3. Conclusion

Exotic flint items were brought to the wetlands of the Rhine-Meuse delta for a long time, as testified by the presence of Wommersom quartzite and Rijckholt material at the Late Mesolithic sites of Hardinxveld. Although not the subject of this article, past research has shown that these items were not intensively used. For example, the large pre-core of Rijckholt flint from Hardinxveld Polderweg was not further reduced and the long Rijckholt blades from De Bruin displayed few, if any, traces of use (Van Gijn et al. 2001a; Van Gijn et al. 2001b).

Exchange relations between the inhabitants of the south and south-east of the present-day Netherlands and the wetland communities of the delta continued in the Neolithic, but the state in which these items were exchanged and their role in the recipient society changed through time. This was demonstrated by comparing the exotic flint items from two sites: Brandwijk L50, contemporaneous with the earlier phases of the Michelsberg culture, and the later site of Schipluiden, attributed to the Hazendonk group. It was argued above that there were very clear differences in the way the people from Brandwijk and those of Schipluiden dealt with foreign, imported flint. The Brandwijk folks imported used tools. These seemed to have been exchanged in order to keep, not to be used. The fact that the tools in question had distinctive 'southern' traces (Van Gijn 1998), makes these items even more 'foreign'. This specific history makes them commensurate with their previous owners and users. These objects may thus have been kept as a token of affiliation with the far-away Michelsberg people.

The attitude of the Hazendonk group towards exotic flint was very different. The Hazendonk inhabitants of Schipluiden imported southern tools, probably for the most part as finished items, specifically in order to use them. They appropriated these foreign objects and gave them a place in their technological system. This was not an ordinary place, however: the exotic tools were used for activities that most likely had a special significance for the society at large, such as cereal harvesting, ornament production and the making of fire.

This change from an affiliation with Michelsberg identity markers in the earlier period to the actual appropriation of Michelsberg items in the local technological system during the later Hazendonk time, can be seen in the light of the gradual neolithisation process. I think it is highly significant that they used these 'foreign' tools for a 'new' activity like cereal harvesting and not just for any task. The cultivation of cereals is almost everywhere surrounded with rituals and communal festivities. Because of the long delay between the preparation of the fields and the time of harvesting, people make offerings to the gods and spirits to ask them for a good harvest, and thank them when the harvest has been successful. In many present-day societies these celebrations involve the entire community. Using 'special' harvesting tools, associated with the far-away Michelsberg people, and destroying these after use, can be seen in this light: this 'new' activity, that implied the destruction of life-giving nature in order to be fruitful, required special tools that, in turn, needed special treatment.

Fire-making, the second activity the exotic flint tools at Schipluiden were used for, is significant because fire is intimately linked with matters of life and death. Fire is needed to prepare the agricultural fields and can thus also be related to the agricultural practices on the dunes. The burial of a man with three strike-a-lights and a nodule of pyrite in his hands shows that these tools may also be related to the personhood of the deceased. Lastly, ornament production can be argued to be related to convey aspects of identity. Ornaments are intimately related to personal identity and may link generations through the transmission of heirlooms. I would contend, therefore, that these imported tools of exotic flint evidently had a special status, as indicated by the fact that they were used for activities that were significant for the Hazendonk communities. Notably, they played a role in communal activities related to agriculture and the representation of aspects of identity. The Hazendonk people had given the exotic items a place in their technological system, and thereby had incorporated (some of) the new values and ideas from the agricultural peoples further inland. They were a 'step further' in the process of neolithisation compared to the inhabitants of Brandwijk. Flint objects can easily be transported from afar and can function as 'pieces of places' because they are recognisable as exotic. They therefore played a role in negotiating the gradual change towards an agricultural society. However, this role only becomes evident after a detailed biographical study of the flint artefacts, including a use-wear and residue analysis.


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