The heavy storms in February and March this year damaged one of the Stone Age houses at Masamuda.

In order to repair the house, that was originally built with Stone Age tools, members of the Putting Life into Late Neolithic Houses team joined forces under the supervision of Leo Wolterbeek and started the reparation of the house with ropes, wooden forks and levers.

Repairing the Vlaardingen house, (© Yuri van Koeveringe)

Thanks to the team, they managed it quite well and the house is now back into its original shape.

Please find the news item on the EXARC website:

Vlaardingen Culture sites often yield large quantities of polished axe fragments, and occasionally even complete axes are found. Microscopic analysis of these axes and notably these axe fragments indicated that there were marked differences in the production traces which could be observed. This came as a surprise because all these axes were imported from far away. The people of the Vlaardingen Culture didn’t produce flint axes, they imported them from flint mines in Belgium. It is always assumed that these axes were imported as finished objects (Bakker 2006).

Figure 1. Complete polished flint axe from Hekelingen III (Collection RMO Leiden).

To better understand the differences in production traces we decided to conduct a series of experiments where we would grind and polish flint using different methods. So far we conducted three experiments (see figure 2-4):
1. Grinding flint on a sandstone grinding stone with water;
2. Grinding flint on a sandstone grinding stone with water and coarse sand (0,6 mm);
3. Grinding flint on a sandstone grinding stone with water and fine sand (0,05-0,25 mm);

The experiments were added to the reference collection of the Material Culture Studies laboratory which already included two experiments with production traces on flint. Both experiments were conducted to polish flint using leather and fine sand (Van Gijn 2010; Wentink 2020). These experiments were conducted to replicate the production traces found on Corded Ware Culture (2900-2500 BC) axes. This method of polishing flint with leather and sand seemed to be a new introduction in this period as these traces were observed on Corded Ware Culture axes but not on Funnel Beaker Culture (3400-2900 BC) axes in the same region.

Preliminary results
So far the experiments confirmed our hypothesis that the different traces could be linked to different production methods. On one site we mainly found evidence for the grinding of flint on a grinding stone using water, sometimes with the addition of fine sand (see figure 4 & 5). On another site most axe flakes seemed to have been extensively polished using leather and fine sand (see figure 6 & 7).

These results however raised a lot of new questions:
– If all the flint axes come from the same flint sources in Belgium why do they yield different production traces?
– Is there a chronological difference indicating that the production methods for the production of these axes changed over time? Does this change run parallel with the change in production observed in the eastern Netherlands during the transition from the Funnel Beaker Culture tot the Corded Ware Culture?
– Did the final stages of production take place in the area of the Vlaardingen Culture instead of in Belgium, as it was previously assumed?


Bakker, J.A., 2006. The Buren axe and the cigar chisel. Striking export products from the West European flint mines – associations and distribution along their northern fringe, in: G. Körlin and G. Weisgerber (Eds.), Stone Age – Mining Age. Bochum: Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum, 247-275.

Van Gijn, A.L., 2010. Flint in focus: lithic biographies in the Neolithic and Bronze Age, Leiden: Sidestone Press.

Wentink, K., 2020. Stereotype. The role of grave sets in Corded Ware and Bell Beaker funerary practices, Leiden: Sidestone Press.


In December 2021 a number of researchers of the ‘Putting Life into Late Neolithic houses’ project gathered in Masamuda for the first series of cooking experiments.

Cooking and food preparation was most likely an important part of the daily life of the Vlaardingen people and as we are fascinated by the details of their life, cooking is of great interest to us. Food and cooking are also important from an educational viewpoint: people are often curious about food and there are many clichés about prehistoric food and eating habits. Who doesn´t know the image of the hairy primal man dressed in leopard skin and roasting a whole animal over a flaming fire?


What has been found?

The Vlaardingen people left behind a large number of utensils that surely would have been used in the ‘kitchen’. There are (broken) pots and baking plates of pottery, grinding stones of granite and sandstone, and of course, flint tools that would have been used for cutting up ingredients.

