Midden-bronstijdsamenlevingen in het zuiden van de Lage Landen.

Een evaluatie van het begrip 'Hilversum-cultuur'
(The Middle Bronze Age societies in the South of the Low Countries. An evaluation of the 'Hilversum'-culture)

Theunissen, E.M. (1996)
Full publication (pdf 270 pp, 7.2 mb): http://tinyurl.com/2u9kf4

English summary
(pages 259-262)

Introduction Societies that lived in the southern part of the Netherlands and Flanders in the Middle Bronze Age (1800 to 1050 BC) left behind many remains. These remains - the archaeologically visible ones - form the basis of a reconstruction of these local communities. In the fifties the concept ‘Hilversum culture’ was coined for these material remains, which were assumed to be the legacy of a people from the southern part of England. In the early nineties it was decided to devote a study to the Hilversum culture. Much research had been carried out into this culture, especially its settlements, in the preceding four decades. So the time had come to present a new picture of the Middle Bronze Age communities and evaluate the meaning of the Hilversum culture on the basis of the greater amount of evidence that had become available. This evidence has now been reviewed in two studies, one focusing on the burial rituals (chapter 3) and the other on the settlements (chapter 4). The conclusions of these studies have been integrated and combined with evidence on the pottery and bronzes (chapter 5).

The Hilversum culture: a culture-historical interpretation
It was the archaeologist Glasbergen who defined the Hilversum culture on the basis of a number of novel elements observed among the material remains found in the southern part of the Low Countries (chapter 2). Until the end of the fifties, his definition was based predominantly on certain types of burial monuments and the urn finds they contained. Settlements were scarce for a long time. This changed in the midsixties, when excavations near the villages of Zijderveld and Dodewaard in the riverine area in the central part of the Netherlands brought to light the remains of round houses which
Theunissen, E.M. (1996) Midden-bronstijdsamenlevingen in het zuiden van de Lage Landen.

differed markedly from the elongated three-aisled farmsteads found in the northern part of the country. In Glasbergen’s opinion this confirmed his hypothesis: the unusual phenomena were the results of migration of a people from the southern part of England to the southern part of the Low Countries. This interpretation was entirely in line with the prevailing culture-historical views on the past. The archaeologists of the 1950s were greatly influenced by Childe’s concept of an archaeological culture. Assemblages of well-defined diagnostic types, especially pottery, were assumed to represent a single social group, a single specific people. And changes in material culture were accordingly attributed to influences from outside, to the arrival of a foreign people, to migration. In the 1970s, archaeologists began to question such explanation models, especially this concept of culture. An archaeological culture, it was increasingly often argued, need not necessarily represent a social group, but should be seen as a self-made construction. The concept of culture was stripped of its ethnic implications, and an archaeological culture was no longer equated with the material remains of a particular people. By the 1970s much of the original excitement about the Hilversum culture had died down. The former interpretation based on migration from England had gradually been superseded, and the term was used in a descriptive sense only, to refer to the Early and Middle Bronze Age archaeological remains found in this particular area and distinguish them from the Elp culture of the northern part of the Netherlands.

The study of the burial practices
Burial rites and their specific characteristics provide a wealth of information on social aspects of prehistoric communities. Even now, after many years of research, burial evidence still accounts for a large part of the overall evidence available on the Bronze Age in the southern part of the Low Countries. Barrows, being such clearly visible remains, have always attracted a lot of interest, and consequently have a long history of research. A study of the extensively excavated group of barrows between Toterfout and Halve Mijl showed that only a small proportion - not more than 15 % - of the overall Bronze Age population was buried in this cemetery. The construction of a barrow was evidently a special event, a selective, meaningful operation, carried out by the deceased’s relatives. For the great majority of the dead, the effort and time required to construct such a mound were evidently too much. The final resting-places of this group have poor (flat graves?) or no archaeological visibility.
Theunissen, E.M. (1996) Midden-bronstijdsamenlevingen in het zuiden van de Lage Landen.

