Content of the symposium

Day 1:

The International Symposium presents the results of recent interdisciplinary research (geological, archaeological, palaeobotanical, archaeolozoological and paleontological) carried out in relation to the construction of the Maasvlakte 2 port extension into the North Sea near Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

Culminating in on-site research 20 metres under water in a drowned landscape, the research produced discoveries of hunter / gatherer’s activities from between 8400 and 6400 BC (Late Preboreal to Early Atlantic).

Introduction

The first investigations into the presence of drowned landscapes at the Maasvlakte 2 site started as early as 2004. (Desk studies and preliminary field survey). Very soon after the start of the sand borrow activities in 2009, when the Pleistocene layers were dredged, large paleontological finds were trapped in the drag heads of the dredgers. When the sandy beach of the outer perimeter of Maasvlakte 2 was accessible many smaller finds were reported there as well. The Port of Rotterdam initiated three interdisciplinary research projects. One focusing on the geology and paleontological fishing trips in the sand borrow area (2009 - 2011). On land paleontological surveys (2011) and the analysis of all collection finds on the newly created beach. Further more detailed field surveys in the Yangtze harbour, (2009 - 2010) which showed that a drowned landscape was visible on the seismic recordings. Moreover boring showed that indeed archaeology, human activity, was present.

In November 2011 archaeologists of the City of Rotterdam Archaeological Service (BOOR) conducted underwater research in the Yangtze port, Rotterdam Maasvlakte, the Netherlands. The results of geological, botanical, zoological and archaeological analyses of the retrieved material generated new information on the occupation of a relatively high river dune by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, and on the history of the surrounding landscape approximately 9,000 years ago.

Methods

Sand Borrow area

The bottom and the slopes of the sand borrow area, depth approx 15 to 20 m below the original seabed, was investigated with side scan sonar and shallow seismic devices. Vibrocores were taken at set intervals along a line running from the original seabed, over the slope into the dredged pit. When combined they represent a 20 meter vertical core. Samples from the vibrocore have been analyed in various ways, amongst others by C14 and by OSL for a more accurate dating of the distinct sand layers.

Many paleontological fishing day trips into the sand borrow area were conducted, all finds are documented and discussed by the interdisciplinary crew. The scientists on each trip were on a rotary schedule and drawn from a list of interested professionals and amateurs (volunteers).

Beach of Maasvlakte 2

A more or less similar set-up applied for the beach colleting surveys. Professionals and amateurs in various disciplines worked together. Apart from hand picking, a beach cleaning machine was tested on two occasions. The beach cleaning method gave us 16 big bags to sort out as all material smaller than the applied mesh was collected. It took professionals and amateurs, in a public friendly setting, a whole weekend to carry out a first screening of the bags. Later on specialist did the more in depth analysis. Both paleontological research projects (offshore and onshore) have been combined and are reported as one research project. Many interesting paleontological finds, as well as some archeological artefacts are described. The book keeping of the dredge activities allowed a reverse analysis, i.e. once the location of a find on the beach is known, the last trip bringing sand to that area can be looked up. Once the name and the particular trip number (time) is known the draghead depth in the sand borrow area can be plotted. Hence the likely geological “envelop” can be constructed.

Excavation in the Yangtze harbourRather than using diving techniques the underwater investigations were carried out from a floating pontoon with spud poles with a crane using a wire-operated, horizontal closing grab. Three small trenches (total area of approximately 375 m²) were excavated in layers in a fairly controlled manner. This kind of underwater excavation cannot achieve the same level of precision as is possible on land, but the many soil core samples taken in the project’s preliminary phase allowed detailed descriptions of the geomorphological stratigraphy. The excavation resulted in 316 bulk bags of soil. This soil was sieved on land, using sieves with mesh sizes of 10 and 2 mm, after which archaeologists and volunteers carefully sorted the residues, documenting a total of around 46,000 finds.

Results

Remains of Mesolithic occupation were discovered at all three grab locations, from depths ranging between 17 and 21 meters below modern MSL. The finds span an age range from approximately 8,400 to 6,500 BC, when the site transformed from dryland (an inland dune) to wetland (drowned delta subsurface). At the foot of the inland dune, the conditions allowed for excellent preservation of organic material, such as bone, charcoal and plant food remains, as well as stone and flint artefacts. As a consequence, the site has offered a major contribution to our knowledge of subsistence economy during the Early and Middle Mesolithic in temperate Europe. A lot of detailed information on local environmental conditions and landscape development was also revealed.

The landscape ecotones around the site yielded abundant food resources on and around the river dune. Under the influence of rising sea levels, the Rhine/Meuse river valley gradually transformed into the mouth area of those rivers. At 6,500 BC, the site was finally transgressed: drowned in an estuary and swallowed up by the sea.

Conclusion

The interdisciplinary approach combining geology, paleontology and archeology at the sand borrow area and on the reclaimed land of Maasvlakte 2 (beach area) proofed feasible and yielded unique results. Although some distance from the Yangtze harbour the three projects were complementary to each other, although the geological time lines are different with just a small overlap.

The Rotterdam Yangtze port research project demonstrates the preservation of Mesolithic sites along the river Rhine at depths in nowadays coastal and offshore areas. Furthermore, it demonstrates the feasibility of archaeological investigation of such submerged sites, even at depths between 18 to 20 meters beneath sea, lake and harbour floors. Never before had such a submerged Mesolithic site been excavated at such a great depth.

The scientific report (in English) will be presented and handed out at the symposium, providing a full description of all finds as well their landscape context.

More information will be provided shortly.

Day 2: Complex project 

The session Complex Project will focus on the “non-scientific aspects” of archaeology and palaeontology that are essential for a success completion and compliance with permit obligations, especially when dealing with complex projects.

The invited speakers represent the 5 main parties involved in such a process, i.e. the Client (POR), the Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE), the Building Contractor (PUMA), a Research Institute(s) (Deltares/TNO) and the Archaeological Contractor of the Yangtze project (BOOR).

After the introduction and short presentations of the speakers, the moderator will lead the discussions with will be initiated by asking questions (and answers). One of the aims of this session is to present the “lessons learned“ in the Maasvlakte 2 project and how to avoid possible pitfalls. The audience will be encouraged to participate by asking questions.

More information will be provided shortly.

Day 2: Excursion to MV2

The session Complex Project  will focus on  the “non-scientific aspects” of archaeology and palaeontology that are essential for a success completion and compliance with permit obligations, especially when dealing with complex projects.

The invited speakers represent the 5 main parties involved in such a process, i.e. the  Client (POR), the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE), the Building Contractor (PUMA), a Research Institute(s) (Deltares/TNO)  and the  Archaeological Contractor of the Yangtze project (BOOR).

After the introduction and short presentations of the speakers, the moderator will lead the discussions with will be initiated by asking questions (and answers).

One of the aims of this session is to present the “lessons learned“ in the Maasvlakte 2 project,how to avoid possible pitfalls and to discuss what improvements can made in future projects. The audience will be encouraged to participate by asking questions.