Numerous archaeological investigations have been performed along the river Meuse in the Netherlands’ southeastern province of Limburg as part of the major ‘Maaswerken’ infrastructural project. To improve flood risk management and navigability, and for the purpose of gravel production and nature development, several areas of land covering a total of almost 2000 ha are being excavated to a great depth. In anticipation of this, archaeological research was performed for the purposes of recording and documenting archaeological remains in the most important areas and locations. From 1998 to 2015 the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (Amersfoort) was in charge of the investigations, and acted as adviser to national public works agency Rijkswaterstaat.
The archaeological research connected with the Maaswerken project differed from regular, site-based investigations in terms of the landscape archaeology perspective on which it was based. The research themes and principles associated with this perspective were published in several documents, including a scientific policy plan published in 2004, and presented in further detail in area programmes and project briefs. The policy plan assigned each project area to one of five value assessment categories, based on the intactness of the landscape and the archaeological potential for addressing the research questions. In areas of high landscape intactness and great archaeological potential (category 1) the Agency selected zones to be surveyed and assessed, and for archaeological excavation. Though most of the fieldwork, including specialist analysis, was performed in these zones, other category project areas have also been the subject of archaeological fieldwork, including borehole surveys, site-oriented research and watching briefs, but on a more incidental basis. Observations were also made in the river Meuse itself and in the river's winter bed.
The archaeological investigations resulted in a large number of standard reports of desk studies and fieldwork, including reports of specialist analyses. A considerable proportion of these refer to the large-scale investigations at Borgharen and Itteren to the north of Maastricht, and at Lomm and Well–Aijen to the north of Venlo. The results of the investigations suggest the archaeological record here is rich and varied, with a time depth of c. 11,500 years, and traces of occupation and land use ranging from the Early Mesolithic (Well–Aijen, Borgharen) to the Second World War (Lomm).
This paper reflects on almost 20 years of archaeological research in the project areas of the Maaswerken and on the principles and methods used in the field research. The common thread is the results of landscape and archaeological studies and the relationship between them. Examples are used to illustrate results that can be regarded as important from a national perspective, and in terms of archaeological heritage management.