2 Meuse Valley Project

The Meuse Valley Project is a regional archaeological investigation aimed at obtaining more insight into the course of the Neolithization process in the south-east of the Netherlands (Wansleeben & Verhart 1990; 1995) Thanks to extensive excavations in the loess area there is on the one hand a great deal of knowledge about the permanent agrarian settlements of the Linear Bandkeramic Culture (5400 BC) (Modderman 1988). On the other hand, the excavated sites from the Neolithic in the delta area of the West of the Netherlands (Michelsberg Culture, 4500 BC) are crucial to our knowledge about this period (Louwe Kooijmans 1974; 1993a). But hardly anything is known about the coversand area of Limburg and Brabant in between. We know relatively little about both the late Mesolithic and the middle Neolithic. The transition from Bandkeramic to Michelsberg, so crucial for the Neolithization process in the Netherlands, is therefore still hidden from our view both in space and in time.

Fig. 5 Between the areas in the South (Bandkeramic) and the West (Michelsberg) lies a considerable spatial and chronological gap in our knowledge [Knowledge gap]

The Neolithization process is a complex cultural-economic transformation, certainly not limited to changes in the food supply alone. Technological, ecological, economic and social reasons have all driven the process, turning hunter/gatherers eventually into farmers. Yet in the analysis of surface finds in the Meuse Valley the emphasis is first of all on reconstructing the (food) economy. The site distribution pattern of these hunter/gatherers and early farmers is, we feel, to a large degree a reflection of the economic exploitation system. The sites reflect the sequence of activities in a specific spatial and functional context, allowing the provision of the necessities of life, both primary and secondary. Analytically this settlement pattern may be separated into three, mutually linked, aspects:

  • the spatial pattern of the sites (spatial patterns)
  • the geographical location of the sites (site locational analysis)
  • the nature of the sites (site typology)

These analyses have been performed in the Meuse Valley Project for the successive cultural phases of the Mesolithic and the Neolithic. The changes occurring in the distribution patterns have been investigated. A meaningful interpretation of these changes, however, is only possible when the archaeological value of those primary distribution maps is known. Therefore, a thorough analysis of the distorting post-depositional and research factors is essential.

Fig. 6 The three elements of the archaeological analysis of the Meuse Valley Project, from top to bottom: the spatial pattern, the geographical location and site typology [Archaeological correlates]

less detail

more details about:

Research history

Goals of the Meuse Valley Project

Human activities and the settlement pattern

Archaeological correlates

Research on different spatial levels

The core region Venray

Distorting factors in the Venray region

Pattern differences in macro and core region

To assess this representativeness we have decided in the Meuse Valley Project on a multi-stage approach, performing research on four different spatial levels. These are the macro region (the south-east of the Netherlands, 4500 km2), the core region (four spread over the macro region, each approx. 100 km2), the micro region (one per core region, approx. 5 km2) and the site (one per micro region), respectively. Research at a lower level checks the results of a higher level.

It is easier to make a quality assessment in a relatively small subsector than it is in the entire research area. For the core region of Venray, a gently rolling coversand area in the middle of Limburg, between the moorland of the Peel and the Meuse valley, the distorting factors can easily be charted. Two examples indicate that findless areas on our maps are not always the result of the behaviour of the prehistoric people.

  1. Historical methods of farming, countering the limited natural fertility of the coversands by dressing with sod, humus and manure, have led to the level of the fields being raised. This plaggen soil ('esdek') may be over 1 metre thick and hide many archaeological finds from view.
  2. From personal contacts with amateur archaeologists it appears they did not aim at an all-encompassing mapping of habitation traces, but mostly returned to known sites, leading to the mapping of clusters of sites.

The pattern of late Mesolithic sites in the region around Venray is radically different when we base our distribution map on the macroregional data (literature and the data of the State Service for Archaeological Research) or on the data from the core region (survey of what is present in museums and private collections). There are both quantitative and qualitative differences. 'Eye-openers' like these warn us once again to handle regional archaeological data carefully.

[Pattern differences]
Fig. 7 The quantitative and qualitative differences in the late Mesolithic site pattern if either based on the data from the literature/national database (macro region; left) or based on the inventory of museums and private collections (core region; right): the image on the right shows not only more sites, but also sites in areas were no sites were known at first


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Last updated: Wed Feb 25 1998