“Animals and people in the Netherlands’ past”: >50 years of archaeozoology in the Netherlands

Lay summary authored by Canan Çakırlar and Youri van den Hurk. Read the full paper here: http://doi.org/10.5334/oq.61

It has been more than 50 years since the late Prof. Anneke T. Clason published her PhD thesis, Animal and Man in Holland’s Past (Clason 1967), based on animal bone remains excavated at sites in the Province of Holland in the Netherlands. Subsequently, Clason became the leading archaeozoologists (also called a zooarchaeologist – a specialist expert who analyses animal remains from archaeological sites) in the Netherlands, as well as its international face. Since the late 1960’s, her colleagues and students have built a strong tradition of archaeozoology in the Netherlands, producing, interpreting and publishing an enormous amount of data.

However, most archaeozoological data remain difficult to access and/or are scattered in grey literature in Dutch. Syntheses are scarce. The scarcity of overviews hinders efforts to train, strategize, and internationalize this field of study in the Netherlands. Inspired by the 50th anniversary of Clason’s career launch, we wrote this review article to provide an accessible introduction for beginners in and outsiders to Dutch archaeozoology.

Extinctions and introductions Netherlands aa

Figure 1: Overview of introductions and extinctions of some mammal and bird species in the Netherlands during the Holocene. BC and AD dates are calendar years (calibrated dates).

As part of this synthesis, we discuss twelve themes that have received the most attention from Dutch archaeozoologists and their predecessors over the past 50 years, bringing together a thorough and extensive overview of the archaeozoology of the Netherlands from the Palaeolithic to the Middle Ages. The themes vary from regional (e.g. archaeozoology of terps (artificial dwelling mounds in the northern part of the Netherlands)) to chronological (e.g. archaeozoology of the Bronze and Iron Ages) to overarching overviews (e.g. extinctions and invasions; see figure 1).

Each thematic section draws data from the most thoroughly studied (e.g. medieval site of Dorestad), interesting and/or best-known sites and assemblages (e.g. Swifterbant culture sites), and offers suggestions for future research directions (e.g. the beginnings of animal domestication and breed improvement). We display the wealth of archaeozoological information, the impact it can have on our understanding of human-animal interactions in the past, and how we can use this data to inform conservation.

Clason, A. 1967. Animal and man in Holland’s past: an investigation of the animal world surrounding man in prehistoric and early historic times in the provinces of North and South Holland. Unpublished thesis (PhD), Rijksuniversiteit Groningen.

The full paper in Open Quaternary: Çakirlar, C., van den Hurk, Y., van der Jagt, I., van Amerongen, Y., Bakker, J., Breider, R., van Dijk, J., Esser, K., Groot, M., de Jong, T., Kootker, L., Steenhuisen, F., Zeiler, J., van Kolfschoten, T., Prummel, W. and Lauwerier, R., 2019. Animals and People in the Netherlands’ Past: >50 Years of Archaeozoology in the Netherlands. Open Quaternary, 5(1), p.13. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/oq.61

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A multi-proxy reconstruction of environmental change in the vicinity of the North Bay outlet of pro-glacial Lake Algonquin

Lay summary authored by Ryan Rabett. Read the full article at: http://doi.org/10.5334/oq.54

At the end of the last Ice Age large frigid lakes formed in the Great Lakes region of North America in front of the retreating Laurentide ice‐sheet. Subject to the effects of periodic meltwater surges through the lake system and by the rebound of the land itself once the great weight of the ice had gone, these lakes underwent repeated changes in shape, depth and drainage over comparatively short periods (with individual phases tending to last hundreds rather than thousands of years). Despite such changeable conditions the archaeological evidence that survives from this time suggests that their shorelines and the surrounding environment were capable of sustaining forays by Late Palaeoindian groups venturing into this new landscape from further to the south, though information is scant.

Balsam Creek kettle lake basin

Balsam Creek kettle lake basin (Photo: R. Rabett).

