less detail

1.4 The South-east of the Netherlands: lots of poor-quality data

The south-east of the Netherlands is characterized by a geological terrain that was relatively stable during the Holocene. All successive inhabitants from the late Palaeolithic onwards have, so to speak, trodden the same soil level. Habitation traces from all these phases are still available on the surface. In principle, that makes an area extremely rich in archaeological sources of information. The relatively high density of regional and local museums, the well-structured organization of amateur archaeologists (AWN, ROB correspondents, AVL, local history societies) and archaeologically aware politicians and public alike have resulted in an unparalleled wealth of sites in the south-east of the Netherlands. This causes an almost paradoxical situation. We have a large amount of archaeological information, unfortunately of highly restricted quality.

The poor representativeness of the surface finds is only one of the many factors distorting the data in a regional investigation. For example, dating the find assemblages is much more difficult than in excavations. Associated finds of organic material (bone, wood, charcoal) are hardly ever available, making a 14C-dating impossible. A typochronological comparison of pottery or flint is often the only dating technique that can be applied. Beside chronological guide artefacts there are a number of artefact categories with a very long period of use (such as flint scrapers). The dating accuracy is therefore considerably less reliable and is in the order of several hundreds of years.

Not only can such artefacts, in use over a long period of time, not be relevant for dating purposes, but they also often interfere with a typological characterization of a site. Many find assemblages are chronologically mixed, i.e. guide artefacts from more than a single cultural phase have been found there. In such a case, the scrapers cannot be attributed to a specific phase and consequently the artefact composition of the site in all phases of habitation remains unknown.

Regional investigations provide a new insight into the archaeological information, but there are many methodological problems attached to the use of these surface finds. The picture of the past provided is geographically wider and with a greater time-depth, but much less sharp. How to handle these distorted primary data responsibly is one of the main challenges of regional archaeological research in the south-east of the Netherlands.

[ARCHIS data]
Fig. 25 The archaeologically very rich area of the south-east of the Netherlands, each dot representing one or more sites (source: National Archaeological Database Archis)


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Last updated: Wed Feb 25 1998