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Prehistoric residents of the Netherlands began farming earlier than first thought

21 October 2020

The livelihood of farmers in the Netherlands during the Neolithic era became important earlier than was previously thought. Cattle were already being kept at an earlier stage as an important part of food provision. This is the conclusion of research conducted by archaeologists Safoora Kamjan, Canan Çakırlar, Daan Raemaekers (University of Groningen) and Rosalind Gillis (University of Algarve), which was published on 21 October 2020 in academic journal PLOS ONE.

It was previously thought that the existence of farmers, which started in the Neolithic era (circa 5300-2000 BCE), began gradually in large parts of the Netherlands. Here, hunting and gathering was still an important aspect of food provision for centuries to come. This misconception has now been corrected thanks to this study, in which the researchers investigated bone material (dating from around 3600-3400 BCE) excavated from the Schipluiden site near The Hague. The residents of Schipluiden were farmers; their cattle were very important to them, for their meat and also for their milk.

The researchers demonstrated this by the ages at which the cattle were slaughtered. A few cattle were slaughtered later in life, suggesting that they were used for their milk. In addition, the residents of Schipluiden influenced the reproduction of cattle; calves were born over a longer period than would usually happen in nature. It is probable that they tried this in order to make use of the longer availability of milk.

Finally, the residents of Schipluiden also controlled what their livestock ate. Most of the cattle grazed in the direct environment, but a few cattle were fed with foliage from woodlands that lay further away. All these aspects suggest that cattle were of great importance to these prehistoric farmers.

Last modified:22 October 2020 2.17 p.m.
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