Neolithic barrow or tumulus sites are being lost at an alarming rate in the Netherlands. Development projects for housing and industrial use employ archaeologists who excavate these ancient sites, often leveling them in the process before they are paved over to accommodate the development.
Such is the case in Dalfsen, located in the province Overijssel, where during the process of building a housing project, 120 graves were discovered from the Funnelbeaker culture. The acidic soil had long ago eaten away at the skeletal remains leaving only shadowy, ghostlike images. The people buried here lived between 3400 to 2700 BC and they were the makers of hunebeds, or dolmens. Beside the burials were grave goods including the elaborately decorated pottery for which the culture was known.
According to ADC Archeo Projecten (ADC), the archaeological firm chosen for the dig, the burial site measured approximately 120 X 20 meters wide and and included remains of an earthen monument, which was marked by an oval ditch measuring around 30 X 4 meters wide or approximately 98 X 13 ft. The earthen mound was located in the center of the burial ground. The monument would have looked like a dolmen or hunebed, but not made of stone. A remarkable and very rare, ritual platform was on top of the central mound and was likely used for staging rites connected with the burials. All finds were south of a 5000-year-old sand road, the so-called Middenweg, which disappeared during the 1960’s due to land consolidation. Along this road the dead were transferred for burial. Postholes indicate a Stone Age farmhouse, measuring approximately 12 meters long, with a burial found near the mound. The oldest finds at Dalfsen are Mesolithic flints dating from between 8800- 4900 BC.
Daan Raemaekers, of the University of Groningen, commented on the importance of the discoveries at Dalfsen. His colleague, Henk van der Velde, manager of ADC Archeo Projecten, a firm that conducts about 500 excavations a year, stated on Dalfsen.net, “The discovery of this graveyard is not only important for Dalfsen and Overijssel, but it even transcends the national interest.” Although this was presented as the largest grave field of the Funnelbeaker culture in North-West Europe, the site was not be saved. Neither Raemaekers, nor ADC Archeo Projecten, with Niels Bouma as Project Director, recognizes the earthen monument as sacred, despite the fact that it was a burial site. The cost to excavate and level the sacred mound was estimated at US $720,870, the amount paid to ADC Archeo Projecten.
Municipal authorities and Dutch archaeologists usually do not inform the wider public until after an excavation is finished, so there is no process for voicing opposition to the development project. The discovery of such a large Funnelbeakers burial ground in Dalfsen changed all that, and the news was reported on television while the dig was ongoing. The finds at Dalfsen were presented as new discoveries, however, the excavation appears to have been started earlier in the Spring of 2015, the first Funnelbeakers having already been dug up during February. If the public had known about this important site in February, then perhaps it could have been stopped and the site preserved. The lead archaeologist from ADC, Henk van de Velt, reported that they kept the excavation secret because of the fear of looting.
Once the news broke on Dutch television there was such a large interest by the public, that authorities felt compelled to open the site for a one-time only public viewing.
A Sacred Sites member journeyed to the Funnelbeaker site, and on the way visited the forest of Veluwe, (province Gelderland) where there are two preserved barrows that are part of an approximately, 6-km-long alignment, that is probably lunar oriented. This visit was designed to view barrows that were naturally and respectfully preserved in contrast to what had been done at the newly excavated Funnelbeaker site in Dalfsen.
There were thousands of people who flocked to the site on visiting day, which was advertised thusly, “Ontdek het grootste grafveld van de hunebed bouwer”s (Discover the largest gravefield of the hunebed builders). What did the visitors see at the dig? Well, nothing, for the archaeologists had destroyed all visible traces of the ancient monument.
ADC Archeo Projecten, despite being a professional archaeological firm, had contracted with students to do the physical labor involved in the archaeological excavation. There were some young students from the University at Groningen digging a trench, and recording information for teaching purposes or merely just for show, however, the actual excavation was over. Other students participating in the excavation were from Saxon High School and the Missing Link Mangers for Archaeology.
Daan Raemakers from the Archaeology Department at Groningen is also involved with the Funnelbeakers site which may indicate the elaborately decorated pottery found at the site will be studied at his University, along with the amber chains, polished axe, and flints.
The Visitors’ Day included a slide lecture that was given on the findings by Henk Van de Veld. To the side stood glass cases with some of the relics taken from the site, amber beads, stone axes, and the amazing Funnelbeakers pots, of which 120 were excavated.
In fact, Mr. Van de Veld appeared at a television talk-show where he actually passed around some of the pots for participants to hold. Of particular interest was a very small, decorated pot that was taken from a child’s grave. Imagine what would have happened if someone had dropped the fragile, low-fired pots. See link below for a Dutch TV broadcast.
When the presentation over, Mr. Van de Veld was asked whether anything would be saved or consolidated for posterity. He replied, “That’s impossible.” A good example of consolidation is at Woodhenge in England which was consolidated by pouring concrete in the ancient postholes. This, at least, leaves a sense of what was there and preserves the orientation and layout of the site.
When asked whether he had contacted the Mayor of Dalfsen, to discuss with him the possibility of consolidating the ritual platform, sacred center of the Stone Age site? Surely the plans for houses and new neighborhood could be modified somewhat, so that the ancient memorial heritage would be saved? Van de Veld became very nervous, then evasive, his speech blurred, and then he walked off.
The path to destruction took years and involved a covenant with the Province of Overijssel which had the final approval over the development plans. It began on September 27, 2010 when the Municipal Council of Dalfsen presented their “Structural Vision” for building 900 houses. The municipality of Delfsen noted that the housing site had “high archaeological expectations.” For four weeks, the municipality of Dalfsen provided the citizens with insight to their development and building plans and ultimately concluded that the project had sufficient public support and the Municipal Council agreed upon the project.
According to Dalfsen’s Archaeology Policy, because of “high archaeological expectations,” archaeologists had to be employed as required by the Treaty of Malta.
Dalfsen drafted an Archaeology Policy in 2012 that stipulates:
a) The commitment to meet technical regulations by which archaeological values in the ground can be preserved.
b) The commitment to carry out an excavation.
c) The commitment for the work or workings that lead to ground disturbance should be guided by an expert in the field of archaeological care of monuments which meets the standards set by the mayor and high municipal officials for the permit to meet specific qualifications.
ADC Archeo Projecten, the firm chosen to perform the excavation of the building site, presented the Municipal Council with three options for their dig and when asked by the Council which would be best, ADC recommended the second of the three, US $720,870. – the most expensive option.
A ground plan for the sacred site before has, so far, not been released to the public. The ritual mound may have been oriented to either the sun or moon, and though this is quite possible, we are unable to confirm this, as sadly, the archaeological ground plan is beyond reach, hidden in the Archis database, only accessible to archaeologists.