The main aim of the study of the burial practices was to gain insight into, and explain, the variation observable in them. The greatest variation concerns the burials themselves, and the individuals buried in them. The people who buried these deceased made various deliberate choices, regarding the position of the burial (primary/secondary), the treatment of the body (inhumation/cremation) and the type of grave (tree-trunk coffin/pit/urn). Age and sex were evidently the decisive factors determining whether an individual was to be buried in an existing barrow. Women and children in particular were often secondarily buried in mounds, and cremated remains of children were sometimes deposited in the holes of the posts that surrounded the mounds. No distinction on the basis of age or sex is observable among the individuals who were buried at the centres of the barrows; both men and women, and children, too, were buried either beneath a new mound or on top of an existing mound which was then covered with an extra layer of soil. The deceased who were buried in and beneath barrows were selected for burial in a clearly visible funerary monument. On what grounds an individual qualified for burial at the centre of a barrow is difficult to say. One possibility is that the deceased’s social position was the decisive factor: a specific status acquired through personal skills or through kinship ties, age and/or sex. The fact that both men and women were buried at the centres of barrows then implies that both sexes could achieve such a social position. The primary burials of children can in this interpretation be seen as expressions of ascribed status, with the social position of the parents being expressed via the child’s burial. Or it could be that membership of a certain kinship group or family determined how an individual was to be buried. Re-use of a barrow for later burials, by raising the existing mound with a fresh layer of soil or by burying individuals in different parts of the mound, confirmed the deceased’s relationship with the individual buried at the centre of the barrow. The deceased were most probably members of the same kinship group and as such qualified for burial in a barrow. The barrows will then have been of symbolic value
Theunissen, E.M. (1996) Midden-bronstijdsamenlevingen in het zuiden van de Lage Landen.

to the Bronze Age communities, who will have ascribed different meanings to them: funerary monuments for and reminders of their deceased, territorial markers, central sites for rituals, symbols of their families and kinship ties and - if the deceased were long forgotten - of their ancestors.

The study of the settlements
The aim of the second study was to obtain an understanding of the settlement pattern of the Middle Bronze Age communities, with special attention for the round houses
Theunissen, E.M. (1996) Midden-bronstijdsamenlevingen in het zuiden van de Lage Landen.

phenomenon. To this end, the results of the excavations of the two key find spots of the Hilversum culture, Zijderveld and Dodewaard, were first extensively described and analysed. The next step was to compare the settlement pattern of the southern part of the Low Countries with the patterns in the other culture areas of the Netherlands: the Elp culture of the northern part of the country and the Hoogkarspel culture of the region known as West-Friesland. The Dutch riverine area was a particularly favourable settlement area for the Middle Bronze Age farming communities, as can be inferred from the many settlement sites that have been found over the past decades and in very recent years. The farmers settled predominantly on the higher parts of this riverine landscape, such as the wide stream and crevasse ridges. These were ideal occupation areas for farmers: high strips of sandy soil rich in minerals with plenty of water nearby and excellent pasture land for cattle in the lower parts. Similar parts of the low flood basins in the eastern part of the Betuwe region were also occupied. The excavations at Dodewaard and Zijderveld uncovered sections of Middle Bronze Age settlement areas. At Dodewaard the remains of a single farm yard were found, while at least two simultaneously occupied farm yards came to light at Zijderveld. Both the yards and the fields were surrounded by long wattle work fences. This evidence, combined with that obtained in the excavation of ‘De Horden’, a site near Wijk bij Duurstede, presents a picture of settlements consisting of large, threeaisled farmsteads surrounded by a number of smaller outbuildings (granaries). The occupants of these houses practised mixed farming: they grew hulled barley and emmer wheat and kept cattle, pigs, sheep/goats, a few dogs and sometimes a horse. Hunting was no longer important in the subsistence system. The round structures of Zijderveld and Dodewaard were discovered in the sixties, in different phases of research: in the field and afterwards, in field drawings. Most were identified in parts of the excavations with very high concentrations of features. Many are irregular and some are incomplete. A reinterpretation of the excavation evidence moreover showed that some of the postholes of the identified round structures had been interpreted as parts of granaries. The process of identifying structures is evidently largely dependent on the excavator’s views. Most of the round structures of Zijderveld and Dodewaard are archaeologically poorly founded. Individual features were associated with one another predominantly on the basis of their spatial distribution, without investigating whether their fills, cross-sections and depths were more or less the
Theunissen, E.M. (1996) Midden-bronstijdsamenlevingen in het zuiden van de Lage Landen.

