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22 July 2007
Dutch burial mounds to be excavated

The Dutch landscape is strewn with ancient burial mounds, but what are the stories behind them? Neolithic mounds are often 4000 to 5000 years old, they are visible to everyone but the research on those sites has for a number of decades been at a standstill. Leiden archaeologist David Fontijn intends to change this situation. From 16 July to 3 August, together with a team of colleagues and students, he will excavate two burial mounds belonging to the town council of Apeldoorn.
     Fontijnís excavations will take place 101 years after Queen Wilhelmina had the first mound excavated†by a Leiden archaeologist. What remains to be researched in these mounds in 2007? "For a long time it was thought that we knew everything there was to know about the hundreds of burial mounds that are to be found in the Netherlands," Fontijn recounts. "After they acquired the†status of artefacts of cultural heritage in the seventies, the mounds were no longer excavated. When I started examining old research reports, I discovered that all kinds of phenomena concerning these burial mounds remained unexplained. For example: Why are the mounds situated where they are? Or: why were cows sometimes buried inside?"
     Apart from scientific interest, Fontijnís research is also prompted by public interest. The archaeologist was approached by his colleague Maarten Wispelwey who works for the Apeldoorn town council. "Although the mounds constitute half the number of national state monuments, very little is known about them. Obviously, this is not acceptable to the public, and we therefore support the excavations wholeheartedly," said Wispelwey.
     "Apeldoorn contains the oldest burial mounds in the Netherlands. The first were constructed in 3000 BCE. Added to this, the conservation conditions are good. We don't expect to unearth only skeletons. In earlier excavations, weapons, jewellery and other objects were found. I am also curious about what we will find in the direct vicinity of the mounds. House remains would be an indication that the mounds were built on top of settlements; the houses of the deceased above the houses of the living. During the earlier excavations, rows of poles were also found in the vicinity of the burial mounds. They may have marked processional routes," Fontijn added.
     Fontijnís team will set to work using novel techniques. "We have access to the most modern techniques and so we will be able to do some real pioneering work.†Ground-penetrating radar will enable us, for example, to very precise soil composition measurements,† and to trace interesting objects," said the archaeologist. "For a researcher, nothing is more stimulating than knowing that there is public interest in the knowledge he is gathering. There is a great deal of support for these excavations. This is apparent from the fact that the town council and the land owners are willing to invest money in the project. Everyone wants the burial moundsí secrets to be unravelled," he concluded.

Source: Universiteit Leiden (10 July 2007)

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