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The results from analyses of botanical remains (pollen, wood, charcoal, seeds) from several archaeological features excavated in Kluizen (northern Belgium) are presented. The region was largely uninhabited until the Iron Age and Roman period when a rural settlement was established, resulting in small-scale woodland clearance. The site was subsequently abandoned from c. AD 270 till the High Middle Ages. The results of the archaeological and archaeobotanical analyses provide information on changes in land use and resulting dynamics of woodland cover and composition between c.600 BC and AD 1200, with a spatial and temporal resolution unrivalled in northern Belgium. Especially the long period of woodland regeneration following abandonment of the site around AD 270, covering the Late Roman and Early Medieval period, could be reconstructed in detail. Abandoned fields were first covered with pioneer woodland (Salix, Corylus and Betula), then Quercus-dominated secondary forest and finally a late-successional forest with Fagus sylvatica, Carpinus betulus and Ilex aquifolium, an evolution that took over 300 years. The results also indicate that the observed increase of Fagus during the Early Middle Ages, which was never an important element in the woodland vegetation in northern Belgium before, was related to climatic changes rather than anthropogenic factors.
Direct dates of pottery obtained from food crusts or other organic residues on the vessel surfaces can be affected by a reservoir effect and/or an old wood effect and therefore be unreliable. Hence, there is a need for alternative ways to directly date pottery. Moss is used as temper by several cultural groups of the late 6th to early 4th millennium cal BC in northwestern Europe. After the pottery is fired, charred moss remains are often preserved in the clay, so that relatively short-lived plant material with a direct chronological link to the pottery and human occupation is available for radiocarbon (14C) dating. In this study, charred moss temper is extracted for accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) 14C dating from pottery of the Swifterbant Culture and Spiere group in the Scheldt river valley (Belgium). The moss dates are then compared to reference dates of organic macro-remains from the same sites and food crust dates with or without a reservoir effect of the same pottery. Eleven out of 13 moss dates are in line with the expected pottery age. The paired dates of moss temper and food crusts from the same potsherds confirm a freshwater reservoir effect (FRE) for the latter. We conclude that moss temper has great potential as a sample material for direct pottery dating. However, more research on the extraction and pretreatment of moss temper as well as on the reliability of moss dates is necessary in the future.
In 2015, a domed oven from the late fifth millennium cal BC was excavated near Kortrijk, northern Belgium. In terms of its size, tripartite structure, stone flooring and well-preserved domed combustion chamber, the oven is unique in Neolithic Western Europe, although mostly smaller, less well-preserved parallels are known in northern France. Such features are thought to have appeared in Western Europe in the Early to Middle Neolithic periods (post-Linearbandkeramik Culture). Their appearance and possible use for drying cereals may be related to a change from individual (household) to communal processing of cereals, and/or indicate adaptation to a wetter climate by newly settled agro-pastoralist communities.
Organic residues preserved on the outer surfaces of archaeological pottery are commonly considered to be soot and, not being subject to reservoir effects, as more reliable for radiocarbon (14C) dating compared to food crusts from the inner surface. However, unlike food crusts, outer surface residues are never analyzed prior to 14C dating. This study confronts 14C dates on inner and outer surface residues preserved on prehistoric pottery from Bazel Sluis (Belgium) with the results of stable isotope analysis and thermally assisted hydrolysis and methylation pyrolysis-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (THM-GC-MS). These analyses clearly show that food residue is also present on the outer pottery surface, causing a possible reservoir effect on 14C dates. At Bazel, 14C dates on both the inner and outer surface residues are too old compared to dates obtained on associated animal bone. In addition, the outer surface residues systematically date younger than the inner food crusts, a discrepancy that is also known from other archaeological sites. It is suggested that these age differences are due to the mixed presence of soot and food residue on the exterior vessel wall as opposed to more homogeneous food crusts on the internal surface.