For this project we aimed to produce a new environmental record for northeast Ontario, an area that featured centrally in the late drainage history of one such lake: Lake Algonquin. At its height, 13‐11,000 years ago, Algonquin was the largest lake in the Great Lakes Basin, filling the area of today’s Huron and Michigan Great Lakes as well as a swathe of adjacent lands. Following reconnaissance by the senior project author (PK), we extracted and analysed a core from a small lake in a suitable location c. 34 km north‐east of the city of North Bay, Ontario near the hamlet of Balsam Creek.

Coring in the Balsam Creek kettle lake

Coring in the Balsam Creek kettle lake (Photo: T. Rabett).

The environmental history preserved in the bed of the lake begins c. 10,500 years ago, following one of the final phases in Algonquin’s late evolution, and when the local landscape had become only recently ice‐free. From there on the core extends through time up to the last few hundred years. Among our results we identified two early intervals when deteriorating climate conditions significantly affected vegetation around the lake. Interestingly, both coincided with peaks in volcanic ash (attributed to eruptions in Oregon) also identified in the core, suggesting a possible association. Outside of these times, however, the character of the local forest did not change significantly, indicating that this and other small similarly enclosed lake basins may have been less susceptible to resource disturbance affecting the wider landscape. Given the scarcity of well‐preserved Late Palaeoindian sites in this part of Ontario, such locales could represent a profitable focus for future archaeological investigation of the first human pioneers to enter the Northlands.

Trekking to the Balsam Creek kettle lake

Trekking to the Balsam Creek kettle lake (Photo: T. Rabett).

Rabett, R.J., Pryor, A.J.E., Simpson, D.J., Farr, L.R., Pyne-O’Donnell, S., Blaauw, M., Crowhurst, S., Mulligan, R.P.M., Hunt, C.O., Stevens, R., Fiacconi, M., Beresford-Jones, D. and Karrow, P.F., 2019. A Multi-Proxy Reconstruction of Environmental Change in the Vicinity of the North Bay Outlet of Pro-Glacial Lake Algonquin. Open Quaternary, 5(1), p.12. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/oq.54

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Reconstructing the Diets of Past Arctic Peoples: A Review

Lay summary authored by Alison Harris and Deirdre Elliott. Read the full paper here: http://doi.org/10.5334/oq.67

In the popular imagination, the Arctic often presents as a great white expanse of ice, snow and rock, however, it encompasses river deltas, deep fjords, shallow basins, polynyas and tundra, and these regions offer a variety of resources, such as migrating seals and whales, walrus, fish and seabirds, berries and fresh green plants, that can be hunted and gathered at different times of the year. Early communities in the Arctic successfully used skin boats, dog teams and specialized tools made from bone, baleen, caribou antler, and walrus ivory to hunt marine mammals and make homes for themselves from the coast of Alaska to Greenland.

Stable isotope analysis is a method used to study the diets of ancient humans and animals. Bones and teeth are composed of chemical elements sourced from food, and by measuring isotopes of these elements in the bones, teeth, or hair of archaeological human skeletons, it is possible to reconstruct the average diet of a person during life. In our paper, we review the stable isotope studies that have been conducted on the skeletal remains of Inuit and Yupik people from the Arctic, dating from ~AD 1000 to AD 1800. Drawing from this body of literature, we suggest several additional considerations that may enrich interpretations of stable isotope data from Inuit and Yupik skeletons: the interaction between human physiology and the high fat and high protein diets of the Inuit; the influence of traditional food preparation methods on food chemistry; and the importance of generating and interpreting these data in a way that incorporates the priorities and concerns of indigenous stakeholders.

In the Circumpolar North, the impacts of climate change are severe and the role of archaeology in mediating this threat is limited, but not insignificant. With a greater understanding of arctic life in the past, we gain the ability to imbue strategies for protecting northern communities with greater cultural sensitivity and respect for traditional ways of life.

Harris, A.J.T. and Elliott, D.A., 2019. Stable Isotope Studies of North American Arctic Populations: A Review. Open Quaternary, 5(1), p.11. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/oq.67

Part of the Special Collection: Methodological Advances in Coastal and Maritime Archaeology.

