NAR 071 Romans on the Waterfront 
Evaluation of archaeological interventions (1997-2020) along the Dutch part of the Lower Rhine and Coastal Limes.  

Hessing, W.A.M., W.K. Vos, E.J. van Ginkel (eds) 

Harde kaft. 336 pp. Richly illustrated, In English. RCE 2021 

This report provides an overview of the evidence gathered and scientific progress made over the last two decades, concerning the archaeology of the Roman frontier in the Netherlands. It is part of the ‘Oogst voor Malta’ (‘Valleta Harvest project’) research programme of the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, RCE). The emphasis of this programme is on inventorying publications on dissemination of specific archaeological subjects, geographical as well as thematic, in this case of the main features of the Limes, its military infrastructure, strongpoints and cemeteries. Nearly 25 years of archaeological interventions along the Dutch part of the former frontier of the Roman province of Lower Germany or Germania Inferior - which include field surveys, small-, large-scale archaeological excavations and specialist analyses of hundreds of different sites - have produced an enormous amount of data, evidence and understanding. This not only concerns the military-dominated zone along the river Rhine - the de facto northern frontier of the Roman Empire - but also includes sites with Roman military presence along the North Sea coast and in what we shall call the ‘foreland’ and ‘hinterland’ of this frontier zone, e.g. the Frisian areas, the Nijmegen region and areas further to the south, down to the banks of the river Meuse. In the commissioning letter by the RCE, the project giving rise to this publication was delineated as follows. The survey was to cover all parts of the military infrastructure along the Rhine and the North Sea, and the directly related (extramural) settlements (vici, canabae) and cemeteries dating back to the Roman period (19 BC – AD 450). Spatially, the boundaries were determined as being within the future ‘UNESCO’ designated Lower German Limes zone from Lobith to Katwijk, including Nijmegen and Berg en Dal, and supplemented with the municipalities of Velsen and Ermelo, the coastal strip of the province of South Holland from Katwijk to Naaldwijk, and the coastal strip of Zeeland as far as Aardenburg. Lastly, a broad strip of ‘foreland’, north of the Limes in the narrow sense, and likewise a ‘hinterland’ zone to the south of it, were added. The scope of this survey was therefore firstly limited to those sites where the Roman army was actually present or left its mark on the landscape through infrastructural works or specific industrial or cultural activities. Secondly, in a spatial sense it focuses mainly on the military installations and associated sites along the Rhine and the North Sea coast. Thirdly, in a chronological sense it focuses on the first 450 years of the common era. Occasionally however, some excursions have been made into not strictly-military aspects of the Roman Netherlands or to places further away from the Limes. The survey dealt with various research questions, each approached in two steps. Phase 1 focused on an inventory of relevant Malta-research reports generated since the introduction of the current Malta-based archaeological system in 1997. The resulting database has been supplemented with other - not necessarily site-based - specialist reports, academic papers and synthesizing publications, that may be regarded as equally relevant to answering the research questions. Phase 2 consisted of the actual analysis of the collected data (‘data mining’), divided into several subregions, followed by the writing-up of the report and presentation of the results. Progress made Progress on the understanding of functioning of the Dutch part of the Lower German Limes has been undeniably substantial in the last twenty years. Archaeological knowledge has increased in many areas of research and important discoveries have been made. To start with the later, the Roman military presence and occupation at Nijmegen has been further detailed by the discovery of a series of new camps and forts, underlining the importance of this site during the early Principate; between Utrecht and Woerden, the infrastructure of the defensive line outside the forts has been further detailed by the discovery of several watchtowers, landing platforms and constructive elements of the Limes road; tracking and tracing the Limes road itself has been very successful in the western half of the Dutch Limes. In contrast to twenty years ago, we know now the exact course of this road over approximately half of the total distance between Utrecht and Katwijk. In addition, we also know now that Roman road building was not so much a gradual or organic progress, but rather organised under provincial or even imperial 8 — directorship through specific large-scale building programmes. How much has changed in 2000 years, one may ask? Other Roman building programmes were aimed at improving and safeguarding long distance communication and transport over water. The northern half of the Corbulo Canal has been well researched in the last twenty years and holds fewer and fewer surprises. The southern half, however, is still waiting further exploration. The discovery of c. 15 Roman ships in the same period also shows the immense research potential and unique quality of the Roman archaeological resources in the Netherlands. This is mostly due to wetland conditions and therefore very good conservation of organic material as wood, leather, bone, and botanical remains. Slowly, the Coastal Limes is also being unravelled. The image that most of the Roman remains have been eroded away as a consequence of the retracting coastline, has been proved only partly true. New discoveries have been made near The Hague, but re-analysis of older excavations can also deliver interesting results, as the forts at Aardenburg and the Brittenburg have shown. Last but not least, the discovery of a massive first century legionary camp at Valkenburg last year raising many new research questions, proves Limes research has most certainly not reached the end of the road. Progress can also be inferred from the decline of major `accidents’ and `calamities’ when it comes to Roman (military) archaeological sites that have been destroyed without proper investigation or documentation. Where in the '70s and ‘80s of the last century the existing archaeological infrastructure in the Netherlands was able to deal with only a small fraction of all sites under threat, from the second half of the ‘90s onwards the tide has turned. Preventive archaeology in combination with the expansion of fieldwork has ensured that largescale building and extraction work will be evaluated in time; also, that if there are important sites to be reckoned with, all these can and will be properly documented. Thus, in the span of the last twenty years more than three hundred archaeological interventions were carried out on sites related to the Roman Limes. These concern not only forts and other major military installations, but also the supporting infrastructure of roads, canals, harbour works and even an aqueduct. Also, much more evidence has come to