Prehistoric times to Roman times

Long before the villages of Veldhoven, Zeelst, Oerle and Meerveldhoven are documented, the area sustained a small group of people. At the end of the last Ice Age, 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, the landscape resembled a tundra, a vast plain covered with plants resistant to cold. That doesn’t mean that the ground was continuously frozen, or that an ice cap was present here. In fact, in the summer, pleasant temperatures were reached and plants could thrive.

Reindeer were also found on this tundra. As soon as food in an area ran out or the temperature dropped, the reindeer herds moved south. During the summer months, many reindeer stayed in the area that we now know as the Kempen. It was an area of sand ridges, stream valleys and swamps. Reindeer grazed primarily on the edges of the sand ridges and the stream valleys finding sufficient edible plants and drinking water in the immediate vicinity. The people living here at that time were however not permanently residents of this area. They mainly lived off the reindeer and thus moved with the herds. Hunting, fishing and collecting edible tuber plants, nuts and berries were their main sources of sustenance.

These reindeer hunters used bows and arrows for hunting. The arrowhead was usually made of flint. These hunters also used flint scrapers to prepare the skins of the reindeer or other game. The necessary flint was found in South Limburg or Germany. The tools were made by the hunters themselves, sometimes in an encampment erected near the plain where the reindeer grazed. Archaeologists have recovered the flint tools, stone waste materials and sometimes reindeer antler tools from such encampments. All other traces have perished over time. Others tools have also been found in De Kempen, they are at least 10,000 years old and were once used by these reindeer hunters.

Drawing of a flint arrowhead from the New Stone Age found in 1963 near Half Mile in Oerle.

When the climate warmed, the reindeer migrated permanently North. In the Kempen, the vegetation changed, and as it began to establish, new species of animals appeared in the area. The people of the area continued to live by means of hunting and gathering, but their focus shifted to include smaller game such as birds and fish. As new types of edible vegetation became available, there was sufficient food to sustain the hunter gatherer population in the area. The stone tools used by these people were generally smaller than those used in the preceding period. They lived in manmade dwellings consisting of small primitive huts. These were, however, not yet permanent communities.

Agriculture and cattle breeding
During the New Stone Age (5300 to 2100 BC), the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture and cattle breeding took place. To date, no habitational traces have been found from that timeframe in the surroundings of the current municipality of Veldhoven, however stone tools and pottery have been found.

Bronze axes and spearheads
The period following the New Stone Age, is called the Bronze Age (2100 to 700 BC), as it was a period characterized by the use of bronze objects. Migrant or traveling bronze casters sold bronze axes and spearheads to the population, or rather, exchanged them for cattle or grain. These traders/craftsmen came from England. There, the raw materials copper and tin were found, which were necessary for the manufacture of the bronze objects.

Burial mounds
The population of this area was religious. The burial mounds, with urns and other buried items, indicate a belief in an afterlife. Various burial mounds from the Bronze Age were excavated in the municipality of Veldhoven. Interest in these burial mounds was already abundant in the 19th century. Treasure hunters would dig a hole in a burial mound, hoping to find an intact urn. Although many of these treasures have found their way to museums in The Netherlands and Belgium, the information from these finds is incomplete and often unusable because of the treasure hunters’ retrieving methods. Between 1948 and 1951, the National Office for Archaeological Research (Rijksdienst Oudheidkundig Bodemonderzoek – ROB) carried out an expert soil analysis in Oerle, providing important contributions to our current knowledge of the Bronze Age in the Netherlands.

Restored Bronze Age burial mound at Toterfout.

Toterfout and Half Mile
In the hamlets of Toterfout and Half Mile, now part of Oerle, there are still a large number of restored Bronze Age burial mounds. Bronze plaques have been placed at these burial mounds by the municipality, providing information about the different types of monuments. Various special urns were found there, clearly showing that the inhabitants of that era were in contact with the south of England. The urn of Toterfout, which is kept in Den Bosch, is internationally acknowledged in archeology.

Toterfout’s urn is a household name in international archaeology. Thanks to this find, Bronze Age pottery can now be dated more precisely.

In the Iron Age (700 to 50 BC), the remains of the dead were placed in an urn and buried in a burial mound, urn field or burial field. Burial ceremonies also took place. Thanks to a number of excavations in Veldhoven, apprehension for this period has increased considerably in the past five hundred years. Museum ’t Oude Slot in Veldhoven and the Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch preserve objects from this period that have been found in Veldhoven throughout history.

During the Iron Age, small farm settlements existed in all parts of the current municipality. The Iron Age indigenous people are considered to be Celts, as the Romans (50 BC to early 4th century AD) annexed the Celts’ territory to the Roman Empire.

Roman soldiers
In Roman times, the Kempen was inhabited by native tribes and some Roman legionaries; probably former Roman soldiers who retreated to the countryside or who settled in their native region. Many remains from Roman times have been excavated in Veldhoven, including, plans for housing, pottery from Roman pottery centers or from local production, Roman coins, pottery figurines of Roman gods as well as jewelry.

Pipe clay figurine of the Roman goddess Diana, found at Heers and currently stored in the Noord-Brabants Museum.

It is suspected that a Roman road or route ran from the city of Tongeren (Belgium) to Rossum, crossing the territory of Veldhoven. This could provide explanation for the large number of finds from that period, especially those found in the stream valleys. In the course of time, countless Roman objects have been found in the Veldhoven hamlet of Heers. The Roman Empire came to an end at the beginning of the 4th century. Depopulation of this area probably took place then.

Read more in the next chapter The Middle Ages