1. Introduction

Flint is often seen as a mundane material for making many of the everyday implements of Stone Age societies; things like scrapers, arrowheads and borers. It is a perception reflected in the relatively limited range of questions that we often ask of our assemblages. We do, of course, allow exceptions; special flint artefacts that are distinctive for the skills and knowledge which their making required, or for the distances over which they circulated. Well-known examples include the large Scandinavian axes (Wentink 2008; Wentink and Van Gijn 2008) or the Grand Pressigny daggers (Van Gijn in press). However, when it comes to the bulk of most assemblages, we often miss the possibility that even the most inconspicuous flint implements, found in settlements and forming part of everyday tasks, were significant in the construction of past identities. What we usually regard as mundane tools were often part of long-term traditions of tool use (longue durée) traditions which helped give shape to collective identities. Changes in tool making and using traditions may thus be read as a means to negotiate change. It is these largely unconscious tool use traditions and their possible role in the neolithisation process of the wetlands of the Lower Rhine basin that I will address in this article.

Usually, the special significance of flint implements cannot be deduced from morphology and tool type alone. Instead it is their complete biography that indicates that some flint objects played an important role in the construction and maintenance of aspects of identity. It is thus important to consider the kind of raw material selected for production, the extent to which skills were put into the object's making, the details of its use-life and the way it was treated upon deposition. To understand use-life and depositional practices, use-wear and residue analysis thus play a key role. Only by means of detailed microscopic examinations is it possible to detect the hidden choices of tool use that tell us about the technological choices made and the significance attributed to objects.

When the first farmers colonised the southern loess zones the Rhine/Meuse delta c. 5300 BC, the area was largely inhabited by hunter-gatherer-fishers. The gradual neolithisation of the present-day Netherlands took at least another millennium, a period during which agriculture was fully established in the southern Pleistocene upland but during which the delta was still inhabited by people with strong roots in a Mesolithic lifestyle of hunting, fishing and gathering. Gradually, these people incorporated more and more 'Neolithic' elements such as pottery, domesticated animals and eventually the local cultivation of cereals (Louwe Kooijmans 1993). The appearance of southern types of flint in the sites of the Rhine/Meuse delta shows that contacts existed with the Pleistocene uplands of the south-eastern loess zones throughout this long period of transition. In this article, I will go beyond noting the presence of these exotic flints in wetland contexts and discuss the way these objects were treated by the wetland communities. I will try to reconstruct their actual life history by including the actual use (or absence thereof) of the flint objects and consider the way they were treated upon deposition. In doing so, I will concentrate on two sites, Brandwijk and Schipluiden.


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