Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

The Barrow Landscapes project

In the first half of the 20th century, hundreds of burial mounds in the Netherlands have been investigated. Many questions, however, are still unanswered. The barrow landscapes project tackles a number of these questions by re-investigating finds from excavations stored in museums with new methods and techniques.

David Fontijn


Dr Liesbeth Smits (University of Amsterdam)

Karsten Wentink Mphil

Barbara Vesselka MA

Dominika Kofel MA           

Dr Luc Amkreutz (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden)

Municipality of Garderen

Municipality of Ermelo and Putten

Municipality of Apeldoorn

Museum Nairac

Rijksmuseum van Oudheden Leiden (National Museum of Antiquities)

Research question

Which category of people were buried in barrows and which were excluded? With what intensity were burial mounds used and re-used? And what does this tell us on the social significance of these ancient monuments?

Research Activities

New research has been carried out on the cremated remains of the barrows of Garderen-Bergsham. Datings were established for dozens of graves, giving new insight into the temporality of barrow use in the Bronze Age (Bourgeois/Fontijn 2015). A publication on the biography of these barrows is forthcoming (Fontijn/Kofel/Smits/Wentink). Currently, the cremation remains of the barrows of the Ermelose Heide, Speulder Heide and Elspeter Heide are under investigation (Vesselka/Fontijn)  


Scientific research on barrows started early in the Netherlands. From 1906 onwards several hundreds of barrows have been excavated in a scientific manner. Right up until the 1970's barrows formed the main focus of research in the Netherlands, and it is only with the advent of large scale excavations that the focus shifted towards the settlements. Since the 1970's however research on barrows has stalled, and although a few overviews have been published (Lohof 1991, Theunissen 1999), no new research was conducted. The aim of the barrow-landscapes project is to rekindle the interest in barrows, and to obtain new scientific material for further research.


The first aim of the research project was to compile a database containing every excavated barrow in the Low Countries. Started in 2005, this database now comprises more than 620 individual barrows. Every variable from the level of the landscape down to the contents of the grave is recorded. This database has enabled many new inquiries into the nature of the barrow-grave ritual and is continuously added upon. The database is not yet complete, but contains almost 90% of all excavated barrows in the Netherlands.

Reworking Old Excavations

A second aim of the project is to resurface old excavations and rework them up to modern-day standards, with modern-day insights. Even though many barrows were excavated in a scientific manner, writing the reports on them has not always been the main interest of archaeologists throughout the years. Due to time-constraints several barrows ended up without getting published. One of the goals of the project is to find old excavation plans, locate the finds in the depots and try to republish the barrow.

The reworking of old excavations will be implemented in the education-programme. Students will have the opportunity to follow classes focussing on reworking such an old excavation or rework these excavations into a bachelor or master thesis.

Casus - Uddelermeer

One of the sites that the project is focussing on is the site of Uddelermeer. Located next to a collapsed pingo, a medieval rampart quickly attracted attention. After a few small excavations in the middle of the 19th century several other scholars conducted their own research on this location. It was quickly realized that the earliest remnants at this site were much older than the medieval rampart. Ten barrows were located in and around the site. Unfortunately not all the barrows were published, and only a few have received any attention in the publication by Holwerda (1911). The others had to suffice with a small note or were drawn on the general overview map. The drawings and the finds from these barrows however are still kept at the National Museum for Antiquities in Leiden.

Not only Holwerda conducted research there. Several other archaeologists have conducted excavations at the site, but since they were more interested in the medieval history of the site, the prehistoric remnants never received the full attention they deserved. During the excavation however they did unearth several features of high archaeological importance. Not only was this site the location for several barrows. Traces of a palisade dating to the TRB period were also found. All the prehistoric traces however were never fully published. The material and the drawings are now located at the University of Amsterdam and the RACM.

It is the intention of the research project to combine all the evidence on this site and to try and create a comprehensive overview of the actions in prehistory at this site.

New Research and Excavations

The third line of research conducted under the banner of the barrow-landscape project are new excavations. These new excavations, while not a necessity, allow us to try out new excavation techniques and new research questions.

  • Excavations at Rhenen, Elst (province of Utrecht).
  • Oss Zevenbergen
  • Gemeente Apeldoorn 

The Barrow in its Landscape

The fourth and last line of research delves deeper into the context of the barrow. In most cases the context of the barrow in its surrounding landscape is unknown. In the past large-scale excavations did not exist and people rarely looked beyond the level of the barrow. In the few rare occassions that an area next to the barrows was opened up, several structures and features all seemed to incorporate the barrow into a wider landscape. At Haps several palisades seem to run through or parallell to the barrows. At some other sites long rows of postholes seem to form an allee towards the barrow . Recently the excavation at Oss Zevenbergen showed that several rows of posts criss-crossed the area between the barrows. Clearly much more was going on around the barrows than was previously assumed.

Combined with this, pollenanalytical analysis will be used to reconstruct the surrounding vegetation at the time of the building of the barrow.

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