Even though Almere was built a mere 35 years ago on land reclaimed from the sea, the city’s soil has a history that dates back over 10,000 years. The modern new town’s streets and structures were built on an ancient tundra landscape that was already inhabited in prehistoric times.
The first inhabitants were mainly hunters and gatherers leading a nomadic existence. Throughout Almere and the greater Flevoland region, there is a wealth of archaeological remains, providing a detailed record of daily life during those times.
Following the Valletta Treaty (also known as the Malta Convention, 1992), archaeological monument care and heritage preservation is an integral part of overall spatial planning practices in Almere. Building sites and other planning and development areas are investigated for archaeological remains by municipal archaeologists. The municipality aims to preserve a representative share of these remains, preferably by ‘in situ’ conservation (i.e. without moving the artefacts from their original place of deposition). Most archaeological finds are buried deep within Almere’s wet soil, rendering them invisible, but providing excellent conditions for preservation.
Throughout the year, the municipal archaeology department (‘Bureau Archeologie’) offers a range of events, exhibitions and educational programmes that introduce the general public to the rich history the city’s soil.
First evidence of inhabitation
The first evidence of inhabitation dates back to 8900 BC. Soil samples from two key exploration sites yielded archaeological materials that have been identified as fragments of flint and remains of roasted hazelnut shells. Presumably, the shells provided the hunters and gatherers with an excellent method of natural conservation, by keeping the nuts from sprouting and rotting.
Around 7000 BC, the area attracted more and more permanent settlers that used the land for agriculture and the raising of live stock. By 3500 BC, however, the sea came further inland, changing the area into marshland with several inland lakes. For the people in the area it became increasingly difficult to sustain their lifestyle. There are no archaeological finds that indicate inhabitation after 1700 BC.
Around 850 AD, the lake covering the area of the current city of Almere had established a northern connection with the sea. By 1350 AD, the entire Flevoland area was submerged under the water, creating an inner sea that would be referred to as the ‘Almere’ (or ‘Aelmere’). The name ‘Zuiderzee’ came into general usage later that century.
The history of the area became closely interwoven with waterborne transport. The Almere, and later the Zuiderzee, were important bodies of water that served as gigantic transport hubs in the central Low Countries . The 450 shipwrecks in the province of Flevoland are the remains of the region’s maritime past.
In Almere, 27 of these shipwrecks have been discovered so far. In 2007, the municipality of Almere decided to place works of art on six of the shipwreck sites in order to mark the historical significance of the locations.