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1 - Prehistory: signs of the ice ages and remnants of human habitation

Officially, the Noordoostpolder celebrated its seventieth anniversary in 2012, but the region's history goes back much further.  An interesting fact is that in prehistoric times, after the penultimate ice age, this area already saw human migration. Back then, the Noordoostpolder was a marshland with a lot of sand dunes.  The current Noordoostpolder has unearthed many remnants from that era.

Six thousand years ago, Swifterbant people inhabited the area that we now know as Flevoland. The picture shows the so-called head man of Swifterbant. The skeleton is wearing a headdress made of amber beadsSix thousand years ago, Swifterbant people inhabited the area that we now know as Flevoland. The picture shows the so-called head man of Swifterbant. The skeleton is wearing a headdress made of amber beads

In the penultimate ice age, sheets of ice covered the Netherlands from Amsterdam to Nijmegen.  The drift of this ice eventually led to the formation of the Utrechtse Heuvelrug and the Veluwe.  When the ice finally began to melt, it left behind heaps of rock in the northern part of the Netherlands.  These remnants, terminal moraines, can be found in Urk, Schokland and near Vollenhove. The moraines contain boulder clay, which is a mixture of boulders, gravel, sand and clay.  Its impermeability to water makes boulder clay ideal for the construction of dikes.

Last ice age 

More than 70,000 years ago, in the early days of the last ice age, Neanderthals roamed the tundra hunting for reindeer, musk oxes and mammoths. One of their stone hand axes was found in the Ketelmeer near Dronten. The coldest period was between 21,000 and 18,000 years ago. Our region was permanently frozen (permafrost). The place where we now live was a polar desert: masses of sand shifted with the wind and covered the entire area. In some places, this so-called sand-cover was meters thick. The cold climate had drained the entire southern North Sea. It was home to species that are now extinct, like the woolly rhino, woolly mammoth and cave lion.

 Reconstruction of a bellowing woolly rhino; withers height 140 cm. Reconstruction of a bellowing woolly rhino; withers height 140 cm.

The first inhabitants showed up in the last period of the Weichselian ice age, as this period is called. These nomads were reindeer hunters, gatherers and fishers. Their camp remnants were found near Kuinre and Schokland. 

Woolly mammothWoolly mammoth

The Holocene after the ice ages

After the ice ages, sea levels went back up as the ice caps melted. Sea levels rose rapidly between 9,000 and 5,000 B.C. Melting ice flooded the North Sea basins with water. A large part of our country was flooded. Huge marshes began to form. This led to the formation of moors and bogs. Rivers and streams carved through the area. The warmer climate and the changing landscape gave the hunter-gatherers  more survival options. They lived near rivers and streams on river dunes and sand ground hills where they survived on whatever nature had to offer them: pines and birches were chopped down to produce wood tar (tar obtained from the destructive distillation of wood). They used this tar to attach flint arrowheads to a shaft. The climate grew warmer and vegetation changed. After 3850 B.C. sea levels gradually continued to rise.

Swifterbant culture

Between 5500 and 3850 B.C. the moors in the Northern Netherlands expanded greatly. One of the larger rivers to pass through was the Overijsselse Vecht. Smaller streams and gullies drained into it. The first people in this region settled at levees, sand ground hills and boulder clay mounds. 

The Swifterbant people lived on hunting, fishing and gathering food and other resources. In the 1950s, the first archaeological finds of this culture were discovered around Schokland.The Swifterbant people lived on hunting, fishing and gathering food and other resources. In the 1950s, the first archaeological finds of this culture were discovered around Schokland.


When various settlements and two burial fields were excavated around Swifterbant between 1962 and 1977, this culture was named after its site. The Swifterbant are characterised by pottery with a pointed base. The Swifterbant man also transitioned from hunting and gathering to agriculture: for example, they cultivated hulled wheat and naked barley on small fields. This culture vanished with the rise in sea levels.


Movie: Discovery of Swifterbant skeleton on site 5.

Funnel cup culture 

After the Swifterbant culture disappeared, the Funnel Cup culture took its place. Funnel Cup culture is a collective term. A large number of related communities in the New Stone Age (neolithicum) resided in the area that spanned southern Scandinavia up to Northern Europe. These groups left us with their dolmen, among other findings. The dolmen also unearthed cups. The Funnel Cup culture and subsequent similar cultures like the Single grave culture and the Winding wire culture symbolled a transition phase into the Bronze Age. 

 

3,700 years old cow trotter imprints discovered near Schokland, 1987.3,700 years old cow trotter imprints discovered near Schokland, 1987.
Bronze age

In 1950, archaeologist Gerrit van der Heide discovered pottery, flint, artefacts, natural stone and bone material while digging a ditch. This location is now known as business park A6. Excavations were carried out in 2000 and 2001; among the items found was settlement waste. Ultimately, this led to the discovery of 11 fishing weirs and 48 fish traps in a gully near what is now the city of Emmeloord. Other discoveries included 'loose' finds, like a palstave and lance tip. One of the fish weirs mentioned was up to 50 meters in length and had around 120 poles: the largest prehistoric fish weir in Europe. These findings all come from the period 2000-1800  B.C. 

Iron age  (700 -12 B. C.)

After the draining of the Noordoostpolder, a dugout canoe was discovered near what is now the Kuinderbos forest. Its provenance is unknown. Unfortunately, this canoe has gone lost. In 2003, a damaged dugout canoe was found when constructing the Kadoelerveld. This canoe had a length of around 5 meters and a width of 0.7 meters and it was found in a lateral creek of the Overijsselse Vecht. It was dug out from a six hundred year old oak tree between 520 and 460 B.C. Finds from this period are very rare.

 Dugout canoe in the Kadoelerveld. On September 4, 2003, an employee from the Dutch Society for the Preservation of Nature discovered an oak dugout canoe in the Kadoelerveld. The boat is worn and has seen extensive use. It shows a notched transverse ridge and the bottom also has two smaller notched elevations. Dugout canoe in the Kadoelerveld. On September 4, 2003, an employee from the Dutch Society for the Preservation of Nature discovered an oak dugout canoe in the Kadoelerveld. The boat is worn and has seen extensive use. It shows a notched transverse ridge and the bottom also has two smaller notched elevations.

Roman period (12 B.C.  - 401 A. D.)

The arrival of the Romans marked the end of prehistoric times in the Southern Netherlands; but in the north, everything stayed as it was, for now.

 Map of the Netherlands in Roman times. Drawing by Utrecht lawyer and antiquity expert Arnoldus Buchelius (1565 - 1641). Map of the Netherlands in Roman times. Drawing by Utrecht lawyer and antiquity expert Arnoldus Buchelius (1565 - 1641).

Roman finds almost certainly arrived here in later periods. A tile of the 30th legion from Xanten (near Nijmegen) was discovered, as well as a fibula (brooch). Before the start of our calendar, the drainage to the North Sea silted up, water levels increased, and thus the Flevomeer (Mare Flevum) was born. The only find in situ (found at the original place where it was used) was a yellowish pitcher to the north-east of Schokland. This find was dated to 220 A.D. Museum Schokland has a lot of finds on display. At walking distance from the museum is the Gesteentetuin  [garden of stones] with its visitor centre. Some of the stones were found by farmers while they were working their fields. The Gesteentetuin, like the P. van der Lijn reserve near Urk, offers a lot of information about how the stones and the ice age came to be.