In the spring of 1981, Mr A. Verhoek, a farmer at Jardinga, found the skull of a bovine in the east bank of the Tjonger which runs along one of his fields. A retouched flint tool was also found, adhering to the skull. The findspot is located near the hamlet of Jardinga near Oosterwolde in southeast Friesland, in the northern Netherlands (FIGURE 1). The skull, of which only the frontal bone and the horn cores were preserved, was found to be of a female aurochs, Bos primigenius. In addition to the skull, six other aurochs bones were found, including five phalanges and two rib fragments. A radius of modern cattle was found as well.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
These finds prompted an excavation by the University of Groningen working closely with the Fries Museum, Leeuwarden. The small-scale excavation was carried out in August 1981 and produced more aurochs bones, in addition to a red-deer rib, flint, stone, wood, hazelnuts and a potsherd. Unfortunately the finds were not published directly after the excavation and the site and the finds were forgotten about for more than 15 years.
In 1997 the material was rediscovered in the depot of the Groningen Institute of Archaeology, after which it was subjected to detailed study. Many bones displayed formerly unrecognized cut-marks and AMS radiocarbon dating showed the bones to be Late Mesolithic. Some preliminary results were published in 1999 (Prummel et al. 1999).
The river Tjonger runs northeast-southwest in a valley formed by a glacier of the Saale glacial period, which deposited the boulder clay that underlies the site and its surroundings (FIGURE 2). Aeolian sands covered these boulderclay deposits during the Weichsel glaciation. During that period the river basins were filled with fluvio-periglacial sediments and aeolian sands. In deeper parts of the river basins peat developed.
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
During the Holocene, eutrophic wood peat developed in the basin of the river Tjonger. In the uppermost part of the valley, from 3 km upstream (northeast) of the site, oligotrophic Sphagnum peat developed since the Middle Iron Age (Fokkens 1998: 43). Dense forests covered the Pleistocene sands during the Atlantic (Bakker in preparation). The site itself is situated at one of the narrowest points of the peatfilled basin of the river Tjonger (FIGURE 2).
Occupation history of the Tjonger area
The Pleistocene sandy soils on both sides of this part of the Tjonger (FIGURE 2) were frequently visited during the Late Palaeolithic and the Mesolithic. The area is well known for the abundance of flint and other stone artefacts from Late Palaeolithic Hamburgian sites, and especially for the many Federmesser sites. Most of these are located at only a short distance from the river, suggesting that the Late Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers came to the river for hunting (Van der Meulen 1989). Flint and stone as raw materials could probably be easily collected at the few places where the boulder clay lies at the surface and along eroded riverbanks with sediments that contain flint nodules of sufficient quality (Popping 1933).
The number of known Mesolithic sites along this part of the Tjonger is limited. However, many surface collections of flint and stone artefacts from the area are as yet undated. The area continued to be occupied during the Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age. Half of the Neolithic sites are near the Tjonger and its tributaries, but others are further away from the rivers. The Bronze and Iron Age sites, which are less numerous than the Neolithic ones, have roughly the same distribution as the Neolithic sites. During the Roman Period and the Early Middle Ages the area was not, or very sparsely, inhabited, most probably because of the high water-table in the area. Reoccupation did not start until the late medieval period (Fokkens 1998) (FIGURE 2).
The excavation: method and stratigraphy
The excavation at Jardinga was carried out from 3 to 7 August 1981 under the supervision of G. Elzinga and D.M. Visser. The excavation trench, measuring 7x2.4 m, with the short sides running parallel to the river, was dug at a distance of 2.2 m from the spot where the skull and other bones were uncovered. The sediment was not sieved. Most of the finds were measured in three-dimensionally (FIGURE 3, TABLE 1).
[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]
The stratigraphy of the site from top to bottom consists of five layers: topsoil, peat with sand lenses, wood peat, sand with peat and fluvial sand of the river-bed (FIGURE 4). Two areas were distinguished in the excavation trench:
1 the largely horizontal surface of `fluvial sand' and
2 the `river-bed', where the fluvial sand sloped towards the river (FIGURE 3, FIGURE 4:6).
[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]
In the southeast corner of the excavation trench an erosion gully was observed between the fluvial sand and the sand-with-peat layer. The erosion phase must date to before and during the period of deposition of the finds. The gully was perhaps a small tributary of the river Tjonger running off the Jardinga elevation, which rises to c. 6 m +NAP. A palynological analysis of samples from the wood-peat layer in the western and northern sections of the trench (FIGURES 3 & 4) showed that this layer developed during the Atlantic, c. 7500-5000 BP (Jansen & Steenbergen 1981).
