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Movements across and along water within landmasses

Friday 18 September 2009, 14:30 - 18:30

Ms Claire Anderson (National Museum of Ireland)
Dr Ingelise Stuijts (Discovery Programme, Ireland)
Dr Andrea Vianello (Intute, University of Oxford, UK)

Water moves continuously as do humans. People travel on water and seek out resources in its environs.  This session aims to explore the intriguing relationship between water and the movement of people in antiquity.  In particular it will focus on the movements of humans within all types of inland and coastal watery environments, with the exception of journeys across open seas. Rivers, lakes, bogs, mires, estuaries and flooded areas offered opportunities to explore, exchange and access natural resources and to colonise new areas. Inlets and outlets of rivers were often gathering places. Rivers provided the challenges and opportunities of accessing new regions and environments as well as pursuing the horizon to the sea and beyond. But why did people choose to undertake such travel on water or access (often inhabitable) watery environments? What were the technological, physical, social, religious, and economic challenges they faced in doing so?

This session will consider rivers, lakes and wetlands as areas that offered opportunities for the exploitation of natural resources (marine saltworks, peatlands, estuarine etc.)  in addition to social and economic advantages. How did ancient people perceive watery environments? And how important were wetlands to the economies of ancient societies?

The chronological boundaries for this session include all European and Mediterranean societies up to and including the Iron Age, but case-studies centred outside the region and applicable to general issues may be acceptable. Contributors should focus on fluvial systems (including lakes); periodically flooded areas (e.g. marine saltworks, estuaries, areas periodically flooded by rivers such as the Nile); natural wetland (e.g. river estuaries, lagoons), areas connected to communication and exchange networks structured around rivers; and bogs.

List of speakers:

Dr Ilze Loze

University of Latvia (Latvia)

The economy of the Neolithic population of Lake Lubans wetland and the paleohydrological regime of the lake

[Extended abstract]

Prof. Andrzej Weber

University of Alberta (Canada)

Middle Holocene Hunter-Gatherers of the Baikal Region in Siberia: The key is in the water

Dr Stephen Wickler

Tromsø University Museum, Norway

Sámi waterscapes and the prehistory of North Norway: the centrality of coastal and inland water-based activity for understanding interaction and cultural relationships

Dr Heinrich Dosedla and A. Krauliz

Centre of Interdisciplinary Studies and Research (Austria)

Prehistoric Portages passing the Central European Divide

Dr Attila Toth

Kulturális Örökségvédelmi Hivatal (Hungary)

Movements and waterways in the Middle-Danube Basin: the river archaeological point of view

Dr Andrea Vianello

Intute, Oxford University (UK)

The Bronze Age Po Valley of Italy

Ms Welmoed Out

University of Leiden (Netherlands)

Plant exploitation and woodland management at the Dutch early Neolithic wetland site Bergschenhoek

Dr Peter Chowne

University of Greenwich (UK)

Bronze Age barrow complexes on the Lincolnshire fen margin

Mr Rory McNeary

University of Ulster (UK)

An evaluation of the archaeology of Ulster's (Ireland) ancient fording places

Ms Amy Bunce independent (Ireland)

The seasonal access of the turloughs of Ireland

Dr Ingelise Stuijts Discovery Programme (Ireland)

Trouble or opportunity: Marginal woodlands


Dr Ilze Loze: The economy of the Neolithic population of Lake Lubans wetland and the paleohydrological regime of the lake
Lake Lubans wetland contains the largest lake in Latvia. The wetland was inhabited during the Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic and Eneolithic periods. In the AT2 climatic period, the number of settlements in the area increased significantly after more land resurfaced from waters. New populations settled near the river beds and shores of ancient rivers and lakes. The archaeological excavation carried out in the area has identified 18 settlements that benefited from the environment provided by the wetland. There was rich game and fur fauna. By the Middle Neolithic the number of cattle in the Zvidze settlement was larger than the number of hunted aurochs. The lake was also rich in fish. Agriculture started during the Middle Neolithic. Raw materials such as flint and amber were scarce however, but the large waterways allowed access to other regions, especially marine coastal areas. For instance, amber was obtained by exchanging furs, and then it was moved to the amber-processing workshops within the wetland, where worked amber became a new local resource that could be then exchanged in the Daugava and Upper Volga region for the required flint. This paper will explore the benefits and challenges posed by living in the wetland environment of Lake Lubans. The development of the movements will be assessed following the recognised local climatic periods.