The pottery vessels, in particular, have much to tell us thanks to the possibilities of food residue analysis. Everybody must have experienced, at least once in a lifetime, the burning of food during cooking. It was not different in prehistory. The evidence of these unfortunate cooking events is preserved on pottery sherds in the form of burnt food crusts, which can under favourable conditions be preserved through thousands of years. These burnt crusts are considered to reflect the original vessel contents, the last or one of the last meals cooked in that particular pot. Through the studies of the archaeological food crusts, we can understand how people, in prehistory, prepared their daily meals. For example, if tiny fragments of cereal grain are found embedded in food crusts, then it is very likely that a cereal-based meal was cooked. If the grain remains are accompanied by fish scales, we can assume that cereal-based porridge was cooked together with fish.

The Vlaardingen people fired their pots at low temperatures, resulting in porous pottery. Certain elements of food, like fat or proteins, are caught in these pores and can be studied as well. These two types of food residues, encrusted on sherds as surface residues and the residues absorbed in the walls of cooking vessels, can shed much light on what and how people in the past were preparing in their kitchens.


The setup of the experiments

When we designed the experiments we had a number of goals in mind. The experiments were to be the first of several and were meant, first and foremost, to lay a foundation for future experiments. One of the objectives was to understand how foodcrusts like the ones that were found archaeologically are formed and if there are one or more ways of foodcrust formation. For this experiment, we used plant foods that are represented in archaeobotanical assemblages from Vlaardingen Culture sites like emmer wheat, flax, and acorns. Emmer grain particles were already discovered in archaeological food crusts from one of the earlier studied Vlaardingen Culture sites, Den Haag Steynhof, indicating that emmer-based porridge was cooked long ago by Vlaardingen people.

All cooking was done in handmade pots, made especially for this experimental cooking (see Figure 1).


Making the pots

As it is not yet known where the Vlaardingen people got their clay, a modern prepared river clay was used to make the pots. As the Vlaardingen people mixed their clay with crushed quartz, this temper had to be prepared first. Small pieces could be crushed easily between two stones, but larger pieces were first heated in a hot fire and then thrown in the water to cause fractures in the stone. After crushing the quartz to the right size, the clay was mixed with 12% of this temper.

Research of Vlaardingen pottery has shown that the bottom of the pot was made from a small bowl shaped from one piece or ball of clay. Then the walls were built up using thin rolls. Because wet clay is soft, the potter has to wait often to let the clay dry out a bit to avoid the pot collapsing under its own weight. Six pots were made based on the general Vlaardingen Culture style with fairly narrow bottoms and S-shaped walls. This shape was later refined by beating gently with a piece of wood. The last step of the process was smoothing both the inside and the outside with the hands. Then the pots were left to dry for two weeks before they were fired in a modern oven at 725﮿C.


Doing the experiments

The experiment took place on a fairly cold, windy day in December. Because of the restrictions due to Covid, we couldn’t work inside the reconstructed Vlaardingen Culture house. A long fire was lit and the pots were put on the fire with one side facing the flames.

We cooked three Vlaardingen-style meals. We used three pots and cooked each meal once until the food crust was formed in each pot.

Fig. 1: Vlaardingen-style potes in cooking fire, from left to right: Pot 1, Pot 2 and Pot 3. (Photo: L. Kubiak-Martens/BIAX Consult).

In POT 1 we cooked fish with guelder-rose berries (Viburnum opulus).  This dish was cooked as a kind of soup. The fish was cut in large chunks and the berries were added whole. When the soup was simmering, a layer of foam appeared on top of the soup. This accumulation of foam created a thin patina-like layer of fatty whitish residue in the rim area of the pot (see Figure 2). At the end of the experiment, we drained the soup and heated the fish and berries without water in the pot, to imitate the soup boiling dry. This way, we created a thick layer of charred food crust on the walls of the pot.

Fig. 2: POT 1. Cooking fish with guelder-rose berries. Note characteristic fatty whitish residue accumulated around the rim of the pot. (Photo: L. Kubiak-Martens/BIAX Consult).


In POT 2 we cooked a porridge-like meal based on emmer wheat and flax seeds (also known as linseeds) with the addition of water. We used a mixture of fine and coarsely ground emmer grain and coarsely ground flax seeds. Some emmer chaff entered the cooking pot together with the portion of grain (as often observed in archaeological food crusts). It proved easy to create a thick layer of charred crust in this pot by not stirring and not turning the pot very often (see Figure 3).  Also, the fact that this emmer-based porridge absorbed the water relatively fast contributed to the formation of the food crust in a relatively short time.

