3.2 Elements of habitation

3.2.1 Settlement

Two separate settlements have been excavated in Tiel-Passewaaij: Oude Tielseweg and Passewaaijse Hogeweg. While the settlements consist of separate clusters of farmhouses, there are indications that they formed one community. For instance, they used the same cemetery to bury their dead. The settlements and cemetery were located on the flank of the streamridge, leaving the driest parts available for arable fields.

The number of simultaneously inhabited farmhouses varies from 1 (Oude Tielseweg phase 3) to 5 or 6 (Passewaaijse Hogeweg phase 3; Heeren 2007, 48; Groot et al. in press). The farmhouses and the surrounding area provided space for living and agrarian activities. Threshing floors have not been identified so far in the Dutch River Area. Shearing sheep and butchering livestock would probably have taken place in the settlement. Skeletal element representation supports the idea that animals, especially cattle and sheep, were butchered in the settlement. When all skeletal elements are represented, this is taken as an indication for local butchery. Although some elements were under-represented in the settlements, this could be explained by taphonomic processes, which affects the more fragile elements to a greater degree.

Structures found in the settlements include byrehouses, granaries and stables (Figs. 25 and 26). The byrehouses provided a roof for both man and livestock. The construction of byrehouses in Tiel-Passewaaij shows a development through the Roman period (Heeren 2009), but the essence of the house as a wooden farmhouse with a byre section remains unchanged. Separate stables are not found until the 2nd century AD, when the breeding of horses became important. Phosphate staining in both byre sections of farmhouses and separate stables is taken as evidence that livestock was stabled here (Heeren 2009, 171). Cattle were stabled in the byre sections of byrehouses at night, so that their manure could be collected. During the day, the cattle probably grazed close to the settlement. Granaries were used for storage of cereals and animal fodder.

Figure 25 Figure 26

Figure 25: Plans of two farmhouses from Tiel-Passewaaijse Hogeweg. House A dates to phase 3 and house B to phase 4. The grey areas are phosphate stains (Heeren 2006, figs. 5.1 and 5.2).
Figure 26: Plans of four outbuildings from Tiel-Passewaaijse Hogeweg. Building C is a typical small granary. Buildings A and B are large granaries. Building D is a stable (Heeren 2006, figs. 5.3 and 5.4).

The location, orientation and habitation of houses were influenced by the residual channel running along the streamridge. During the Early Roman period, when the channel still carried water, the long axis of the farmhouses of Passewaaijse Hogeweg was oriented parallel to the channel. This orientation is abandoned in the mid-1st century, when the channel silted up. A reactivation of the section of the channel that adjoined the settlement Oude Tielseweg caused the abandonment of this settlement around AD 170.

Figure 27

Figure 27: Reconstruction of a farmhouse from the Roman period. While the plan of this house is not typical of the Dutch River Area, the construction and materials are similar. Illustration M.H. Kriek, ACVU-HBS.

Unfortunately, little is known about the materials used for construction (Fig. 27). Building materials for farmhouses and outbuildings could all be sourced locally (Table 2). The wood for the main construction could have come from trees growing on the natural levees. There is no evidence from Tiel or the rest of the Roman River Area for the types of trees used, with the exception of an oak main post from Geldermalsen-Hondsgemet. In the Bronze Age, alder was commonly used for building houses. It is unknown whether roofs were covered in reed, straw or wooden shingles. Reed was plentiful in the flood basins. Straw could have been used, but these stems are much shorter than the stems of reed. Clay or loam for waterproofing the walls could be supplied from the flood basin or streamridge. The building of new houses or repairs of existing ones was probably not a yearly event, so the impact on the environment and the materials needed were limited.

Table 2: Elements used in house construction, and their provenance

  Streamridge Flood basin Levee
Main construction ash, elm, oak alder ash, elm, oak
Walls: wattle-and-daub loam alder, willow, clay  
Roof straw reed  

Pigs were almost certainly kept in the settlement, where they were fed with crops, waste products of agriculture and possibly by-products of dairy (Fig. 28). Free-range chickens usually find their own food, but this may have been supplemented with some cereals. We do not know whether they were kept in byrehouses, outbuildings or small paddocks. Pigs were exclusively kept for meat. Some pigs may have been traded as a surplus, but there is no evidence for any large-scale breeding of pigs.

Figure 28
Figure 28: Modern pigs in India, similar in appearance to pigs from the Roman Dutch River Area. Photo M. Groot.

Vegetable gardens were probably tended within the settlement, where the vegetables and kitchen plants could be protected from both wild and domestic animals.

Some differences between the two settlements can be observed. For the agrarian economy, the two main differences are the degree of specialisation in sheep and horse breeding (higher in Passewaaijse Hogeweg), and the size of the granaries (the large ones are only found in Passewaaijse Hogeweg). This could reflect a difference in surplus production or in agrarian specialisation.


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Last updated: Tue Nov 10 2009