Archaeologists in the Netherlands have recently made a significant discovery—a 4,000-year-old ritual site that served as a solar calendar and burial ground.
Stretching across an area of more than nine acres, this site, often referred to as the “Stonehenge of the Netherlands,” featured three mounds of soil that allowed sunlight to pass through on the summer and winter solstices.
Within these mounds, the remains of approximately 60 individuals, dating from 2500 to 1200 B.C.E., were found. The researchers believe that this site held great cultural and spiritual importance to the ancient community, where they commemorated special occasions, performed rituals, and buried their dead.
Similar to Stonehenge, the Dutch ritual site was constructed using wood, which has since decomposed, distinguishing it from the enduring stone monuments found in the British landmark.
However, the comprehensive and cohesive landscape of the recently discovered site is an extraordinary find, offering valuable insights into the lives of the ancient farmers who inhabited the region during the Bronze Age.
According to Stijn Arnoldussen, a historian at the University of Groningen, farmers from the Stone Age onwards had been interested in the positions of the sun. The Dutch archaeologists’ discovery, however, presents a unique and complete landscape, rarely encountered in previous excavations.
The main burial mound, approximately 65 feet in diameter, served as a solar calendar. The passages within the mound were aligned to allow sunlight to penetrate on specific days, particularly during the summer and winter solstices.
This solar calendar enabled the ancient community to mark important moments, including festivals and harvest days. Furthermore, the site contained various offerings, such as animal skeletons, human skulls, and valuable artifacts like a bronze spearhead.
Among the intriguing findings at the site was an ancient glass bead, the oldest ever discovered in the Netherlands. This bead, traced back to Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq, highlights the remarkable connectivity between the Bronze Age inhabitants of the region and groups located over 3,000 miles away.
The presence of this glass bead, crafted from a material unfamiliar to the local populace, suggests that it was a highly prized item and a testament to the exchange and interaction between distant civilizations.
The research team involved in the excavation project spent six years studying over a million artifacts from various periods, ranging from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages.
The discoveries made at this site significantly contribute to our understanding of the region’s history and cultural development. Plans are underway to exhibit some of these artifacts at local museums in Tiel and the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden.
The significance of this discovery has sparked discussions on how to share the story with the public. The Flipje and Regional Museum in Tiel will temporarily exhibit Bronze Age grave artifacts, while the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden showcases findings from a nearby group grave. This effort aims to bring the ancient history and cultural heritage of the Netherlands to a wider audience.
The excavation in Tiel, particularly the unearthing of the solar calendar and burial site, represents one of the largest archaeological investigations in the Betuwe region since the late 1990s.