Prof. Andrzej Weber: Middle Holocene Hunter-Gatherers of the Baikal Region in Siberia: The key is in the water
The importance of Lake Baikal - the world's deepest and largest reservoir of fresh water - and of the three large rivers around it - the Angara, Lena, and Selenga -for the development of the local middle Holocene hunter-gatherers is well documented. Since mid-1990s, the Baikal Archaeology Project has been generating large amounts of new data on these foragers involving excavations of cemeteries and habitation sites and an array of modern laboratory analyses applied to large collections of human osteological remains. This new material reveals a number of new patterns and necessitates reinterpretation of the region's middle Holocene prehistory. Among the most important insights are the positive correlations between the following environmental and cultural variables: (1) uneven distribution of fish resources, uneven distribution of the human population, and cultural heterogeneity during the Early Neolithic; (2) more even distribution of terrestrial game, more even distribution of the human population, and cultural homogeneity during the Late Neolithic to Bronze Age period; (3) poorer health, heavier workloads, and higher reliance on fishing among the Early Neolithic groups; (4) better health, lesser workloads, and higher reliance on game hunting among the Late Neolithic-Bronze Age groups. Furthermore, while evidence for travel along the major water courses is ample, the evidence for the use of watercraft is ambiguous for the entire middle Holocene period.

Dr Stephen Wickler: Sámi waterscapes and the prehistory of North Norway: the centrality of coastal and inland water-based activity for understanding interaction and cultural relationships
The starting point for this paper is an assertion that waterscapes and the general importance of water have been neglected in the study of indigenous Sámi prehistory in northern Norway. This has had far-reaching consequences for our understanding of Sámi settlement in both coastal and inland settings and interactions between these zones. There is a long standing, but arguably tacit, acknowledgement of the significance of water for Sámi settlement. What we lack is an explicit focus on the centrality of maritime contexts and inland waterways grounded in the archaeological record. The results of recent research and a variety of other evidence are presented in order to examine relevant issues. These include Sámi boat building and use (coastal craft, sewn boats, log boats), ethnic interactions with a maritime focus (boathouses, slab-lined pits (hellegroper) for processing marine mammal oil) and water-based activity in the interior (boat storage structures and landing locations, reindeer crossing locations). The material correlates of Sámi water-based activity remain poorly understood and research specifically addressing these issues is needed. Potential models for future research are presented and discussed.

Heinrich Dosedla and Alf Krauliz: Prehistoric Portages passing the Central European Divide
The so-called Central European Divide as a distinct section of the transcontinental divide is defined by the separation of these rivers running towards the Northern Sea or the Baltic Sea and those rivers running towards the Mediterranean or the Black Sea. A quite significant number of rivers are emerging from the rather limited area of the Central European Divide situated at the borderline between Austria and the Czech Republic. Among them are the Vltava/Moldau as the dominant tributary of the Labe/Elbe, the Morava/March and the Vistula/Weichsel, having their source in the north respectively in the east of the divide, as well as some minor rivers originating in the south of the divide which are tributaries of the Danube. As a result of recent investigations hydrological conditions as well as vegetation patterns which since Palaeolithic times onwards were extremely different from contemporary ones had distinct consequences concerning water levels and navigability of these river systems which at periods even allowed the use of monoxylic vessels of which there is local archaeological evidence. As trade goods mostly figured flint, amber, salt, copper, tin, iron and graphite, later eventually also imported items of Mediterranean origin. According to more convenient circumstances at these stages the distance of portages were shortened to considerable extent compared to trade routes of later periods which followed the former traces also during medieval times and even up to the early 19th.