There is little doubt that the small lithic assemblage from the Isles of Scilly is totally different to that from any other Mesolithic site in Britain. As the authors correctly state, the general resemblances to trapeze-dominated assemblages from the continent, in particular to the Late and Final Mesolithic industries from northern France, Belgium and the southern Netherlands, are very obvious. Typologically, the majority of armatures relate to continental rhombic trapezes, called ‘trapèzes à bases décalées’. Upon closer examination, however, several armatures display morphological or technical features that deviate from continental trapezes, making the Scilly assemblage both unique and enigmatic within north-west Europe. In particular, the presence of a dorsally or ventrally retouched base between both truncations on at least 20 of the armatures (p. 962, fig. 5) is remarkable. This is a feature that does not occur on continental trapezes, not even on the evolved rhombic trapezes known as flèches de Dreuil. The latter are particularly numerous in assemblages from the Somme valley (Ducrocq 1991), near the coast where the Channel crossing is narrowest. The combination of a length–width ratio typically <1 and the general use of flakes as blanks prompts us to interpret these implements as transverse arrowheads rather than standard trapezes. Pursuing this interpretation, the basal retouch might have been applied in order to facilitate their hafting, while the irregular small ‘splinters’ on the unretouched opposite end, visible on several of the drawings, might correspond to damage resulting from use.
The Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in the wetland margins of the southern North Sea basin occurred well over a millennium after the transition in neighboring loess regions. This article investigates the possible role of hydrological dynamics in the presence of the last hunter-gatherer-fishermen in these wetland regions. A Bayesian modeling approach is used to integrate stratigraphic information and radiocarbon dates both from accurately datable archaeological remains and key horizons in peat sequences in the Scheldt floodplain of northwestern Belgium. This study tests whether the Swifterbant occupation of the study area was contemporaneous with hiatuses in peat growth caused by organic clastic sedimentation due to increased tidal influences and local groundwater rise. The results suggest that the appearance of this culture followed shortly after the emergence of a brackish tidal mudflat landscape replacing a freshwater marsh.
Sum probability and Bayesian modeling of a substantial series of radiocarbon dates from a former extensive lake area in NW Belgium, known as the Moervaart area, allow important hydrological changes to be synchronized with Greenland Interstadial lb (or Intra-Allerød Cold Period). It is postulated that the disappearance of nearly all open water systems (Moervaart lake, anastomosing gullies, and dune-slacks) in response to this short but abrupt cooling event was responsible for a nearly total retreat of hunter-gatherers already some centuries before the start of Greenland Stadial 1 (Younger Dryas).
Lithic armatures have been widely noted as key evidence for interpreting the role of indigenous Mesolithic traditions in the spread of the Early Neolithic Linearbandkeramik (LBK) culture, and therefore early agriculture, across temperate Europe. Their role as evidence for the continuity of Mesolithic ‘identities’ has been emphasized without the use of a unified, systematic recording methodology of armatures from both Late–Final Mesolithic (LM–FM) and LBK sites that places armatures in their broader context as part of projectile technologies of late hunter-gatherers and early farmers. In this paper, we present the results of recent research in the southern North Sea basin that utilized a systematic and unified recording methodology to analyse armature assemblages from LM–FM and LBK sites on an inter-regional scale. We report that there is much more inter-regional variability in armature assemblages during the LM than traditionally considered in efforts to interpret similarities and possible cultural transmission processes between Mesolithic and LBK populations. This paper calls for a reassessment of inter-regional LM variability in the construction of Mesolithic-LBK contact models and a focus that places armatures in their broader social and technological contexts.
Based on radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) results obtained in the last 5 yr, this paper discusses the absolute chronology of the formation of one of the largest sand dunes within NW Belgium, the Great Ridge of Maldegem-Stekene. Multiproxy analysis of 6 sedimentary sequences points to a complex formation history covering the entire Late Glacial. Dry phases, characterized by eolian deflation and sedimentation, alternated with wet phases in which numerous mostly shallow dune slacks were filled with freshwater. The latter reached their highest water level during the first half of the Allerød, attracting both animals (e.g. European elk) and humans (Federmesser hunter-gatherers). Near the end of the Allerød, all dune slacks finally disappeared as they were filled in with windblown sand ("coversand"), likely forcing prehistoric hunter-gatherers to leave the area.
