David R. Fontijn

Winner Dissertation Prize 2003

Sacrificial Landscapes. Cultural biographies of persons, objects and ‘natural’ places in the Bronze Age of the southern Netherlands, c. 2300-600 BC

Supervisors: Prof. dr L.P. Louwe Kooijmans, Dr H. Fokkens
Nomination: Leiden University, Faculty of Archaeology

Report by the selection committee

This dissertation examines the problem of the deposition of bronze artifacts often imported from afar. Artifacts with different functions and values, martial and ornamental, were deposited in specific, usually moist or wet, places to put them into disuse forever. The author gives a description of the extensive material by period, an analysis of the objects, social and rural context and arrives at an encompassing interpretation of the significance of selective deposition. To this end he takes as his point of departure two versions of ‘cultural biographies’. The first one regards weaponry and jewelry mirroring a specific role and status in the life cycle of an individual. In the second variant with mostly axes, the objects seem to be linked more to the identity of groups than of individuals. In his conclusion the author connects the selective deposition of valuable objects with the exchange of gifts. Seen in this light, the abandoning of an object with specific significance is an important, even crucial act. Dr Fontijn characterizes the Bronze Age as an economy of sacrifice in which again and again a small part of the exchanged, non-local products ended up in a swamp or river. The importance of this book lies on the one hand in the exhaustive analysis of the material, on the other hand in the well-reasoned conclusions and synthesis, a synthesis in which views originating in social theory on the meaning of material culture are incorporated.