Fig. 3: POT 2. Porridge-like meal made of emmer grain and flax seeds. The accumulation of the charred food crust on the inner walls of the pot can be observed. (Photo: L. Kubiak-Martens/BIAX Consult).

In POT 3 we prepared acorn mush with rose hips and crab apples. First, the acorn shells were removed, then the acorns were ground into a coarse to a fine fraction.  Prior to cooking, the crushed acorns were soaked in six changes of cold water over three days. This process, called cold leaching, is required to remove bitter tannins and to make acorns palatable. We had planned to cook this acorn mush until all water was evaporated and/or absorbed resulting in the pot boiling dry. This proved to be a very long process, as the acorn mush does not absorb water very well, and remained liquid for a long time, contrary to emmer and flax porridge which absorbed water relatively fast. Still, in the end, a thick crust of charred acorn mush accumulated on the walls of the vessel (see Figure 4).

Fig. 4: POT 3. A thick crust of acorn mush cooked with crab apples and rose hips, accumulated on the walls of the pot. Note fragments of coarsely ground acorns embedded in residue matrix. (Photo: L. Kubiak-Martens/BIAX Consult).


Outcome, results and ‘findings’

The experiments were a success. We made crusts in several ways and from authentic ingredients. These crusts will be analysed to provide reference material for future work. The crusts which were formed during experimental cooking were similar to the prehistoric food crusts, however, there was one big difference: the prehistoric crusts are often stuck to the pots while the experimental ones became detached from the pots’ walls when the pots were broken (see Figure 5). It was decided to bury several large sherds with crust to determine whether the deterioration in the ground would have a role to play in this matter.

Fig. 5: The experimentally obtained crust of emmer and flax porridge-like food, detached from the wall of the pot. (Photo: L. Kubiak-Martens/BIAX Consult).

One other ‘finding’ was about the practical use of Vlaardingen-style pottery. The pots, even though they were often turned so they were heated on all sides, were damaged as large, round flakes popped off the walls. When we compared these with sherds that detached themselves from pottery during firing in an open fire it was concluded that the cause was most probably heat stress caused by the cold winter wind. Thanks to potter Ton van Grunsven who helped us understand what had happened. So we learned something besides making crusts: Vlaardingen people probably didn’t cook food in their pots out of doors on windy winter days.

On March 14, professor Annelou van Gijn gave a lecture in Edinburgh for the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in collaboration with the Prehistoric Society. During this lecture, she presented our research project on the Late Neolithic Vlaardingen culture and the importance of experimental archaeology in combination with use-wear analysis in orde to discover the interconnectivity between tools, activities, and the landscape.

You can find the link to the YouTube recording here.

Some additional footage can be found here as well as on the website of EXARC.

Om meer ideeën op te doen voor de kano die op dit moment gereconstrueerd wordt in Vlaardingen, zijn Leo, Kirsti en Caroline op donderdag 15 juli naar het Huis van Hilde geweest om daar de kano van de Wieringermeer te bekijken.[1] We mochten er met ons neus bovenop, en met behulp van een bouwlamp hadden we goed zicht op de kano. Hij is gemaakt uit een rechte eik met weinig zijtakken: op de resterende 7,32 meter zijn slechts twee (kleine) knoesten gevonden! Dat betekent dat de boom in een hoog dicht bos heeft gestaan. Bij het maken is het spint verwijderd en de bodem volgt de jaarringen (U-vormig).

De vorm van de (onderkant van de) kano volgt de jaarringen (kernhout)

De dikte van de bodem varieert tussen 2 en 5 cm, en op het dunste deel is kennelijk een scheur ontstaan: hier werd over een lengte van circa 2 m met minimaal 12 paar gaten (1×2 cm, ovaal gesleten in de lengte-richting) een reparatie uitgevoerd.

Ovaal uitgesleten reparatiegat

Aan de voorkant zit de grootste knoest en hier is een gat gemaakt van 3,5 x 2,5 cm, waarschijnlijk om de kano vast te leggen. De achterkant is teveel beschadigd om iets over de vorm te kunnen zeggen. Het geheel is sterk platgedrukt, zodat het ook moeilijk is om de diameter van de boom vast te stellen. Het platste deel van de bodem lijkt circa 40 cm breed, en het breedste (platgedrukte) deel is 65 cm. De boord lijkt in het middendeel van de kano nergens aanwezig, dus de diameter van de boom zal minimaal 60 cm in diameter zijn geweest. Alleen bij de punt is mogelijk een stuk boord aanwezig van 2 cm dik. Ongeveer in het midden zitten twee ribben (‘wrangen’), de grootste is 12-17 cm breed en 7 cm hoog. Tegen de bodem aan zijn nog inkapsporen van een bijl te zien. Het midden van de bovenkant is gesleten. De tweede, kleine knoest, zit in deze rib. Op slechts 50 cm naar achter is een tweede, lage rib aanwezig, van 1,7 cm hoog en 3,5-5 cm breed. De kleinere afmetingen komen niet door slijtage, die lijkt nauwelijks aanwezig.