All finds were embedded in the layer of sand-with-peat between the fluvial sand and the wood peat (FIGURE 4:4). This find-bearing layer was c. 1 m thick in the part of the excavation trench closest to the Tjonger and only 0.1 m thick at the other end. The finds were made at elevations between 2.25 and 3.00 m +NAP, the deepest in the `river-bed', the higher ones in the `fluvial sand' area. The level at which the aurochs skull and the other initial finds had come to light in the riverbank, 2.59 m +NAP, shows that they were embedded in the sand-with-peat layer as well.
The excavation brought to light 64 fragments of 56 aurochs bones, one red-deer (Cervus elaphus) rib fragment, six pieces of flint, eight pieces of wood, a number of uncarbonized hazelnuts and several dozen unworked stones (pebbles). A sherd of pottery, which cannot be dated more precisely than Bronze Age to Middle Ages, was found during the backfilling of the trench. Together with those from the riverbank, the number of aurochs bones amounts to 62 (TABLE 2).
The aurochs humerus (find no. 31) from the eastern end of the excavation trench shows slight weathering; the other bones are in perfect condition, indicating that they became embedded in the sediment soon after their deposition. The colour of the bones is dark brown, due to the peat. Several show flint cut-marks or were deliberately broken to release the marrow. A left and a right scapula are the only bones that show post-depositional fragmentation. The fragments of the right scapula were found within 0.5 m from each other (FIGURE 3: find nos. 10-12 and 15).
The 62 aurochs bones represent at least four individuals (TABLES 1 & 2; FIGURE 5). Aurochs 1 is the animal best represented, with four almost complete lower legs, including the distal ends of the deliberately broken tibiae (FIGURE 6). Its foot bones were not found in articulation, but lay up to 1.5-3.5 m apart (FIGURE 3). The right metacarpus and the left tibia of aurochs 1 were dated to 62405 [+ or -] 50 BP and 6180 [+ or -] 50 BP, respectively (TABLE 3).
[FIGURES 5-6 OMITTED]
The metacarpi and metatarsi of this aurochs had been deliberately broken. They had been hit on their anterior-medial and medial side, respectively. Flint cut-marks around the place of impact show that the skin and tendons were removed beforehand. The same type of fracture is observed in two metatarsi from the Mesolithic site of Ulkestrup Lyng Ost (c. 6090 BC) (Richter 1982: FIGURE 6). Cut-marks are also visible on the left and right calcanei of aurochs 1 (FIGURE 6).
This individual, having all foot bones fused, died aged older than 3 years. The left metacarpus and the metatarsi allowed estimates of a height at the withers of 1.46 and 1.49 m, respectively (the epiphyseal age data and withers height factors are those for domestic cattle). The broad distal end of the left metacarpus (distal width (Bd) = 78.7 mm), given the bone's total length of 238.0 mm, suggests that this aurochs was a bull (Dohle 1990: Abb. 2).
Aurochs 2 and 3 are only represented by phalanges. Those of aurochs 2, which died aged more than 15-18 months, shows that this animal was considerably larger than aurochs 1. A phalanx 2 of this aurochs shows cut-marks from the removal of the skin or the tendons. For aurochs 3 there is no proof that it was a hunted animal, since cut-marks are absent. Aurochs 2 and 3 were dated to 6420 [+ or -] 50 BP and 6520 [+ or -] 50 BP, respectively (TABLE 3).
The skull, which was radiocarbon dated to 6210 [+ or -] 50 BP, represents aurochs 4. The five phalanges and a rib that were found together with this skull in the riverbank may originate from the same individual. The phalanges, which demonstrate that this aurochs died at least 20-24 months old, show that it was smaller than aurochs 1. This smaller body size fits with this aurochs being a cow. The skull shows cut-marks on the frontal bone, testifying to the removal of the skin. A phalanx 1 and the rib also show cut-marks. The rib was deliberately broken near its proximal end, close to the spinal column, presumably to open up the thorax (cf. FIGURE 5).
