A unique complex of multiphased Holocene drift sands and paleosols, with at least two lacustrine phases, was discovered during a major sanitation project in the Laarder Wasmeren area near Hilversum, the Netherlands. The complex could be studied in detail, highly facilitated by the excellent and large-scale exposure of the various deposits and soils. OSL dating was used to establish ages of the phases, where possible differentiating between time of deposition and time of burial by taking into account the potential effects of bioturbation. Pollen analysis served to reconstruct the vegetation during the various phases.
A first minor phase of aeolian activity already started before approx. 5,000 BC, followed around 4,000 BC by a second phase and a rather massive third phase around 3,000 BC. After a long phase of soil formation, the latest, massive drift sand phase started around the 14th to 15th century. It clearly represents the classic drift sand phase that started in the Late Middle Ages in the Netherlands. Sand drifting followed on soil forming phases during which the vegetation became increasingly dominated by ericaceous plants and culminated in heathlands. The first three aeolian phases and associated heathlands are much older than generally assumed for heathland and drift sand to occur in the Netherlands. Moreover, podzolisation was found to have started very early, true podzols already occurring before 4,000 BC.
Around 3,000 BC groundwater in the area reached a maximum altitude of about 230 cm +NAP, resulting in local open water in the area. This rise is probably linked to the development of the Dutch coastal area, where at that time peat accumulated and drainage was poor, inducing a rise of the groundwater level in ‘het Gooi’. This groundwater level fell later on, to never reach this altitude again. The Groot Wasmeer was formed by local stagnation on a slowly permeable podzol and already reached a level of 320-325 cm +NAP by 400 BC, which more or less equals its 20th century level.
The results demonstrate that earlier concepts on the occurrence and age of aeolian phases, podzols and heathland vegetations in the Netherlands are far too schematic, and that early, pre-agricultural cultures may already have had an impact on the stability of fragile cover sand landscapes, e.g. through burning. Results are in line with those from several contemporary studies on early prehistoric cultures and their impact in river dune areas in the Central and Eastern Netherlands.