Lage en hoge rib op 50 cm van elkaar

De plaatsing van twee ribben zo dicht op elkaar en met zulke verschillende afmetingen lijkt ons een experiment waard! Wat kun je ermee? Zit je op de hoge met je voeten tegen de lage aan? Het is ook opvallend dat bij deze kano twee ribben zijn aangebracht, terwijl er geen torsie te verwachten is door de zeer rechte draad van de boom. In het museum is boven de onderzochte kano ook de IJzertijd kano van Uitgeest uitgestald, die ongeveer dezelfde lengte heeft en ook van een rechte eik is gemaakt. Deze heeft alleen een rib helemaal achteraan, wat een voetensteun lijkt te zijn (zitten op de verdikte achterkant).

De binnenkant van de kano van Wieringermeer is sterk gesleten en matig geconserveerd. Er is niet meer goed vast te stellen hoe de afwerking was, maar op de twee minst gesleten plekken lijkt met sterk strijklicht een diagonale afwerking in vrij brede banen aanwezig. Volgens het filmpje is de boot gedateerd met 14C op ruim 3000 jaar oud. Omdat het spint is verwijderd is de boot minimaal enkele tot vele tientallen jaren jonger. Meer informatie is opgevraagd bij Laura Koehler van de RCE, die de conservering gedaan heeft. We hopen op foto’s van de toen nog beter geconserveerde bodem!

Tussendoor geeft Leo nog uitleg aan het publiek

Tussendoor geeft Leo nog uitleg aan het publiek













[1] Opgegraven in 2XXX door RAAP olv Cathalijne Kruidhof, geconserveerd in Lelystad door RCE.

On the 11th and the 25th of July, hide-working experiments were conducted at Masamuda, Vlaardingen. The goal was simple: obtain a processed animal skin. The method, however, resembled prehistoric hide-working processes.

The process

After a short introduction on hide-working given by Diederik Pomstra, the animal hides – in this case, red deer and fallow deer – were stretched onto a wooden frame (fig. 1). At this stage, these rawhides were already fleshed which resulted in dry, hard and stiff animal skins. To grain (i.e. removing the hair) these hides, the outer layers of the skin are removed (fig. 2). These are the epidermis (or outer skin) and grain level. During this stage of dry-scraping, the removal happens with flint scrapers that were resharpened from time to time by Diederik (fig. 3). The scrapers – hafted in wooden shafts – used for the hides of the fallow deer were not used to scrape the hides of the red deer and vice versa.

Figure 1: Diederik Pomstra giving some explanations on how to scrape the deer hides, (© Yuri van Koeveringe).


Figure 2: Graining the hides with hafted scrapers, (© Yuri van Koeveringe).


Figure 3: Resharpening the flint scrapers, done by Diederik Pomstra, (© Yuri van Koeveringe).

After removing the hairs and the grain layer, the hides were soaked in water. Then, they are wrung out and they are kept overnight in a mixture of oil and eggs. This process of squeezing and soaking continues until the hides are saturated with the oily mixture. Then, they were wrung, pulled and stretched to keep the fibres moving, resulting in a soft and dry animal hide. To keep it soft, the final step to make buckskin is to smoke it. Therefore, the hide is stitched up and turned into a pouch with one (temporarily) open end at the bottom and kept over a fire fueled by ‘punky’ (partially rotted wood). The smoking process resulted in a beautiful amber coloured buckskin. 

