Sunday, 6 April 2014

Seminar report: Middle and Late Neolithic Amber, Jet and Bone ornaments contributions from the microscope

This seminar was spilt into two parts: the first discussed ornaments found at various sites throughout the Middle and Late Neolithic and the second part focused on the building of Bronze Age houses based on experimental techniques.

In order to discuss the vast amounts of information concerning this topic, Prof. van Gijn focused this lecture on three main time periods of manufacture during the Neolithic. The first is the Middle Neolithic between 3700-3400 BC, generally associated with the Hazendank group. The sites at Ypenburg and Schipluien provide incredible evidence of ornaments. Ypenburg contains a cemetery consisting of 37 graves, burials of women and children discovered containing ornaments that were shiny and had evidence of heavy wear. Jet beads discovered were all heavily worn whereas it would seem that the amber beads found in the burials were both worn and manufactured specially for burial. At Schipluiden bone beads were recovered from a child’s grave with pronounced evidence of manufacture. Further evidence at this site indicates that the amber and jet beads were not made with much thought.

The second time span refers to ornaments from the Funnel Beaker Period between 3400-2900 BC, this period saw the construction of megaliths and communal burials, generally amber ornaments were found as jet was not as easily available. One interesting characteristic about these beads is that they were reground before they were placed in the communal burials. Re-sharpened axes from the TRB megaliths - Trichterbecherkultur, ie. Funnel Beaker Culture -  add much to the debate. Van Gijn herself believes that these objects were reground in order to depersonalise them, so as to allow them into the communal tomb. Others, however, have argued that an object cannot be depersonalised as it already has a story.

The third period that was discussed is that of Beaker pottery, this time associated with more individual burials such as barrows. Ornaments linked to this period show different biographies in contrast to the Funnel Beaker tradition as they are more individual. At Hanzelijn in North Holland, 16 amber beads were recovered, all with different biographies but all were described as ‘pretty’. Another burial site, Hattemerbroek, provided 18 v-perforated beads, again with different biographies, some pretty and some worn.

During the second part of this seminar, Prof. Van Gijn focused on the more experimental side to her work and discussed the construction of a Bronze Age house. This lecture described the background to this experiment, the goals set out before hand,the construction and the final results. This house was to be constructed at Huize Hosterworld, after the Dutch National Forestry service wanted somewhere to begin walking tours. Diederik Pamstra wanted to attempt to build a house based on teachings from Hans de Haos and Prof. Van Gijn herself wanted an area to carry out other experiments. Some goals of this venture were: to use strictly stone tools and local material, the hardest goal to keep was the documentation of everything that occurred. Other problems with this building were identified during the planning stages, with for instance debates over where to locate the doors. Prof. Van Gijn gave us a great insight into the construction of the house with too much detail to fully describe.  The construction was a success, however Van Gijn states that it will need to be rebuilt again. At this point in time another structure is in the process of being built and will be finished sometime in the future and will be used to house future experiments. 

By Emily Geoghegan

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