New archaeological research into grave goods and skeletal material from the Netherlands’ oldest grave field reveals that male-female roles 7,000 years ago were less traditional than previously thought. A multidisciplinary team of researchers led by Archol, the National Museum of Antiquities, and Leiden University conducted this study.
The Elsloo grave field was studied by a team of chemical analysts, physical anthropologists, and archaeologists (Municipality of Stein, Limburg). Dr. Luc Amkreutz, curator of prehistory at the National Museum of Antiquities and Professor of Public Archaeology by Special Appointment at Leiden University, was closely involved.
The burial goods and skeletal remains were studied by the researchers. The cremation remains allowed them to determine the gender and age of some of the deceased. This led them to the conclusion that flint arrowheads and stone axes, which are generally associated with men, are also frequently found in the Elsloo field’s female graves.
This sheds new light on the traditional idea that burial goods, as personal things, represent the deceased’s daily life and sex. They turn out to be less gender-specific than previously supposed.
The graves of the elderly, especially those of women, were richly furnished. There appears to be a certain status associated with age. There seems to be a ‘burial tradition,’ with specific grave items and rituals associated with hunting, food preparation, woodworking, and body decoration. Many of the deceased, for example, were sprinkled with red ochre.
And almost all of the grave goods had been heavily utilized, regardless of the deceased’s sex and age. The goods seem to be specific utensils belonging to the deceased’s relatives that were deliberately placed in the grave. This gives a good impression of the role of the living, their choices, and the rituals surrounding death. The study reveals a clear nuance in the roles of prehistoric men as hunters, herders, warriors and builders, and women as caregivers and potters.
The Netherlands’ oldest known burial field.
The Neolithic burial field at Elsloo belonged to the Linear Pottery culture, the first farming communities in the Netherlands and large parts of Europe over 7,000 years ago. The Elsloo burial field is the oldest known burial field in the Netherlands (circa 5100-4950 BC). It was excavated by the Cultural Heritage Agency under the leadership of prehistorian Pieter Modderman (1959) and Leiden University (1966).
The findings are now in the care of the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden. This research was carried out within the Cultural Heritage Agency’s Knowledge of Archaeology project. A selection of the finds from the burial field will be on display for a year from 24 June 2022 at Historiehuis van de Maasvallei in Elsloo.