Its Relevance

This labour-intensive and time-consuming activity gives us insights into the difference between the duration of occupation of coastal dune sites and levee sites, which are considered to be permanently occupied sites and seasonal extraction camps respectively. Questions concerning habitation patterns particularly apply to sites such as Hekelingen III (van Gijn 1990, 132). While neither the evidence for woodworking or hafting nor the evidence for bone-tool manufacturing was conclusive about the character of the site, flint-use might give us a clue about its habitation patterns (van Gijn 1990, 132). For example, it is generally assumed that labour-intensive and time-consuming activities such as graining animal skins took place at base camps or permanent settlements. Removing the hair leaves specific micro-wear traces on the flint tools used. The presence and appearance of these traces on the experimental flint scrapers provide us with insights into the use of flint scrapers, which can then be linked to settlement patterns. 

However, former experiments failed to explain the use-wear traces found on the scrapers. As more research is needed, these experiments are a first step to reveal the habitation patterns from use-wear traces.


Gijn, A.L. van, 1990. Functional differentiation of Late Neolithic settlements in the Dutch coastal area. In: Gräslund, B.B. (eds) The interpretative possibilities of microwear studies. Uppsala: Societas Archaeologica Upsaliensis, 77-87.


We are making good progress with shaping the dugout’s bottom. However, although chopping the wood is perfectly possible with the big flint axes, it does take a lot of time and above all energy, especially when it is hot! Splitting the wood and removing thick slices goes much faster and is far easier. This is the tactic we have been following. To successfully split the wood it is important to follow the grain and to have a trunk that is free of knots. In the past people must have carefully selected the wood, as the prehistoric canoes that we examined are largely free of knots. Trees are more likely to be free of these when growing in quite a dense forest where side branches would die off quickly, assuring a long stem without branches (and hence without knots). Luckily our oak is (so far…) free of knots.

An alternative way of making wooden wedges

Splitting has speeded up the process considerably, using wooden wedges. Every 40-50 cm a groove is made in the trunk, using an axe (see a picture in the blog of June 23d). With a chisel or adze a shallow incision is then made at the bottom of this groove, into which the wooden wedges can be hammered, using a wooden billet. A few hits and an entire slice of wood comes loose. Unfortunately, the wooden wedges break quickly after a few times of use and in the past we then re-sharpened them. We noticed that the slices of wood we take off the tree are almost a wedge already, but need reworking to give them a sharp edge. This is almost impossible with a flint axe. I therefore made, before splitting off the slice of wood, a tapering edge on one end, using a flint axe. Doing so while the slice is still attached to the trunk is very quick and easy. When the slice is split off, you end up with a nice sharp edge on its tapering end. You then split the slice in three and you have three perfectly sharp wedges! A very economical and fast way of continuing to produce effective wooden wedges!

Making wedges during splitting step 1:

Making wedges step 1: with a stone axe chopping a tapering end on one side of the slice of wood to be removed from the trunk.

Making wedges step 2: inserting wedges under the slice to be removed.

Making wedges step 3: removing the slice split wood from the trunk.

Making wedges step 4: splitting the slice of wood into three wedges.

Making wedges step 5: the three wedges ready for use.

Using the wedges made from a previous slice to remove the next slice from the tree trunk.

The slice of wood removed with the wedges made of previous slices.

By Leo Wolterbeek

By: Lasse van den Dikkenberg


This post will deal with Buren axes, flint axes which were imported during the Vlaardingen Culture period (3400-2500 BC). The post is based on an experiment conducted by Diederik Pomstra whom reconstructed several Buren axes. These axes were then re-used as a source of flint for the creation of smaller objects. Our aim was to gain more insight into the re-use of Buren axes as a raw material source.

Raw material

Nearly everything the people from the Vlaardingen Culture used was produced locally. The most striking exception to this rule are the so called Buren axes. Flint raw material sources are scarce in the wetland areas of the Vlaardingen Culture and especially large nodules are hard to come by. In Belgium and the southern Netherlands flint is abundant and several Neolithic flint mines in the area produced large quantities of raw material. Flint from these areas was transported over large distances, even before the Vlaardingen Culture period. By this time people in the wetland areas of the Western Netherlands stopped producing their own axes. All axes they used were thus imported from other regions. The vast majority of axes we find in the Vlaardingen Culture area are so called “Buren axes” which are characterised by their oval cross-section. Their abundance in this area initially led scholars to call them “Vlaardingen axes” even though it was later realised that they were not produced by Vlaardingen people (Bakker 2006, 263; Van Regteren Altena et al. 1962, 240).

