Agropastoral Neolithic lifeways in the sandy lowland of Belgium (2015-2019)

The roles of demic diffusion and/or local adoption in the transitions toward agropastoral Neolithic lifeways in the sandy lowland of Belgium. (Doctoral research: Dimitri Teetaert and Liesbeth Messiaen)

Along the Atlantic coast of North-western Europe the process of neolithization, or the transition from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic is still poorly understood. Having occurred rather late (5000-4000 BC) and gradually, it is not clear whether the introduction of an agricultural way of life resulted from the movement of farmers coming from the loess areas (theory of demic diffusion), localized adaptations by indigenous populations (theory of acculturation or adoption), or a combination of both.

Over the last decade (salvage) excavations have led to the discovery of a series of well-preserved wetland sites situated in the Scheldt valley, e.g. at Doel “Deurganckdok” “sector B/C”, “sector J/L” and “sector M” and Bazel “Stuw”. Together with Melsele “Hof ten Damme” these sites yielded the first evidence of the Swifterbant (2nd half of the 5th millennium cal BC) and Michelsberg (1st half of the 4th millennium cal BC) Cultures, representing respectively the last hunter-gatherers and first farmer societies of the sandy lowland of northern Belgium.

All five transitional sites yielded substantial quantities of burnt and unburnt organic settlement waste. Most of these remains have already been studied, allowing us to reconstruct the changes in subsistence (economy) and environment (ecology) during the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in quite rich detail. Despite the importance of these findings it still remains unclear how the first domesticates entered the Belgian lowland and hence how this sandy region was neolithisized.

In order to address this matter, the study of these transitional sites has to be broadened towards all their evidence, in particular the material culture finds (pottery, lithic artefacts) to enable the possible identification of cultural changes that accompanied these economic changes.

This research project aims at a full analysis of all pottery remains from the five transitional sites in the Scheldt valley following a multidisciplinary approach in which traditional and innovative techniques are combined.
Based on morphological and technological similarities different taxonomic pottery groups will be identified. Apart from the Swifterbant and Michelsberg/Spiere group pottery, the levee sites of Bazel and Melsele show indications for the presence of older pottery traditions (LBK, Limburg and (Epi-)Rössen).

By determining the mineralogical and chemical composition of these different pottery groups an assessment will be made as to whether this pottery has been produced locally or was imported/ transported from areas further away. This should provide information on the origin and genesis of the pottery and lead to determine the relative nature of their presence in the region (remains of occupation, short visit, exchange, …) during this transitional period.

The flint and quartzite artefacts will be subjected to a detailed morpho-technological characterization. A general reconstruction of the applied knapping methods and chaînes opératoires will provide insights in the technological changes which might have occurred throughout the 5th and 4th millennium cal BC and even further back in time, by incorporating late Mesolithic assemblages like Verrebroek "Aven Ackers". Studying the raw material procurement strategies may reveal the state in which these entered the sites and circulated, whereas raw material provenance analysis can provide information about possible mobility and exchange.

The macrolithic artefacts (like polishing stones, grinding stones and hammers, in different kinds of sandstones) will be studied typologically, and will be sampled for further analysis to determine their provenance.

The results of the pottery and the lithic artefact analyses will be compared with data from adjacent study-areas, to get a better understanding of the specific ways in which indigenous Mesolithic foragers interacted with farmers and how they incorporated agriculture into their traditional socioecological systems in different regions along the southwestern North Sea basin.


Prof Dr Philippe Crombé

Drs Dimitri Teetaert (analysis of pottery)

Drs Liesbeth Messiaen (lithic analysis)