Dr Attila Toth: Movements and waterways in the Middle-Danube Basin: the river archaeological point of view
Rivers played important role in the life of pre-industrial societies as waterways, sources of food and drinking water, borders and a constant risk factor. When archaeologists studying diffusion of finds and cultural features often concludes the role of waterways, ferries etc. The relatively recently developed underwater archaeology of rivers give us a possibility to study ancient bridges, ports and ships, which influenced ancients "movements". River archaeology, a new discipline unifies the results of underwater and "terrestrial" archaeology with paleo-environmental studies (like geo-morphology, hydrology etc.) for the better understanding of interactions between people and the river. The Middle-Danube basin is one of the largest catchment area of Europe. Underwater and interdisciplinary work has been started in recent years in Hungary (in the Danube and the Drava rivers). These researches expose the archaeological potential of river islands and shoals, the importance of interdisciplinary view of river walleyes. New finds (although late- or post-medieval) gave us a more detailed picture of river navigation.

Dr Andrea Vianello: The Bronze Age Po Valley of Italy
This paper focuses on the movement of commodities and peoples in the region of Veneto, primarily during the Bronze Age. The Veneto was a key area between the Emilian Terremare and the Alpine lake-dwellings, at the heart of a large communication and exchange system centred on lakes, rivers, lagoons, river mouths and sea. Movement on land in the region before the construction of Roman roads appears limited. The Veneto was inserted in long-distance exchange networks, both along rivers and marine coasts. Such networks have brought into the region Aegean-type pottery during the Late Bronze Age, but more importantly exotic raw materials were imported, worked and exchanged at Frattesina. Since the Bronze Age, riverine and marine exchange networks could interact in this area, and commodities and people could circulate through the Veneto using waterways only. The ability of the ancient Veneti to move on waters was one of the principal reasons for their success, and their familiarity with water was later inherited by the Venetians and continued to be a key reason for the success of the region.

Ms Welmoed Out: Plant exploitation and woodland management at the Dutch early Neolithic wetland site Bergschenhoek
The Dutch wetland site Bergschenhoek (near Rotterdam) is a 4 x 4 m piece of wood peat embedded in clay that showed reed bundles, a hearth complex and wood remains including some fish traps. Core prospection suggested the nearby presence of further remains. The site is interpreted as a fishing-fowling camp that was repetitively visited during c. 10 years at c. 4200 cal BC. Since its excavation by the National Museum of Antiquities in 1976, it has been a unique case in the Dutch wetland archaeology because of the well preserved predominantly organic find assemblage and because of the insights it provided in short-term stays in the middle of the marshes (Louwe Kooijmans 1987). The environmental analyses of the site included identification of fishes, birds and mammals (Clason and Brinkhuizen 1993), but also of mollusks, pollen, seeds, mosses, wood and wood charcoal that remained mostly unpublished. Comparison of the various plant remains enables the reconstruction of the local vegetation and provides indications of the exploitation of non-local vegetation. The fish traps furthermore provide the best evidence of woodland management that is available for Dutch Mesolithic and early and middle Neolithic wetland sites.

Clason, A.T. and D.C. Brinkhuizen 1993. Bergschenhoek, in: A. Clason, S. Payne & H.-P. Uerpmann (eds), Skeletons in her cupboard. Festschrift for Juliet Clutton-Brock, Oxford, 61-73.
Louwe Kooijmans, L.P. 1987. Neolithic settlement and subsistence in the wetlands of the Rhine/Meuse delta, in: J.M. Coles and A.J. Lawson (eds), European wetlands in Prehistory, Oxford, 227-251.