These axes were mainly produced by the southern neighbours of the Vlaardingen people, the Stein

Fig 1. Drawing of one of the flint axes used in the experiment.

group. The two groups are closely related but they are thought to represent slightly different traditions. The Stein people exploited the Neolithic flint mines where they dug-up large flint nodules which were enclosed in layers of limestone. The nodules were flaked into roughouts in locations near the flint mines. These roughouts were then transported to nearby villages where they were ground into their final shape. These polished axes were then often transported to other areas and groups (Bakker 2006, 263).

Flaking flint axes
For our experiment Diederik Pomstra created three flint axes. The first step was to select suitable large flint nodules. The nodules had to be big, but they were also selected to be not too large as flaking them into the right size would mean a lot of extra work. For one axe we used Rijkcholt flint, which was also used in prehistory for Buren axes. For the other axes we used northern flint from Northern Germany and Denmark as we still had some large nodules of this material. The axes were flaked in a bifacial manner. This is one of the oldest and most common flaking techniques. It was already used over a million years ago to produce Palaeolithic handaxes and the technique remained in use well into the Bronze Age for the production of daggers and arrowheads. Bifaces have more or less oval cross-sections which allow you to strike large flakes from the surface.

Figure 2. Reconstructed Buren axe roughout made by Diederik Pomstra.

The method is very efficient and relatively easy, especially when compared to the production sequence of rectangular axes, which were used by the contemporary Funnel Beaker Culture in the Northern Netherlands. Diederik Pomstra, being an experienced knapper, was able to flake a Buren axe in about twenty minutes. Which I thought was surprisingly quick.

Figure 3. Diederik Pomstra knapping one of the Buren axes for the experiment.

Grounding Buren axes
But flaking is only the first step in the creation of these axes. Most time was spend on grounding the axes. If done by hand, this would take a full day for a single axe. Compared to flaking the grounding work is fairly easy. It is not surprising that, even though the axes were flaked near the flint mines, the grounding of the axes took place in a wider area. If one person would spend time flaking axes for an entire day several people would be needed to ground all the axes in order to keep up the pace.

Hafting and using axes
After grounding the flint axes were usually hafted into a wooden shaft. Two parts of wooden axe shafts were found at the site Hazendonk so we know quite well how these axes could have been hafted. It is unclear if Vlaardingen people imported hafted axes or if they only imported the flint axe. It seems most likely that people were able to produce their own axe hafts as the raw material for these was locally available.

Figure 4. Two parts of a wooden axe handle found at Hazendonk used to reconstruct the hafting method for Buren axes (Van Gijn and Louwe Kooijmans 2005, 350).

Occasionally the flint axe was hafted first into a piece of antler before being hafted in the wooden shaft. The antler serves to lessen the impact shock, thereby protecting the flint from breakage.

These axes were presumably mainly used in woodworking. They would have been used to construct houses, tools and dugout canoes.

Figure 5. Diederik Pomstra using a flint Buren Axe to build a wooden dugout canoe.

Axes as flint sources

Figure 6. Drawing of a flint scraper which was made from a ground axe fragment, the ground surface is indicated by the vertical lines in the right drawing (Houkes et al. 2017, 181).

Because flint was scarce in the Vlaardingen area people had to make do with the limited resources they had access to. The imported flint axes were much larger in size than the flint nodules which people could collect locally. At some point these axes fell into disuse, presumably because they broke or because they became too small to keep up resharpening them. Rather than being discarded, these axes were frequently re-used as a source of flint for new objects. This re-use of axes was by no means incidental. Approximately 10-20% of all flint on Vlaardingen sites consist of axe fragments (Van Gijn and Bakker 2005, 295). The axes or broken fragments were flaked into flakes which were either used directly or which were then shaped into other kinds of objects such as scrapers or borers. These objects can be recognised as being axe fragments because of the ground and polished surface of the axes. However, it is unclear to what extend flaking these axes into smaller objects will also produce flakes where the ground and polished surface of the axes is no longer visible. This is an important variable. For example: if only half of the flakes from polished axes are recognisable as axe fragments that would mean that 20-40% (rather than 10-20%) of the flint on Vlaardingen sites consists of axe fragments. Furthermore, it is also unclear how many flakes and blanks for other objects can be struck from a single axe. Can one axe produce two scrapers? Or can a single axe be used to create dozens of scrapers?

