groningen Institute for Archaeology]
In an earlier article, titled The Celtic fields of Wekerom: small-scale excavations of banks and field plots of a later prehistoric field system (Het Celtic Field te Zeijen- Noordse veld: kleinschalige opgravingen van wallen en velden van een laat-prehistorisch akkersysteem), Dr. Arnoldussen reports on the excavation of three field and three bank locations in the celtic field of Zeijen – Noordseveld. The analyses comprise archaeological, pedological, geochemical and palaeobotanical study of the test-trench sections, and show that Celtic field banks were constructed there from (older?) agricultural layers that had dung, settlement debris and organic material (sods?) from the lower, wetter parts of the landscape mixed into them.

Dr. Arnoldussen notes that the late prehistoric field systems that are known under the term Celtic fields have a long history of research ( Van der Sanden 2009), and that for example, the Coevorder pastor Johan Picardt noted these phenomena in his Anti Quit Eating in 1660, albeit without without recognizing their true nature as agricultural landscapes. However, earlier findings over the centuries did not result in serious archaeological attention until recently. He notes that in 1976 Ayolt Brongers summarized previously known data together, and expanded on it with an analysis ( Brongers 1976). His observations – and especially the interpretation that Celtic fields consist of square to rectangular plots of 30-40 m , bounded by walls which both lived was to form the basis of a large number of reconstruction drawings of a planned agricultural utility landscape.(reproduced in the article PDF document).

Dr. Arnoldussen says that perhaps because of, or despite , the visual attractiveness and persuasiveness of this type of reconstruction drawings , there has been little professional attention to the Celtic fields at archeologen.Wellicht precisely because the landscape is presented alongside the current agricultural utility landscape, and rarely have critical questions to representativeness and accuracy of such reconstructions been posed — remarkable since of the many Celtic field sites in the Netherlands (Archis currently has 301 observations as of October 2012), only two have been explored to some extent — (Zeijen and Vaassen; Bacon et al Brongers 2003 and 1976 , respectively).

He asks: were the walls from the outset an integral part of the cultivation effort?; how did the walls actually come about?; are the patterns in the walls or as straightforward as other constructions might lead us to us believe?; what crops were actually grown during the time?; and so forth, with the little substantive research that has been done specifically looking at the agricultural use of the Celtic fields so far leaving these questions and other unanswered.

Dr. Arnoldussen goes on to discuss in some detail the existing research on the topic, and reports that in order to solve the above noted questions and more posed started a multi-year research project on the nature and agricultural use histories of Celtic fields was launched in 2010, led by Dr S. Arnold Markussen ( Groningen Institute of Archaeology, University of Groningen ) and to wind up this year. The project aims to research Celtic fields, and calls for field research in three specific types of landscape: Celtic Zeijen – Nordic field; located within the province of Gelderland moraine complex; and a Celtic field in southern Netherlands. An important aspect of the research is development of a methodology that describe and analyze the history of Celtic fields.

Dr. Arnoldussen says there are still plenty of unanswered questions, and plans to excavate the Gelderland moraine complex and a Celtic field in southern Netherlands this coming summer.

Author: Charles Moore | Source: University of Groningen via Bio News Texas [March 25, 2014]

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