In order to verify the relative dating based on pot type morphology and decoration of the Swifterbant pottery collected at the Final Mesolithic site of Doel “Deurganckdok” (Belgium) and of the Late Iron Age pottery excavated at Grijpskerke (the Netherlands), direct radiocarbon dates were obtained on charred food residue preserved on the inner surface of numerous potsherds. In addition, a number of indirect 14C dates were obtained from samples of organic material. In the case of Doel, the results indicate an important incompatibility between the charred food residue dates and the other dates, the former being systematically older. This difference may be explained by a reservoir effect of the charred food residue, caused by the processing of (freshwater) fish. The 14C dates for the Grijpskerke site are in agreement between the charred food residue and the organic material. The stable isotopes of the charred food residue were analyzed to demonstrate fish processing in the pottery, but the results were inconclusive.
In volume 295 of Antiquity M. Gkiasta et al. (2003) discussed the results of two sets of analysis carried out on a “new” database of radiocarbon dates: one for the whole of Europe examining the spread of the Neolithic, and one regional approach looking at the relation between Mesolithic and Neolithic dates. Although we are convinced of the potential of both approaches, we do have some major comments on the methodology.
First of all the analyses were conducted on a highly incomplete database. As the authors state on their p. 48, the analysed database currently includes over 2600 samples. Many of them, however, had already been collated in Gob’s Atlas of 14C dates (1990). Although the authors have included new dates, we do not believe that this has been done very systematically. For the Belgian territory, for example, virtually all the dates used in the article were those published by Gob – 16 Mesolithic dates and 30 Neolithic dates. The authors justify this by referring to the bad state of publication and public availability of radiocarbon dates in Europe. This certainly does not hold for the Belgian territory. In the last decade over a hundred new Mesolithic and Neolithic dates have been produced, the majority published in journals available world-wide such as Radiocarbon (Van Strydonck et al. 1995; 2001a), Antiquity (Crombé et al. 2002), Archaeometry (Cauwe et al. 2002) proceedings of the international congresses such as 14C and archaeology (Crombé et al. 1999) and The Mesolithic in Europe (Crombé 1999), and the IRPA- datelists (Van Strydonck et al. 2001b; Van Strydonck et al. 2002). The authors assert that these “shortcomings” to the database probably do not affect their conclusions. This is a rash and provocative statement, which minimises all recent progress in absolute dating of the European Mesolithic and Neolithic. We believe that for the Belgian situation a hundred new dates can make a difference. In recent years, for example, these new dates have allowed a thorough revision of Mesolithic chronology (Crombé 1999; Van Strydonck et al. 2001a) and a refinement of the (early) Neolithic chronology (Jadin & Cahen 2003). This will certainly also be the case for the other study-areas in Europe.
The site of Doel lies beside the Schelde, close to Antwerp. Excavations have uncovered the remains of two prehistoric zones, one from the Final Mesolithic and one from the Neolithic. Preliminary study suggests that current theories of the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in northern Belgium require revision.
The wetland site of Verrebroek “Dok” situated in northern Belgium is one of the largest and best dated locations of Mesolithic material in northwestern Europe. Salvage excavations organized since 1992 at this large, unstratified open-air settlement have revealed more than 50 spatially independent artifact concentrations with traces of numerous fireplaces. Single entity dating of charred hazelnut shells from surface-hearths and charcoal from hearth-pits was used to obtain information not only on the sites duration, but also on the relation between the surface hearths and the hearth-pits. The dates were also used to look at discrepancies between the radiocarbon chronology and the typo-chronology of the lithic artifacts.
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