Setting-up the experiment
For the experiment Diederik Pomstra created three flint axes. Buren axes vary in length between 15 and 25 cm (Bakker 2006, 257). We chose to create rather short axes between 16 and 17,5 cm. This scenario presumably most closely resembled axes which were used, then ground repeatedly (shortening them), which led to them being re-used as a source of flint for other objects. In two instances we decided to break the axes into halves using a bipolar technique. By doing this we were able to replicate an end-shock fracture (which occurs when a flint axe breaks in the shaft during heavy work). The third axe was kept whole to simulate an ideal scenario in which a whole axes was re-used as a source of flint.

Figure 7. I had the honour of breaking the axes to simulate the end-shock fractures on the first two axes.

Conducting the experiment
We conducted the experiment in Masamuda during the National (and European) Archaeology Days. The flint knapping was done by Diederik Pomstra. We used a plastic sheet to collect all the flint particles during the knapping process. We soon realised that there were many possible reduction sequences one could envision. It was for example quite possible to turn the axe halves into blade cores. But there is no evidence for the use of blade cores in the Vlaardingen Culture. Hence we decided to focus on the production of flakes.

Figure 8. Flint axe cores from Den Haag Wateringse Binnentuinen (Houkes et al. 2017, 172).

For one axe half we decided to more or less reconstruct the reduction sequence which would result in cores similar to the axe cores from Den Haag Wateringse Binnentuinen (see figure 7). Here it was clear that the cores were worked either from the butt to the centre or from the cutting edge to the centre. The end shock platform was largely left intact. This was seen as an odd choice by Diederik Pomstra who thought the end-shock fracture actually provided a very suitable platform to begin a reduction sequence. We attempted to follow the reduction sequence as visible from these cores. This meant that flakes were struck from the butt end or cutting edge and from the sides of the axe alternately. We aimed to produce large flakes in the process as these would be most suitable for the creation of tools such as scrapers, strike-a-lights and borers.

Figure 9. Discussing the potential reduction sequence with Diederik Pomstra.

For one axe we decided not to stop at the moment when we reached a core which resembled those from Den Haag Wateringse Binnentuinen. It was quite clear that from these cores more suitable flakes could have been struck. Therefore we decided to continue reducing the axe until no suitable flakes could be struck anymore. Here our aim was to have a maximum yield in terms of suitable flakes.

Preliminary results
The results of the experiment still have to be analysed but already some things became apparent. The broken axes could have efficiently be turned into blade cores but there are no archaeological indications that the Vlaardingen People used axes as blade cores. This further confirms the notion that these people were presumably not familiar with blade technologies, since they didn’t use these even when the raw material sources were well suited for this.

We haven’t counted the flakes yet but we can roughly estimate that between 20-50 suitable flakes could be struck from a single axe. By contrast the small locally available rolled nodules of flint can be used generally to create two blanks, using a bipolar technique. It is thus clear that these axes, even in a worn and broken state, provided a superior source of quality flint. The experiments give us an insight into the choices people made when selecting raw material and when working with these materials.

The next step will be to determine to what extend these flakes are still recognisable as axe fragments. If some of these flakes are not recognisable as axe fragments that would mean that a larger percentage of flakes from the archaeological record would have been part of axes. Extrapolating those results can help us to better assess the importance of flint axes as raw material sources in the Vlaardingen Culture.

Bakker, J.A., 2006. The Buren Axe and the Cigar Chisel: striking export products from the West European flint mines – associations and distribution along their northern fringe, in: G. Körlin and G. Weisgerber (eds.), Stone Age – Mining Age, Bochum (Veröffentlichungen aus dem Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum 148 (Der Anschnitt: Beiheft 19)) 247-275.

Gijn, A.L. van and J.A. Bakker 2005. Hunebedbouwers en steurvissers Midden-Neolithicum B: trechterbekercultuur en Vlaardingen-groep, in: L. P. Louwe Kooijmans, P. W. Van der Broeke, H. Fokkens and A. L. Van Gijn (eds.), Nederland in de Prehistorie, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, 281-306.

Gijn, A.L. van and L.P. Louwe Kooijmans, 2005. De eerste boeren: synthese, in: L. P. Louwe Kooijmans, P. W. Van der Broeke, H. Fokkens and A. L. Van Gijn (eds.), Nederland in de Prehistorie, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, 337-353.