light about the extramural settlements occupied by people who were closely related to the garrisons and probably depended on them for their livelihood. All these interventions have provided us with hundreds of thousands of pieces of information, either in the form of artefacts, the foundations of buildings, food remains or the remains of the people themselves. Future analysis is waiting here, but more importantly these interventions have also provided much information on the dimensions and extensions of the Roman military sites along the Limes. As a result, protection and preservation of remaining elements of the limes has in many cases been improved. Progress, however, should not be measured only by new discoveries in the field, but also by new histories, often the result of time-consuming specialist analyses. On many subjects relating to the Limes new insights have started to appear. As this study hopefully shows on themes varying from reconstructing the Limes landscape, the exploitation of natural resources by the army, via army campaigns and logistics, shipping and shipbuilding to the interaction between the army and the local population, new histories can now be written. Some critical observations on the organisational situation of Limes-related research in The Netherlands The primary focus of this study has been on Malta-related, developer-funded fieldwork. The pros and cons of the present system are frequently quoted in ongoing discussions amongst professionals. To start with the benefits, the growth in numbers of interventions undeniably has led to better insight of the state of our archaeological resource. On the other hand, some archaeologists carrying out interventions related to the Roman Limes are not always schooled and experienced in Roman military archaeology, and this often goes for those who supervise them as well. In consequence, certain information might be lost or not pursued to more conceptual levels of interpretation on a (micro)regional, let alone national or even international level. In the authors’ opinion it is, at least partially, also the result of a flaw in the way in which the Valleta Treaty and the introduction of developer-funded archaeology have been implemented in the Netherlands. In some cases, 9 — (local) governments have not been given enough encouragement or lacked motivation to provide suitable supervision and adequate funding. More in general, decentralization of archaeological curatorship has led to a loss of focus when it comes to specific research questions and the need to integrate newly gained insights in future projects. Of course, every observation, however small, forms a piece of the Limes’ jigsaw puzzle. Usefulness and profits will be shown in due time. Fortunately, in several areas along the Limes and the Coastal Limes, concentrated eforts have been made as well to integrate individual developer-funded surveys and excavations into modern-style research plans, using the latest archaeological techniques. Where this occurred, quality of reporting is better, results seem to improve and real progress on the archaeology of the Limes has been made. In other cases, however, opportunities have regrettably been missed. During the last twenty years Dutch archaeological research infrastructure has become more and more dispersed. Next to the traditional institutions of the RCE and the four active university departments, to date c. 15 certified archaeological companies and ten municipal units conduct nearly all archaeological fieldwork in this country. Post-excavation work is partly done in-house by these organisations, partly contracted out to specialists working freelance or in partnerships. In one way or the other, all these institutions and companies are involved in Limes-related research. Of course, many of these organisations and individual archaeologists are perfectly able to work together in occasional partnerships and strategic coalitions, but clearly missing is a more permanent professional platform for archaeologists specialising or wishing to specialise in Roman frontier studies to exchange information and discuss or debate relevant issues. Presently, Roman frontier studies do not form a central research interest within the Dutch research and graduate school for archaeology ARCHON, and the measure of knowledge gained is largely determined by informal exchange between individual researchers in the field. As this report may have shown, the sheer volume of (field)work on the Roman Limes in the Netherlands can very well stand comparison (at least in a relative sense) with that in our larger neighbouring countries, Germany and the United Kingdom. The problem lies within the integration of the results in the wider context. In that way Dutch archaeology is – albeit with some notable exceptions - missing the connection with the European Roman Frontier Studies and is therefore undervalued. (Too) much research stands on its own, is solely published in Dutch, and misses the necessary follow-up because of the absence of a central academic research body with sufcient authority, and an English language journal to publish new ideas and results. Recommendations:
• there is a clear need for an updated and more specific Research Agenda for the Dutch part of the Lower Rhine and Coastal Limes as part of the NOaA (Nationale Onderzoekagenda Archeologie, National Research Agenda for Archaeology), or as part of a joint DutchGerman Lower German Limes agenda. A research agenda is indeed one of the points of action of the Management Plan for the World Heritage Frontiers of the Roman Empire Lower German Limes sector and coordinated by NLS (Nederlandse Limessamenwerking). Local and regional research agendas should be linked and updated accordingly;
• there is clear demand for a national, research-orientated Limes platform, giving guidance to (local) governments, commissioning bodies and archaeological contractors on specific research plans and specifications in relation to interventions in sensitive areas or individual sites. Such a platform may also facilitate exchange of information on a regional, national and international level;
• at the same time, a substantial backlog of unpublished excavations exists. Many Roman excavations carried out in the '70s and '80s of the last century have since then been gaining dust in archives and museum depots. This report hopefully shows the benefits of analysing archived finds and documentation, using modern techniques. More is needed. The platform mentioned above, could provide guidance and set the necessary priorities. Focus should be on disclosure of regional data and documentation to facilitate academic studies. Publication of results for a growing international professional audience is indispensable for further advancement;
• registration of archaeological observations and interventions in the archaeological 10 — information system Archis needs to be improved. This includes the registration of reports and data links in other archives, the summary of results and the standard information on location, find categories and dating evidence. At this moment Archis is not very suitable for reliable data mining experiments.

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