Schokland and Surroundings

Schokland and its surroundings is an outstanding example of the prehistoric and historic occupation of a typical wetland, especially in relation to the reclamation and occupation of peat areas. It is precisely because of these occupation and reclamation activities that large areas of land were lost. The formation of the Zuyder Zee itself can also be considered to be a result of these historic activities. Schokland is the last vestige of a once much larger area of occupation, excellently represented in this small area, with its settlements, cemeteries, terps (man-made settlement mounds), dykes and parcel systems. Continuing agricultural mechanization and the dehydration of deeper levels constitute a constant threat to the quality of the cultural and organic remains.

The soil in this area consists of coversands, an ice-pushed ridge of boulder clay, Pleistocene river dunes, and Holocene sediments, including the buried course of the Overijsselsche Vecht River and its tributaries. A post-Pleistocene rise in sea level resulted in an increase in peat formation and a corresponding decrease in the surface area of sandy soils. The earliest evidence of human presence in this area, as revealed by archaeological excavations, dates back to the late Palaeolithic period.

At the beginning of the 13th century, strong marine influences in the Almere were beginning to have an impact. At this time Schokland was still connected to the mainland by a peat ridge stretching to the south-east, which means that this area has to be considered as a polder, until around 1450, when the ridge eroded and Schokland became an island, like neighbouring Urk, which had been one since the 12th century. The distribution of terps and dykes from this period shows that land was being lost, much of it during storms such as that recorded in 1170.

A number of the terps lying to the east of the island were abandoned around 1400, work beginning on the creation of new terps at Oud Emmeloord, Middelbuurt and Zuidert. This was accompanied by a change in the economic basis of the communities from agriculture to fishing. At the same time the Almere was transformed into the Zuyder Zee. This loss of land and battle against the sea continued throughout the succeeding centuries, with the main losses being incurred on the west and north of the island. Protection became too great a burden for the local population, and so financial help was provided by the provincial council of Overijssel by means of a shipping tax, largely because of the importance of the fire beacon on the Zuidpunt. In 1710 Holland and Friesland gave additional financial support because of their economic reliance on the shipping routes that this beacon served. In 1660 Amsterdam, then the world's major port, obtained possession of Urk and Emmeloord and assumed the responsibility for their maintenance. During this time the four terps on the island were heightened and extended, using clay, manure, reeds and seagrass; the remainder of the island consisted of wet meadowlands.

Despite all these measures, the dykes and revetments were unable to prevent further inroads during the 19th century. The stone dyke designed to protect the entire island, construction of which began in 1804, proved too weak to provide continuing protection, because of the subsoil on which it was built, and storms and drifting ice regularly destroyed sections of it. The income of the inhabitants who remained on Emmeloord, Middelbuurt and Zuidert from fishing decreased steadily, and so it was decided to evacuate the island, which took place in 1859. Only a handful of buildings, including the church on Middelbuurt, were not demolished, and were used as service buildings for coastal defence work throughout the following century. Schokland's role was that of a breakwater protecting the coast of Overijssel and as a refuge for shipping. Following the passing of the Zuyder Zee Act in 1918 and the three subsequent acts designed to regulate its reclamation, the Noordostpolder in which Schokland is located was the second to be reclaimed. The last gap in the surrounding dyke was closed in December 1940 and the polder ran dry in 1942. Schokland, which had been an island for some five centuries, became part of one of the largest cultural landscapes of the present age, the IJsselmeerpolders.

Historical context

The earliest evidence of human presence in this area, as revealed by archaeological excavations, dates back to the Late Paleolithic period (c 10,000 BP), with visits by hunter-gatherer communities, which increased in the succeeding Mesolithic period. permanent occupation is witnessed by settlements, cemeteries, and agriculture during the Neolithic period and Early Bronze Age (c 4200-1800 Be); however, this occupation was not continuous, being interrupted by transgression phases when the inhabitants were forced by rising waters to leave the area.

There is little evidence for later settlement until CAD 1000, when drainage of the peat around Schokland began, the water being drained into the freshwater basin of the Almere; pottery finds indicate that the island was completely reclaimed by c 1300. However, drainage of the peat and tilling of the land caused the peat layer to oxidize and shrink, resulting in sinking of the ground surface and increasingly wet soil conditions. TO overcome this problem small, low dykes were built to keep drainage water out Of the drained area: some of the outermost of these can be dated to the end of the 12th century.

At the beginning of the 13th century strong marine influences in the Almere were beginning to have an impact. At this time Schokland was still connected to the mainland by a peat ridge stretching to the south-east, which means that this area has to be considered as a polder, until around 1450, when the ridge eroded and Schokland became an island, like neighbouring Urk, which had been one since the 12th century. The distribution of terps (man-made settlement mounds) and dykes from this period shows that land was being lost, much of it during storms such as that recorded in 1170.

A number of the terps lying to the east of the island were abandoned around 1400, work beginning on the creation of new terps at Oud Emmeloord, Middelbuurt, and Zuidert. This was accompanied by a change in the economic basis of the communities from agriculture to fishing. At the same time the Almere was transformed into the Zuyder Zee. This lOSS of land and battle against the sea continued throughout the succeeding centuries, with the main losses being incurred on the west and north of the island. Protection became too great a burden for the local population, and so financial help was provided by the provincial council of Overijssel by means of a shipping tax, largely because of the importance of the fire beacon on the Zuidpunt. In 1710 Holland and Friesland gave additional financial support because of their economic reliance on the shipping routes that this beacon served. In 1660 Amsterdam, then the world's major port, obtained possession of Urk and Emmeloord and assumed the responsibility for their maintenance. During this time the four terps on the island were heightened and extended, using Clay, manure, reeds, and sea-grass; the remainder of the island consisted of wet meadowlands.

Despite all these measures, the dykes and revetments were unable to prevent further inroads during the 19th century. The stone dyke designed to protect the entire island, construction of which began in 1804, proved too weak to provide continuing protection, because of the subsoil on which it was built, and storms and drifting ice regularly destroyed sections of it. The income of the inhabitants who remained on Emmeloord, Middelbuurt, and Zuidert from fishing decreased steadily, and so it was decided to evacuate the island, an act which took place in 1859. Only a handful of buildings, including the church on Middelbuurt, were not demOlished, and were used as service buildings for coastal defence work throughout the following century. Schokland's role was that of a breakwater protecting the coast of Overijssel and as a refuge for shipping.

Following the passing of the Zuyder zee Act in 1918 and the three subsequent acts designed to regulate its reclamation the Noordostpolder in which Schokland is located was the second to be reclaimed. The last gap in the surrounding dyke was closed in December 1940 and the polder ran dry in 1942. Schokland, which had been an island for nearly five centuries, became part of one of the largest cultural landscapes of the present era, the USSelmeerpolders.

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