The other aurochs finds, a left and a right scapula of the same individual, a humerus fragment, parts of five thoracic vertebrae and fragments of seven ribs (TABLE 2; FIGURE 5), could not be allocated to particular animals, but may originate from the four already identified. The scapulae show cut-marks on various sides of the bones, testifying to the removal of the meat. Radiocarbon samples date the scapulae to 6235 [+ or -] 40 BP and 6260 [+ or -] 50 BP. The scapulae could thus be of aurochs 1 or aurochs 4 (TABLE 3). The distal end of the humerus, which was deliberately broken, and two thoracic vertebrae show cut-marks.
The vertebrae are of at least two individuals, one with unfused epiphyses, and therefore younger than 4-5 years, and one with fused epiphyses, older than 4-5 years. Two ribs had been broken near the proximal end in the same way as the rib of aurochs 4. Of these ribs only the proximal ends are present. Aurochs ribs of the Early Mesolithic site of Bedburg-Konigshoven were broken in the same way (Street 1990: 28-9). Another Jardinga aurochs rib has small cut-marks on the lateral side.
The red-deer rib is an almost complete right one, about no. 8 from the front. It was deliberately broken at the proximal end, in the same way as the three aurochs ribs discussed above, and shows small cut-marks on the lateral side. It is dated 6410 [+ or -] 50 BP (TABLE 3).
During the excavation six pieces of flint were found; five blade fragments and a piece of flint with some traces of hammering. The blade fragments are three medial fragments, a proximal fragment and a distal fragment (FIGURE 7). None of the blade fragments could be refitted. The flint is fine- to moderately fine-grained and must have been collected from boulder clay or boulder sand present in the surrounding area. Some pieces show a slight gloss patina, which most probably is due to the sandy matrix in which they were found.
[FIGURE 7 OMITTED]
All blade fragments were subjected to use-wear analysis (van Gijn 1989) but numbers 18, 27 and 35 proved to be unsuitable for such an analysis because of the presence of gloss patina. Blade fragment 17 was well preserved, but has no visible traces of use; if it had been used, it must have been on very soft material, for example meat. The proximal fragment (no. 3) displays slight damage along one of the edges and was possibly used for cutting meat or fresh skin (FIGURE 7). It did not make contact with bone. Unfortunately the only formal tool, a scraper, which was found together with the aurochs skull, was lost and could not be studied.
A total of 20 hazelnuts were found. No specific information about their context is available and they cannot be correlated with any of the distinguished stratigraphical layers. Hence, no link with the animal remains can be made.
Nine hazelnuts were still complete, whereas the others were fragmented. The fractured surfaces are straight or angled, but do not show the characteristic marks of rodent gnawing. The most plausible explanation is that the hazelnuts were deposited by the stream, having originated from trees growing on the higher ground flanking the Tjonger basin. The surface of both the complete and the fragmented fruit walls clearly shows small marks of wear due to the shells' waterborne transport. Plant remains of all kinds can be transported in a submerged condition and end up in a concentration of drift litter along the riverbank (Cappers 1993).
In an excavation, large hand-picked fruits of hazel are easily observed with the naked eye, hence they tend to be overrepresented when no sieving procedure is applied. Judging by the hazelnuts' excellent waterlogged preservation, it may be assumed that many more plant remains could have been recovered by applying a sieving procedure.
Late Mesolithic hunter-gatherers visited the narrow Tjonger valley near Jardinga to hunt aurochs and red deer at least twice: c. 5400 and 5250-5050 cal BC (TABLE 3 for calibrated dates). The Tjonger basin was a place where these large herbivores came to graze and drink. The surrounding sandy area was densely forested, and was not the optimum grazing habitat for these animals. Aurochs and red deer could be captured near rivers when the animals concentrated there for grazing (Bridault 1994; 1995).
Aurochs 1 was hunted, killed and initially butchered at the site, or at a very short distance uphill. The completeness of its foot skeletons means that the river did not transport the feet before they became incorporated in the sediment. Skulls and separate phalanges are easily transported in running water, especially if they are dry, i.e. defleshed (Coard 1999). Freshly butchered, wet bones have limited floating potential. Nevertheless, the bones of aurochs 2-4 and the red-deer rib could have drifted to the site. Since the rate of flow of the Tjonger was low during the Holocene (Berendsen 1997: 190), we conclude that aurochs 2, 3 (?) and 4 and the red deer were killed and butchered either at the site or a short distance away.