Dr Peter Chowne: Bronze Age barrow complexes in the Lincolnshire Fens and their setting in the ancient landscape
This paper will describe current research on the low lying Bronze Age round barrow complexes of the fenland in Lincolnshire, UK. The study builds on the author's research of the 1980s, the Fenland Survey in the early 1990s and recent investigation of the Witham Valley. The barrows were initially identified from soil marks appearing on vertical aerial photographs taken for non-archaeological purposes in the early 1970s. On the northern peat fen margin the mounds appeared as light coloured spreads of mound material sometimes with the peat filled surrounding ditch clearly visible in contrast to the humic topsoil. Several complexes were subjected to fieldwalking survey and exposed barrow sections recorded in drainage ditches. Artefacts recovered confirmed a Bronze Age date for at least some of the barrows. Late Mesolithic and Neolithic material was recovered from at least two complexes perhaps suggesting that these locations were often visited and may have a particular significance to early prehistoric communities. Recent recording of lidar data and information from earlier surveys and recent fieldwalking mapped through GIS is providing new insights on the relationships between the barrow complexes, ancient courses of the Rivers Slea and Witham and wider patterns of movement and settlement. The paper will present an overview of the research and conclude by focusing on barrow complexes in contrasting locations. Peat fen group adjacent to the River Slea close to the current confluence with the River Witham on the northern fen margin and a complex on the western silt fen margin where the relationship appears to be with ancient creeks, springs and watercourses that played a significant role in prehistoric and later settlement and land division.

Mr Rory McNeary: An evaluation of the archaeology of Ulster's (Ireland) ancient fording places
A new research project, tasked with creating a baseline survey of the freshwater archaeology of Northern Ireland, was set up in January 2009 by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) in conjunction with the Centre for Maritime Archaeology (CMA), University of Ulster. This paper reports on one of the core themes of this research project - riverine crossing points, namely fords. In Ireland in later prehistory rivers served as a means of transport and communication between communities and conversely formed boundaries for regional identities. As a result fording places often became points of transit and route confluences as well as boundary flashpoints and contested landscape foci. Intensive dredging operations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries at specific fords yielded a significant corpus of archaeological material. The material recovered is part of a wider pan-European phenomenon of prehistoric finds from rivers. The first part of this paper provides an overview of past and current archaeological work on Ireland's fording points, with a particular focus on the Lower Bann, Erne and Ulster Blackwater. Current methodologies will also be discussed in terms of desk-based attempts to reconstruct the pre-drainage or 'ancient' aspect of some of these river courses, utilising a combination of historical documentation and cartographic evidence, as well as recent sub-aquatic prospection at a selection of these fording sites in order to ascertain their current archaeological integrity.

Ms Amy Bunce: The seasonal access of the turloughs of Ireland
The karst limestone landscapes of Ireland, found particularly in the west, produce seasonal lakes known as turloughs. This term derives from the Irish for 'dry lake' and these features fill during winter or following heavy rainfall when the underground reservoirs spill up onto the surface. The natural functioning of turloughs and their ability to absorb flood waters has been severely affected by modern drainage. However, in the past, they were respected and utilised in spite of, and more frequently because of, their hydrological peculiarities.
When dry, turloughs offer excellent grazing land and throughout history may have existed as commons land due to the variable access. However, evidence of settlement on turloughs also exists and in these cases it may be that the seasonal changes in ease of access was desired. Although when full, turloughs appear much the same as permanent lakes, the resources they offer are very different. A turlough in flood may have been considered much less in terms of the provisions available in the environment but for the attractions of the necessity of a complete change in methods of access and transport.
The relative unpredictability of the flood timing and speed that the waters can rise and sink may demand an element of innovation in methods of access. The unpredictability may also have been responsible for either a disregard or a reverence for the landscape. The movement of the water and sudden appearance and disappearance without any obvious connections to above ground waterways may also have been significant.

Dr Ingelise Stuijts: Trouble or opportunity: Marginal woodlands
Ireland looks like a soup plate: hollow in the middle with raised surrounds and filled with large areas of brown peat. Rivers run like arteries through the centre. A few eskers (raised gravel ridges), remnants of the Ice Ages also provided safe passages. Otherwise the heart of Ireland is very much dominated by bogs and lakes. Over time the extent of bogs has changed dramatically. This had a very definite effect on the mobility of prehistoric (and historic) people. Moreover, marginal woodlands surrounding bogs could form an additional barrier, if one wanted to visit them in the first place.  Riverbanks carried their own vegetation, along quiet streams or in dynamic braided rivers. This presentation will compare three settings and investigate the relationship between prehistoric people and the marginal woodlands: Derryville bog in County Tipperary, Derragh Island in County Longford, and Edercloon, also in County Longford.