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History at the surface
In the province of Drenthe, the evidence of prehistoric times can literally be found right at the surface. The ice ages created a unique landscape consisting of boulder clay, sand, and peat. The old inhabitants of this area left countless traces behind. Some of these are visible, like the dolmens (hunebedden in Dutch) and burial mounds. But the soil still holds lots of secrets. Sometimes, the landscape reveals a little piece of its history in a unique find, such as the Pesse canoe or the Yde girl. So, Drenthe is the perfect place to travel back in time.
Drenthe’s landscape as we know it today was largely shaped by the so-called Saale Glaciation. This covered the land with a thick layer of ice originating from Scandinavia 370,000 years ago. Huge glaciers pushed the earth’s surface upwards, creating the Drents plateau. When the earth started to warm up 250,000 years ago, the meltwater formed ice rivers. These in turn created a pattern of long ridges and valleys in the landscape, of which the Hondsrug is the most well-known. The system of brooks known as the Drentsche Aa was also shaped back then.
150.000 v. Chr.
During the last glacial period – called the Weichselian Glaciation which started 150,000 years ago – the land ice had disappeared from Drenthe. It remained very cold and a rough wind deposited thick layers of sand across the landscape. Even in summer, the temperature barely rose above freezing. The province was inhabited by mammoths and woolly rhinos, as well as by Neanderthals in the warmer phases; Drenthe’s first primitive inhabitants who lived from hunting animals. Hand axes and other flint objects from this era have been found here. Towards the end of the Weichselian Glaciation, between 30,000 and 14,500 BCE, reindeer hunters lived in Drenthe. They too roamed the area and lived in temporary settlements. The objects found in these locations were made of flint. This has led to these sites being referred to as 'flint archaeological sites'.
The oldest vessel in the world is found in Drenthe
9000 v. Chr.
The earth warming up again created a breeding ground for plants and trees. Vast forests arose and the peat slowly climbed slopes of the Hondsrug from the valleys. The mild climate created the perfect living environment for the hunter-gatherers, who roamed the overgrown forests between 9,000 and 4,900 BCE, looking for game and edible plants. They left us the oldest vessel in the world, the Pesse canoe.
4900 v. Chr.
Starting in the year 4900 BCE, farming life begins to develop in Drenthe. The first farmers lived in small but permanent settlements. These people of the Funnelbeaker Culture grew crops in their fields and raised livestock. Their most famous and visible legacy are the famous dolmens. These impressive tombs were built in Drenthe between 3350 and 3050 BCE using large boulders that had been brought to Drenthe from Scandinavia in the land ice during the Saale Glaciation. The oldest peat roads are also from this period.
1900 v. Chr.
Farming life really started to flourish during the Bronze Age (1900-800 BCE). It is estimated that around 4,500 people lived in Drenthe during that time, distributed across small settlements consisting of no more than four farms. To bury their dead, the farmers, like their ancestors, created burial mounds.
800 v. Chr.
During the Iron Age (800-100 BCE), agricultural life in Drenthe continued to develop. Small walled fields were created around farms in a honeycomb-like structure. These so-called Celtic Fields are still present all over the province and can even be recognised in the landscape in some places. Farming life in Drenthe was to continue to develop. For example 'boermarken', small farming communities organised at a village level that started to manage agricultural matters collectively in the 14th century, are still a typical characteristic of Drenthe's culture.
54 v. Chr.
In that time, Drenthe was covered by wide peat bogs. Peat consists of wet, thickly packed dead plant material, that proved to have good preserving properties when it comes to organic material. In these bogs, many of the famous bog bodies from Drenthe were found, including the 'Emmer-Erscheidenveen Man' and the Yde Girl. She lived around the start of our calendar (the Iron Age) in Drenthe, and her violent death has made her the most famous bog body in our country.