The skin, tendons and the parts of the carcass rich in meat, fat and marrow were transported from the kill site to dwelling sites on higher ground (FIGURE 2). The marrow of the metapodials was consumed at the kill site. The feet and the skull, being the waste from the removal of the skin and tendons, and some defleshed bones were left in the river-bed. At dwelling sites on higher, sandy ground the car-casses were butchered further. Since bones are not preserved in these soils there is no chance that remains of these carcasses will ever be recovered.
Other finds from Europe
Mesolithic aurochs kill sites are rare in Europe. The site of Schlaatz near Potsdam, Germany, is the only other certain kill and primary butchering site of aurochs dating from the Mesolithic. From radiocarbon-dating of a piece of wood in the sediment, the find was first published as being Late Palaeolithic. AMS radiocarbon-dating of an aurochs bone produced an Early Mesolithic date for this kill site (Benecke 1999: 123): 9936 [+ or -] 40 BP.
The Schlaatz find is a partial aurochs skeleton consisting of the skull, a large part of the spine, some ribs and several other bones. The aurochs bones were found articulated, apart from three ribs that were found a metre from the spine. Almost all bones show cut-marks. Around the skeleton were flint artefacts, several showing traces of use. The animal was a c. 7-8-year-old bull with a withers height of c. 1.65-1.70 m. Close to this male aurochs, bones of another aurochs and of other species were found (Gramsch 1987; Teichert 1987; Gustavs 1987).
The Schlaatz site, 3700-3500 years older than the Jardinga one, is comparable to the latter in various respects:
1 it was a kill and primary butchering site of aurochs,
2 the skin and meat were removed from the skeleton at the kill site,
3 the waste of the primary butchering was left at the kill site,
4 bones of another aurochs and of other animal species were found at the kill site and
5 flint artefacts were found among the bones. In contrast to Jardinga, the foot bones at Schlaatz were taken with the skin from the kill and butchering site, whereas most of the spine was left behind.
Legge & Rowley-Conwy (1988: 94) in their re-analysis of the animal bones from Star Carr (Yorkshire, Great Britain) suggest that this Early Mesolithic site on the shore of Lake Pickering was a hunting camp for red deer, elk, roe deer, aurochs and wild boar (also Legge 1998: 107). Meat was removed to a base camp elsewhere, and the same will hold for skins and tendons. Presumably the aurochs kill-butchering sites were not very far from the hunting camp, considering the great weight of these animals. At Jardinga and Star Carr alike, the distal ends of the legs predominate among the aurochs bones and the metapodials had been broken for the marrow (Legge & Rowley-Conwy 1988: table 1C; 91).
The site of Bedburg-Konigshoven (Rhineland, Germany) is a possible Early Mesolithic kill site of aurochs. In a silted-up channel of the river Erft remains of at least 11 aurochs were found together with other hunted animals. The elements of the vertebral column and the ribs are under-represented, so these elements were possibly transported from the site. The high degree of fragmentation of the aurochs bones shows that the aurochs were completely butchered at the Bedburg-Konigshoven site, which possibly combines a kill site and a dwelling site (Street 1989; 1990; 1999).
Auler (1995: 172) proposed the Early Mesolithic site of Sassenberg-Hildenbrink (Germany) as a possible kill and primary butchering site of aurochs. A partial skeleton with a height at the withers of c. 1.65 m was found here together with a flint blade and a red-deer antler axe. The hind legs of the aurochs are missing. However, no cut-marks were observed on the bones.
In several continental European marshes, bogs and lakes more or less complete aurochs skeletons from the Mesolithic period have been found. Some of these finds represent animals that fled into marshes or lakes after being shot, and were not used by man; others died a natural death (Auler 1995).
The Jardinga site is a Late Mesolithic hunting and kill site, a rare phenomenon in Mesolithic archaeology. Late Mesolithic hunter-gatherers came to the river Tjonger near Jardinga to hunt for aurochs and red deer. At least two hunting phases within the Late Mesolithic have been identified. More research in the river basin and on the Pleistocene soils will be necessary in order to assess the intensity of hunting and habitation during the Mesolithic in this area.
