Publications

The Age and Origin of the Gelderse IJssel

Makaske, B.; Maas, G.J.; Smeerdijk, D.G. van

Summary

Historic trading cities are located on the Gelderse IJssel and flourished in the late Middle Ages. Little is known about this river in the early Middle Ages and before, and there is considerable debate on the age and origin of the Gelderse IJssel as a Rhine distributary. A small river draining the surrounding Pleistocene uplands must have been present in the IJssel valley during most of the Holocene, but very diverse opinions exist as to when this local river became connected to the Rhine system (and thereby to a vast hinterland), and whether this was human induced or a natural process. We collected new AMS radiocarbon evidence on the timing of beginning overbank sedimentation along the lower reach of the Gelderse IJssel. Our data indicate onset of overbank sedimentation at about 950 AD in this reach. We attribute this environmental change to the establishment of a connection between the precursor of the IJssel and the Rhine system by avulsion. Analysis of previous conventional radiocarbon dates from the upper IJssel floodplain yields that this avulsion may have started ~600 AD. Our results contradict earlier suppositions, based on interpretation of archaeological data and historical accounts, that the Gelderse IJssel is much older and originated as a canal, dug under supervision of the Roman general Drusus
The Gelderse IJssel is the third major distributary of the Rhine in the Netherlands and diverts on average similar to 15% of the Rhine discharge northward. Historic trading cities are located on the Gelderse IJssel and flourished in the late Middle Ages. Little is known about this river in the early Middle Ages and before, and there is considerable debate on the age and origin of the Gelderse IJssel as a Rhine distributary. A small river draining the surrounding Pleistocene uplands must have been present in the IJssel valley during most of the Holocene, but very diverse opinions exist as to when this local river became connected to the Rhine system (and thereby to a vast hinterland), and whether this was human induced or a natural process. We collected new AMS radiocarbon evidence on the timing of beginning overbank sedimentation along the lower reach of the Gelderse IJssel. Our data indicate onset of overbank sedimentation at about 950 AD in this reach. We attribute this environmental change to the establishment of a connection between the precursor of the IJssel and the Rhine system by avulsion. Analysis of previous conventional radiocarbon dates from the upper IJssel floodplain yields that this avulsion may have started similar to 600 AD. Our results contradict earlier suppositions, based on interpretation of archaeological data and historical accounts, that the Gelderse IJssel is much older and originated as a canal, dug under supervision of the Roman general Drusus.