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Working from the Known to the Unknown: Linking the Subaerial Archaeology and the Submerged Landscapes of Santarosae Island, Alta California, USA

Lay summary authored by Todd Braje. Read the full paper here:


Just 30 years ago, every classroom textbook, scientific presentation, and documentary film told the same story of the Peopling of the New World. The First Americans were terrestrial big game hunters, who followed migrating herds of mammoths and mastodons across the Bering Land Bridge and down the Ice-Free Corridor into the North American heartland. These Clovis hunters used deadly and distinctive projectile point technology to successfully hunt big game and spread from sea to shining sea beginning about 13,500 years ago. Despite some scientific opposition, this story seemed to fit available archaeological, genetic, and paleoenvironmental data.


The Northern Channel Islands geophysical survey study area with the locations of our regional track lines and the four 1 km2 detailed survey box locations. Figure taken from the paper.

This all changed in the 1990s with the discovery and dating of the Monte Verde II site in southern Chile, occupied by humans a thousand years prior to the arrival of Clovis and the cultural complex that was once believed to represent the First Americans. A variety of new archaeological discoveries and genetic and paleoecological data now suggest the First Americans might have arrived in boats, following New World Pacific coastlines. Rigorous scientific testing of this hypothesis has been difficult due to the flooding of paleocoastlines by rising sea levels as global ice turned to water and melted into our world’s oceans after the Last Glacial Maximum about 20,000 years ago. The shorelines these early migrants would have followed are now, for the most part, underwater. Here, we describe efforts to locate where submerged archaeological sites might be found in southern California, along the paleoshorelines of the Northern Channel Islands. These islands contain the highest concentration of Paleocoastal sites in all of the Americas and may be key to helping us uncover evidence of the First Americans. We developed a predictive model to refine massive search areas and offshore geophysical mapping and coring to test high probability areas for evidence of submerged archaeological sites.

Full paper:

Braje, T.J., Maloney, J.M., Gusick, A.E., Erlandson, J.M., Nyers, A., Davis, L., Gill, K.M., Reeder-Myers, L. and Ball, D., 2019. Working from the Known to the Unknown: Linking the Subaerial Archaeology and the Submerged Landscapes of Santarosae Island, Alta California, USA. Open Quaternary, 5(1), p.10. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/oq.66

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Scanning life histories of stone age oysters

Lay summary authored by Niklas Hausmann. Read the full paper here:

Oysters are some of the most commonly eaten marine molluscs in the world.
This is true today and has been true for thousands of years.
During their history as reliable food source, oyster populations had ups and downs, and in Europe there were times when Oysters were eaten in the billions each year (Londoners alone ate 700 million per year in 1864), with dramatic effects on their overall number and life expectancy.

The European Oyster has not recovered from these times at all and currently, researchers as well as industrial fisheries are trying to build up sustainable population sizes again.
The problem with this large-scale endeavour is that we currently have only limited knowledge what such a population would look like in terms of its demography, life expectancy, or individual growth.
And to solve this problem, researchers are looking at archaeological sites from the Stone Age and during periods before any large-scale oyster exploitation. By looking at the ages, sizes and growth rates of these archaeological oysters, we can get a baseline, or reference, to which modern populations can be compared to.


Elemental map and growth micro-image of the oyster shell thin section. The scale shown for the elemental map is also applicable to the mico-images. Note that the colouring of the elemental maps is based on the individual limits of each specimen’s Mg/Ca ratio, with bright colours showing high ratios and dark colours showing low ratios. Credit: N. Hausmann.

Our article, presents a new way of determining archaeological oyster ages in a very quick and inexpensive way, so that we can access this information in many places around Europe and throughout time.
Our new method is called elemental mapping through Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS), which is measuring geochemical changes in the different growth lines of the mollusc shell. The geochemical composition of those segments change depending on the environment and the animal specific internal processes. For instance, in the oysters, we expect the concentration of Magnesium to increase with higher growth rates. With most Northern European oysters stopping their growth during winter, we can use these repeating increases (and decreases) to reconstruct how many winters the animal lived through (i.e. their age in years).

