A Late Mesolithic Kill Site of Aurochs at Jardinga, Netherlands

Article excerpt


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.


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 landscape

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.


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. …