Houkes, R., A. Verbaas and R. Mullaart, 2017. Vuursteen, in: P.A.J. Stokkel, E.E.B. Bulten (red.), De Wateringse Binnentuinen Gemeente Den Haag, Een Vlaardingennederzetting in het Wateringse Veld, Haagse Oudheidkundige Publicatie 20. Den Haag: Afdeling Archeologie & Natuur- en Milieueducatie Dienst Stadsbeheer, 163-204.

Regteren Altena, J.F. van, J.A. Bakker, A.T. Clason, W. Glasbergen, W. Groenman-van Waateringe and L.J. Pons, 1962. The Vlaardingen Culture (III), Helinium 2, 215-243.

The major project for 2021 is the making of a dugout canoe. A few weeks ago a huge 6,5 meter long oak trunk was delivered at the Vlaardingen house. Over the summer volunteers of the Masamuda center will turn this trunk into a canoe with which we will explore the waters around Vlaardingen.

A literature search by Caroline Vermeeren and Kirsti Hänninen showed that Quercus was regularly used in the Neolithic for making canoes. More importantly, a canoe fragment of oak had been found at the Hazendonk, a site with Vlaardingen levels. Diederik Pomstra made several polished flint axes of the Buren type, which were documented microscopically before being put to use. This way we would be able to follow the development of the wear traces on such a newly made axe.

Leo teaching the volunteers how to use a large flint axe with some of the administrative forms in the foreground.

The past two weekends Masamuda volunteers were taught how to use a flint axe, something that requires a bit of practice, but everyone got the knack of it quite quickly. They were also instructed how to document the progress of their work, tool use time, and how to make casts of the tool’s edges so that we could keep track of tool biographies.  Supervision is by Leo Wolterbeek, who is a very experienced canoe maker.

Leo explains how to handle a flint axe.

We are starting with the bottom of the canoe, removing the sapwood. To do so, V-shaped slots were axed at regular intervals into the wood. After that a groove was made by means of an antler chisel and a wooden hammer. Wooden wedges were subsequently hammered into these grooves. This way large sections of the sapwood could be removed. This went surprisingly fast and they were able to remove large chunks of the bark and sapwood. A start was made with finishing the surface of the bottom, something that will require a bit more care and attention as it is quite easy to go too deep. We will keep you posted of the progress!

Splitting large segments of the bark and sapwood with wooden wedges after having made a cut with the antler chisel.

Finishing the outer surface of the dugout with a large Buren axe, possible but not ideal!

Gathered around the trunk a discussion started as to where and how this activity could have taken place and how Kelvin Wilson should visualize it in his illustration. What was the nearest place where such big oaks could have grown in the 3d millennium BC? Certainly not in the Rhine/Meuse delta, more likely in the higher-lying sandy regions to the east. As it is impossible to move around such a big heavy trunk before it was turned into a canoe, we concluded that some people must have left the delta on an expedition of several weeks to find oak trees of this size and make the dugout at the spot of the tree felling.

When would be a likely time for such an expedition, one that would not conflict with other activities in the yearly seasonal round? Who would have joined such an expedition? How did they live in such an encampment, what kind of structure may they have had for the weeks that it probably took to finish the dugout? Could they, in the meantime, have collected food sources to take back to the delta such as acorns?  Those were the kind of questions we raised and which we will explore further in the coming months. Let us know what you think!! We would be very happy to receive your input!

This past weekend the National Archaeology Days took place, with lots of archaeological activities and presentations across the Netherlands. Obviously an excellent occasion to draw attention to our new project and the various experiments we are conducting.

The most important eye catcher was of course the experimental dugout canoe that we are starting to make (see our longer blog on this topic). Under the watchful eye of our two experienced woodworkers and boat makers, the Masamuda volunteers attacked a large oak tree with polished flint axes. Using these axes, antler adzes and wooden wedges they started to remove the sapwood, splitting off large slices of what will become the outside of the dugout’s hull.

Other activities included grinding acorns into flour and using polished flint axes as cores. We also showed information about the objectives of the project and naturally we demonstrated replicas of all kinds of typical Neolithic artefacts. The children were very intrigued by all these objects that they could touch and were curious about their function. Even the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, made a short article about our activities.

Over the two days we received many visitors: scouts, Leiden University alumni, Vlaardingen locals and many dog walkers. Maybe we even have attracted a few new Masamuda volunteers.