TABLE 1. Find numbers of items from the excavation (1-82) and from the initial find in the riverbank of the Tjonger (83-92). Finds 1-34 were recorded in the upper level, finds 35-69 in the lower level (FIGURE 3); the exact location of finds 70-76 and 79-82 could not be determined owing to the high water table. Find numbers linked by `+' refer to fragments of the same bone. material find numbers aurochs 1, foreleg bones carpus: 1, 21, 23, 37, 40, 48, 52, 68, 74, 76, metacarpus: 7, 29+54 aurochs 1, hind leg bones tibia: 6, 65, tarsus: 5, 8, 19, 25, 26, 51, 53, 69, 73, metatarsus: 16+71, 7a+70, phalanges: 34, 36, 63, 66 aurochs 2, phalanges 62, 67 aurochs 3, phalanx 55 aurochs 4, skull, phalanges skull: 83, rib: 84+85, phalanges: 86, and rib 88, 89, 90, 91 bones of aurochs 1-4 left scapula: 9+20+24, right scapula: 10+11+12+15, humerus: 31, vertebrae: 14+42, 41, 43, 47, 75, ribs: 22, 28, 30, 45, 49, 50, sesamoids: 2, 4, 13, 32, 33, 38, 39, 44, 46 red deer rib 72 flints 3, 17, 18, 27, 35, 81, 92 wood 56, 57, 57a, 58, 59, 60, 61, 64 palynology soil samples 77, 78 modern cattle bone 87 TABLE 2. Jardinga. Aurochs and red deer bones from the 1981 original find and the excavation (fragments from the same bone are counted as one bone). species and number bones delibe- minimum aurochs skeletal element of with rately number no. bones cut- broken of marks bones animals aurochs, Bos primigenius skull cranium 1 1 -- 1 4 spinal column vertebra thoracalis 5 2 -- 2 1-4 costa 7 2 3 2 1-4 foreleg scapula 2 2 -- 1 1-4 humerus 1 1 1 1 1-4 carpus 10 -- -- 1 1 metacarpus 2 2 2 1 1 phalanx 1 1 1 -- 1 4 phalanx 2 1 1 -- 1 2 phalanx 3 3 -- -- 2 2 and 4 hind leg tibia 2 -- 2 1 1 astragalus 2 -- -- 1 1 calcaneus 2 2 -- 1 1 other tarsus 5 -- -- 1 1 metatarsus 2 2 2 1 1 phalanx 1 1 -- -- 1 1 phalanx 2 3 -- -- 2 1 and 4 phalanx 3 2 -- -- 2 1 and 4 lower part of foreleg or hind leg sesamoidea 9 -- -- 1 1-4 phalanx 3 1 -- -- 1 3 total 62 16 10 4 red deer, Cervus elaphus costa 1 1 1 1 TABLE 3. Jardinga. Radiocarbon dates and dates calibrated with the Cal25 computer program. bone (collagen), AMS dating BP date calibrated date datings sample BC at 95% probability find no. 55, phalanx GrA-9645 6520 [+ or -] 50 5611-5589 3 of aurochs 3 5559-5459 5453-5415 5407-5369 find no. 67, phalanx 3 GrA-9646 6420 [+ or -] 50 5475-5319 of aurochs 2 find no. 72, rib of GrA-9649 6410 [+ or -] 50 5475-5315 red deer find no. 12, right GrA-9644 6260 [+ or -] 50 5319-5203 scapula of aurochs 1-4 5197-5193 5181-5063 find no. 7, right GrA-9643 6240 [+ or -] 50 5305-5189 metacarpus of aurochs 5183-5059 1 find no. 24, left GrA-14109 6235 [+ or -] 40 5301-5202 scapula fragment 5181-5137 5133-5065 find no. 83 c/c, GrA-9650 6210 [+ or -] 50 5299-5041 cranium of aurochs 4 5007-5005 find no. 6, left tibia GrA-9640 6180 [+ or -] 50 5295-5287 of aurochs 1 5285-5271 5263-4993 4969-4963
Acknowledgements. We are grateful to G. Elzinga and D.M. Visser for their help in reconstructing the 1981 excavation and to R.J. Kosters who assisted in the identification of the aurochs foot bones. Ms X. Bardet corrected the English. Martin Street read the manuscript.
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WIETSKE PRUMMEL, MARCEL J.L.TH. NIEKUS, ANNELOU L. VAN GIJN & RENE T.J. CAPPERS *
* Prummel & Cappers, Groningen Institute of Archaeology, Poststraat 6, 9712 ER Groningen, Netherlands. firstname.lastname@example.org Niekus, Archaeological Research & Consultancy BV, PO Box 41018, 9701 CA Groningen, Netherlands. van Gijn, Archaeological Centre, PO Box 9515, 2300 RA Leiden, Netherlands.
Received 28 June 2001, accepted 20 November 2001, revised 30 January 2002…