Graphical analysis of regional archaeological data

The use of site typology to explore the Dutch Neolithization process

M. Wansleeben and L.B.M. Verhart

Regional archaeological research provides us with important information supplementing the excavation data. In the south-east of the Netherlands many data became available in this way, providing a wider geographical frame and a greater depth of time. The Meuse Valley Project (Wansleeben & Verhart 1990; 1995) attempts to understand, with the aid of these data, the course of the Neolithization process, before and after the crucial introduction of an agricultural lifestyle with the arrival of the Bandkeramic communities in the loess area (Modderman 1988). Studying the types of settlements in their spatial context is considered to be one way of revealing these cultural changes. There are, however, quite a number of theoretical and methodological problems complicating a site-typological analysis of the finds collected in field surveys. For example, the artefact composition of a surface site provides a not very reliable image of the activities that occurred there in the past (Binford 1979). The geologically stable terrain of the south-east of the Netherlands has moreover led to frequent reuse of locations, so only a very small number of sites is culturally unmixed ('clean') and may be used for this analysis. How to handle these abundant but distorted data is one of the main challenges of the Meuse Valley Project.
Fig. 1 The archaeologically very rich area of the south-east of the Netherlands; each dot represents one or more sites (source: national archaeological database Archis) [ARCHIS data]

In the core region of Venray, taken as an example of the North-European sand area, we counted by site how many artefacts of each type were present. We feel, however, that these numbers and percentages are not reliable and stable enough for a site-typological analysis of the surface sites. It is necessary to reduce the information to an ordinal or nominal level. In the Meuse Valley Project it was decided to reduce the numbers to ordinal classes, with class intervals increasing with the absolute numbers. For example at a single site 'very few' (5 to 14) scrapers and 'many' (275 to 421) flakes occurred. In addition it was decided to analyze the information with graphical techniques from the Exploratory Data Analysis (Tukey 1977). Tukey stars and pie charts are suitable for analysing multivariate data but have methodological drawbacks which so-called segment diagrams don't have. In these diagrams the observed value is expressed in the radial dimensions (radius) of the pie. This is a good way to compare graphically the artefact composition of various sites. Displayed on a distribution map it also provides an impression of the spatial distribution of the different types of sites. Additionally, beside this intuitive graphical analysis, we used Multi Dimensional Scaling, a multivariate statistical technique with a highly graphic character (Doran & Hodson 1975).

Fig. 2 Detail from the distribution map of the sites from the Beaker period. Sites are presented as segment diagrams, a way of visualizing artefact composition [Detail segment map]

more details about:

In the core region of Venray, sufficiently 'clean' sites are only available for site-typological analysis for the late Mesolithic, the Michelsberg phase and the Beaker period. The 14 late Mesolithic sites have a uniform artefact composition: a relatively large number of artefacts with a wide range of variation. It is likely these sites can be interpreted as base camps in a system of high residential mobility (Binford 1980). The 23 clean Michelsberg sites on the other hand show a highly differentiated site typology. There are larger sites with a wider range of artefacts (domestic sites), sites with one or two tools (special activity sites) and isolated arrowheads (hunting sites). This is indicative of a more logistical organisation, where the surrounding countryside is exploited by 'task groups' from a number of base camps. The lower residential mobility seems to agree with excavation data, indicating that agriculture and hunting/gathering are both part of a so-called very broad spectrum economy (Louwe Kooijmans 1993a; 1993b). Materially, the society can be classified as Neolithic in this phase but economically there still appear to be strong Mesolithic roots. In almost all 20 Beaker period sites, pottery and debris of flint production occur. The sites are relatively extensive with a wide range and, quite remarkably, are all close together. Some sites are represented just by arrowheads, but these are outside the concentration. Small agrarian settlements (single farmsteads) seem to have moved occasionally within a core area, where excavations have also uncovered burial mounds. The continued decline of residential mobility indicates a greater contribution from food production than in the Michelsberg phase. After the initial addition of agriculture and animal husbandry to the food economy, gradual changes began to take place in, for example, the social organisation, group size and group composition, each time leading to a choice for greater intensification. This process most certainly had not been completed by the end of the Neolithic.

[Intensification model]
Fig. 3 Cause and result are interrelated: a model of increasing intensification during the Neolithization process. Each of the five mentioned causes (in black) strongly interact, resulting in an ever increasing intensification


© Internet Archaeology
Last updated: Wed Feb 25 1998