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Farmers, fishers, fowlers, hunters

Knowledge generated by development-led archaeology about the Late Neolithic, the Early Bronze Age and the start of the Middle Bronze Age (2850 - 1500 cal BC) in the Netherlands

H. Fokkens, B.J.W. Steffens & S.F.M. van As
01 December 2016
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In 1992, the member states of the Council of Europe co-signed the European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage in Valletta (Malta). This treaty, often referred to as the Valletta Convention, paved the way for development-led archaeology. It compels real estate developers to prospect for archaeological remains prior to construction activities and to deliberate with archaeologists and authorities on whether to excavate, preserve or ignore these remains. In many countries, this obligation completely changed the archaeological order of decision making and the allocation of responsibility for the protection and documentation of heritage.

In the Netherlands the new order led to many new players in the field: many excavation and consultancy companies came into being. These are guided by a norm, the Dutch Archaeology Quality Standard (AQS), and by a National Research Agenda Archaeology to produce optimal results. Fifteen years after the new system started, the question is: has development-led archaeology been able to generate new knowledge about the past? Has increased prospection and excavation activity paid of? Should we continue in the same style, or should we formulate new kinds of research questions?

These are the kinds of questions that the present book aims to discuss. The main goal is to assess the gain in knowledge resulting from development-led archaeology, notably for remains of the period 2850-1500 cal BC: the Late Neolithic, the Early Bronze Age and the start of the Middle Bronze Age. We know this period very well from burial mounds and bronze hoards. Bronze objects and burial assemblages are widely discussed in international literature, for the Bell Beaker period even with the Netherlands as a typological role model. The question we raise in this book is whether development-led archaeology has confirmed this picture, or whether large scale excavations in ‘Malta-context’ have generated other types of evidence. Have we been able to detect houses from these periods, or settlements? Are these comparable for all regions or are there regional differences? Do we have indications for social stratification; for migrations?

The answers to such questions are hidden in the many reports that development-led archaeology has produced in the last 15 years. The problem is that so many site reports have been produced, that it is a huge task to synthesise these data and translate them into coherent models. Therefor the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE) commissioned the authors to go over all the data assembled in the last 15 years, present them to the wider public in a synthesised form, and answer a number of research questions.

Because these data are published in Dutch language site reports, this book has been written in English to make the data available to a European (scientific) public. Relevant sites have all been summarised in Chapter 7, which therefore has become the central part of this publication. A synthesis of the Dutch data was formulated in Chapter 8, demonstrating that especially settlement evidence has dramatically changed our perception of the period. The traditional image based on burial data needs to be altered completely. This has implications for the international discourse on the Beaker period as well.

The book ends with a large number of methodical and theoretical avenues that can be followed to gain more knowledge in the next fifteen years of development-led archaeology. We advocate a far more integrated approach between all specialists involved in archaeological excavation and post-excavation analysis. Only then we will be really able to generate new knowledge about the past.

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