same. Such a method can lead to many unusual structures, to which no value may however be attached. The identified round structures were moreover found to have little in common with the round houses known from Great Britain. With the exception of that of Blerick, the round structures most recently discovered in the Netherlands are also doubtful. All in all this leads to the conclusion that round houses are not a characteristic element of the Bronze Age settlements in the southern part of the Netherlands. The comparison of the settlement patterns of the three Dutch culture areas, the southern Hilversum culture, the northern Elp culture and the Hoogkarspel culture of WestFriesland, showed that there are a few small differences and many similarities between them. Regional variations are observable, for example in the arrangement of postholes within the plans or in the structures used for storing crops, but on the whole the picture of Middle Bronze Age settlements in the Netherlands and Flanders is very uniform. The occupants of two to three contemporary farms constituted a social community of between 16 and 36 individuals who were in contact with one another on a daily basis. Some of them at least were related to one another through kinship or marriage ties. They probably carried out many activities on a communal basis, such as harvesting the crops, exchanging products, burying their deceased and building their farms. These farming communities practised mixed farming, with the emphasis on cattle keeping. The Holocene sediments of the levees and the stream and crevasse ridges were particularly suitable for this way of life, although our picture may be somewhat distorted as a result of the favourable preservation conditions of this buried clay landscape. The farmers deliberately settled in these environments and exploited the various possibilities offered by the landscape. Where necessary they adapted themselves to their surroundings. The many remains of enclosing structures in the form of ditches and wattle work fences could imply a certain ‘right of ownership’: the occupants may have ‘claimed’ certain areas as hereditary land for their successors. On this land they created fields for their crops and they thus began to organise the landscape. The greatest variation between the different areas seems to be observable in the dynamic aspect of the settlement pattern, in other words in the frequency with which the farms were relocated, the distance between contemporary farms and the extent to which people returned to previously occupied sites. In the wetter areas the farms were relocated more often, and across shorter distances, than in the south, where they lay the furthest apart,
Theunissen, E.M. (1996) Midden-bronstijdsamenlevingen in het zuiden van de Lage Landen.

300 m on average. The farms in the northern part of the Netherlands were probably relocated with the same frequency, but they seem to have been situated closer together and people there regularly returned to previously occupied sites. The opposite of the widely scattered farms in the south is the stationary settlement pattern of West-Friesland, with its permanent farms and fields. This diversity in settlement pattern could be seen to reflect differences in adaptation to the different environments, with the availability of fertile land for crop cultivation apparently being a decisive factor.

The Hilversum culture: forty years later
The two studies have shown that some of the elements considered characteristic of the Hilversum culture - in particular those observable in the burial rite - are still archaeologically correct. The assemblages on which Glasbergen based his definition of this culture are indeed different, in both chronological (they are novel phenomena) and spatial (they have a limited distribution area) terms. Hilversum pottery, barrows surrounded by bank and ditch, barrows surrounded by paired posts and urns filled with cremation remains have been found repeatedly and almost exclusively in this particular area (Chapter 5).

The only element for which there is no convincing archaeological evidence are the round houses. We may continue to use the term ‘Hilversum culture’ with a culture-historical

Theunissen, E.M. (1996) Midden-bronstijdsamenlevingen in het zuiden van de Lage Landen.

meaning for this complex. The core area of this archaeological culture lies in the southern part of the Netherlands and Flanders, where all the aforementioned characteristics are to be found within an area with open boundaries. The culture is of local origin. The pottery and its use as an urn are unknown outside this area. But although the Hilversum culture clearly shows characteristics of its own, it also belongs to the expansive North European Bronze Age tradition with its typical farmsteads and its custom of burial beneath barrows. The term ‘Hilversum culture’ can be defined in social terms, too, as referring to the societies responsible for the characteristic material remains, the local communities in the southern part of the Low Countries. In other words: the Hilversum culture represents the social traditions of certain groups of people. These communities are to be seen not as isolated units, but as societies with widely branched social networks and long-range contacts. The social organisation of these societies was probably to some extent differentiated. There may have been differences in the numbers of cattle per household, and a larger stock may have implied a higher status. What we know for certain is that only a select number of people qualified for burial in a barrow, and that their status was hereditary in part at least. We may also assume that status positions could be achieved and strengthened through the acquisition and deposition of bronze objects. Certain individuals within the farming communities must have had powerful positions in the exchange networks, via which they could obtain exotic bronzes that granted them prestige and influence distinguishing them from the others.

Theunissen, E.M. (1996) Midden-bronstijdsamenlevingen in het zuiden van de Lage Landen.

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