For thousands of years, beavers played a significant role in the Dutch ecosystem and the lives of the people who lived there. Recent research has shed light on the extensive use of beavers for food, clothing, and tools, as well as their impact on creating a diverse and hospitable landscape for other species.
In the past, beavers were a native species in the Netherlands, but they became extinct in the 19th century. However, they were widespread for thousands of years before that. Archaeologists Nathalie Brusgaard and Shumon Hussain analyzed previous excavations in the Netherlands, southern Scandinavia, the Baltic region, and Russia, revealing that beavers were a much larger part of the human diet and landscape in northern Europe than previously believed.
Hunter-gatherers in the Middle and Late Stone Age hunted beavers for their meat, fur, and castoreum, a secretion used in medicine and perfume. They also utilized beaver bones and teeth to make tools. Beavers were one of the most common mammals found at archaeological sites in the Netherlands, indicating their significance in the lives of early humans.
Beavers played a crucial role in creating a diverse ecosystem. They altered the water levels in their habitat, flooding the entrance to their lodge while keeping their sleeping area dry. By building dams, they controlled the water level, benefiting other organisms such as fish, waterfowl, and certain plants. The presence of beavers led to increased biodiversity, with other species like otters, wild boar, pike, perch, and carp thriving in the ecosystem created by beavers.
The research suggests that early humans preferred to live in these “beaver landscapes” due to the abundance of food and resources. The rich biodiversity created by beavers likely provided a significant advantage for hunter-gatherers. Traces on bone remains indicate that beavers were consumed by humans, and their skulls were used to make woodworking tools.
The presence of beavers in the Netherlands has become a topic of discussion, as their population has been growing in recent years. While ecologists and wildlife managers welcome the return of beavers due to their positive impact on biodiversity, their presence can also cause inconvenience, especially for farmers who may experience flooding.
Brusgaard’s research highlights the long history of humans benefiting from beavers. By understanding the lessons from the past, we can learn to coexist with these animals and appreciate the importance of maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Ultimately, living harmoniously with beavers is beneficial for both humans and the environment.