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North Holland settlement re-examined

Archaeologist Virginia García-Díaz made replicas of centuries-old tools to be able to study North Holland settlements from the corded-ware culture. PhD defence 23 February.

Shortly before the start of the Bronze Age, a large part of Northern Europe was inhabited by people from the corded-ware culture, a culture that stretched from Russia to the  marshy coast of North Holland. When studying the corded-ware culture, previous researchers have concentrated mainly on the graves that were typical of this culture: these were earth mounds in which the dead person was buried, together with valuable objects such as axes for men and typical earthenware corded beakers for women.

Important role

‘Hardly any research has been done on daily life during this period,’ Virginia García-Díaz says. ‘That’s a pity, because it is a culture that played an important role in the history of Europe and more specifically of North Holland.’ The award of a subsidy from NWO means that scientists from Leiden and Groningen can now re-examine the corded-ware settlements.

Keinsmerbrug, Mienakker and Zeewijk

García-Diaz’s dissertation focuses on three settlements at the northern tip of North Holland: Keinsmerbrug, Mienakker and Zeewijk. She studies specifically artefacts that may have played a role in housekeeping and other everyday activities. These include such items as flint tools for gathering crops, making pins from animal bones to hold clothes together and jewellery made from amber or the teeth of animals.  


To determine exactly what the objects were used for, García-Diaz made replicas of different traditional artefacts in the lab.  She had the idea that a sharp stone was used as a rivet for making amber beads, although she wasn’t sure about this. By recreating the rivet and replicating its use, she was able to see whether the traces of wear and tear of the replica matched those of the original object.


The same applies, for example, for pendants made from animal bones: the cord on which it hangs leaves behind clear traces in the amber. And, if used over a long period of time, a flint tool becomes blunt and shows trace lines.  García-Diaz makes grateful use of stereomicroscopes and metallographic microscopes in the lab at the Faculty of Archaeology in order to compare the minute signs of damage.

Summer guests

From her analyses García-Diaz discovered that the three North Holland settlements differed from one another in terms of their usage. Unlike the two other locations, the settlement at  Keinsmerbrug was only inhabited in summer. On the basis of the artefacts, she was able to deduce that fish and ducks were probably caught, but that the villagers most likely did not cultivate any crops. In winter they probably left for the surrounding villages where grain crops were grown.

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