Getting this kind of information is usually done via microscopic analysis of very thin slices of shell, which take a lot of time to make, or through other geochemical analyses using oxygen isotopes, which cost a lot of money.
So with our pilot study, we successfully explored the use of LIBS as a new, fast, and cost-effective way of looking at shells in the past, setting the way for regulating our current efforts of repopulating the overfished oyster regions of the North Sea.

Full paper: Hausmann, N., Robson, H.K. and Hunt, C., 2019. Annual Growth Patterns and Interspecimen Variability in Mg/Ca Records of Archaeological Ostrea edulis (European Oyster) from the Late Mesolithic Site of Conors Island. Open Quaternary, 5(1), p.9. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/oq.59
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Geoarchaeological Evidence for the Decline of the Medieval City of Qalhat, Oman

Lay summary authored by Gösta Hoffmann. Read the full paper here: https://www.openquaternary.com/articles/10.5334/oq.56/

Today the ruins of the Qalhat are a UNESCO world heritage site. In medieval times, the ancient city of Qalhat was an important trade town along the shores of the Indian Ocean. The reasons for the decline of the city are unknown but speculations include warfare as well as earthquake activity. The research concentrated on the coastline in the vicinity of Qalhat. The morphology of the coast indicates that the earth surface must have moved upwards in recent times. This can clearly be seen by a staircase of raised marine terraces. Uplifted beaches indicate rather young movement. Evidence is presented that these vertical movements are associated with earthquakes. The paper concludes that the decline of the ancient city of Qalhat is likely related to earthquake activity. This is of relevance as a modern gas liquefaction plant is located along the fault which is the most likely candidate to be responsible for the rupture some 500 years ago.


Example of karstification. The Bimmah sinkhole. (A) location of the sinkhole (dot in the centre) as depicted in the digital elevation model. (B) and (C) the stratigraphy exposed in the sinkhole shows Eocene limestone, overlain by deltaic Pleistocene deposits. Figure taken from the original paper.

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Sowing the seeds of future research: Data sharing, citation and reuse in archaeobotany

Lay summary authored by Lisa Lodwick. The full article can be read in Open Quaternary: http://doi.org/10.5334/oq.62

Archaeobotanists spend countless hours at the microscope, sorting and identifying ancient plant remains. Counting seeds is a key step in the research process, enabling patterns to be established across sites, within regions, and through time – patterns that can tell us about a wide range of past human-plant relationships. As the number of archaeobotanical data sets have grown and statistical analysis has become more widely used, meta-studies have provided new insights into the timing of crop domestication, the spread of domesticated plants, and shifts in how crops were cultivated. Undertaking such meta-analysis relies on access to the counts of plant remains from the initial studies. However, there is a common perception that much data produced within archaeology, and across many academic disciplines, is not always made publicly available. How much seed count data is still available?

In this study, I used over 200 journal articles published over the last decade in 16 journals to assess how archaeobotanists are currently sharing their data. Whilst 56% of papers did provide their full or ‘raw’ data, this was often in forms that make the reuse of this data challenging – e.g., the data might need re-entering into a spreadsheet. The remaining articles did not contain their ‘raw’ data, limiting the types of analysis for which they could be used. A second assessment was undertaken of meta-studies using previously published archaeobotanical data – whilst 64% did reference the studies used, 21% did not, hindering the extent to which others can build on these studies in the future. The lack of formal credit, by way of citation, to data producers for the creation of archaeobotanical datasets may limit the motivation to make future datasets available in a reusable format.

The decisions researchers make regarding if and how to share datasets is complex, with factors including career stage, access to financial and technological resources, education and training all coming into play. But discussions of data-sharing should be undertaken across academic communities, and training should be provided as part of degrees and within professional bodies; after all, the availability of sample-level data enables the fullest future use of archaeobotanical research, and makes the most of long hours spent at the microscope.

Based on the article:
Lodwick, L., 2019. Sowing the Seeds of Future Research: Data Sharing, Citation and Reuse in Archaeobotany. Open Quaternary, 5(1), p.7. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/oq.62

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