Daily Life and Death

Welcome to the Daily Life and Death exhibition from the Maastricht Collection, here we showcase the rich cultural heritage of the Maastricht area through the lenses of labor and pottery. From the earliest Neolithic period to the height of the Roman Empire, the Maastricht region has been a center of industry, craftsmanship, and trade. This exhibition takes visitors on a journey through time, exploring the tools, techniques, and traditions that shaped daily life and death in this fascinating corner of Europe.

At the heart of this exhibition are the objects themselves. Visitors will learn about the different roles that pottery played in daily life, from the practical uses of cooking and storage, to the more symbolic and ritualistic functions of funerary urns and votive offerings. Visitors will also get to discover tools and technologies that were integral for life and work in the area. From the Neolithic mining tools that were used to extract valuable minerals from the earth, to the ancient and battered shield, which speaks to the region’s heritage regarding conflict (Parker, 1977; de Groot, 2012), this collection provides a comprehensive picture of the region’s history.

“Daily Life and Death from the Maastricht Collection” is a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the rich history of this fascinating region. Whether you are a pottery enthusiast, a student of history, or simply curious about the world around you, these objects offer something for everyone. So come and explore the wonders of Maastricht’s past, and discover the enduring legacy of its people and their craft. 

De Markt Maastricht 1900 (Image Source)

5300 – 2000 BCE

2000 – 800 BCE

55 BCE – 450 CE

27 BCE – 476 CE

601 – 650 CE

601 – 700 CE

1300 – 1400 CE


Pottery runs throughout the life of the ancient Maastricht people. Not only was it used to produce works of art or everyday objects, but it was also used widely in rituals related to various aspects of their time like the harvest and burials (Peña, 2007, p. 20), reflecting the human understanding and attitudes towards life and death. Pottery is primarily comprised of clay, a naturally occurring material found in riverbeds and mire basins. The advantageous properties of clay, including its accessibility and affordability, as well as its excellent plasticity and fire resistance, allow for the creation of a diverse range of functional and formal containers through the process of molding (Peterson, 2019). This is found in the artifacts excavated in Maastricht. Amongst these artifacts, archaeologists have found a large number of pottery objects from the Roman to the Merovingian period, such as cooking utensils, pots and jars, which collectively form a picture of the daily life of the ancient people.

Burial site with pottery (Marco Garro / The New York Times)
Maquette of Roman Maastricht with riverbeds (Centre Céramique)
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Bull Head-Shaped Spout
Roman Pot
Frankish Pot
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Pottery sounds
Roman Pottery Making

Wine was hailed in the Roman period as a golden age in its development and a symbol of democracy, i.e. equal access to both commoners and nobility (Phillips, 2018, p. 40). This trend also logically influenced the mass production of wine-related vessels for the pottery industry (Dunbabin, 1993). A bull head-shaped spout from early Roman (c. 1st century), found underneath the Hotel Delon, aptly demonstrates the cooperation and mutual reinforcement between the pottery industry and the flourishing wine industry of that time.

Beyond its everyday use, the pottery also played a crucial role in death rituals. Historical accounts from the early stages of ancient Egyptian civilisation show that conscious attempts were taken to carefully select the objects that were to be interred with the deceased (Ikram, 2015, p. 142). This custom gradually spread throughout succeeding ages, becoming a common part of the burial ritual, with pottery as the most common burial object in general. The pottery could have been used during the deceased’s lifetime, or it could have been custom-made by later generations for ritual purposes.

In the 20th century, Roman pot and Frankish pot were discovered in Maastricht. Although they both came from different eras, the Roman period and the 6th century respectively, they were both given the same meaning – as a companion to the deceased. As well as serving as a ritual companion to the dead, the pottery is also largely symbolic of the social status of the grave owner (Härke, 2014). Typically, the quantity and quality of the pottery are used to estimate the social class, gender, and even community in which the deceased was living. It is not unusual for the elite, in particular, to find a large number of elaborate and ornate pottery vessels in their graves (Härke, 2014).



Throughout history, labor and human lifestyles have also maintained a mutually reinforcing relationship. Significantly, the role of tools within this relationship cannot be omitted, as it largely determines the efficiency and manner of the laborer and even the quality of life (Temin, 2004). Through the tools that have been discovered, we are able to construct a vividly imagined picture.

During the Neolithic period, Maastricht was abundant in flint, a highly valuable material used both for making fire and for forging tools and weapons (Van Hees & Nijland, 2009). To reach the various layers of flint, the people of the time skilfully used the natural materials around them to produce tools for excavating tunnels. This is in full display in the discovery of a pick made of antlers on flint formations in Rijckholt. This means that, with the help of tools, prehistoric man could already achieve a certain amount of complexity in labor in a more specialized industrial field.

Not only that, but in prehistoric societies where hunting and gathering were the main means to earn a living at the time (Locay, 1989), the flexible design of tools also greatly served the various needs of human life. The ancients frequently used the axe as an essential tool for daily life, commonly used for chopping wood to sustain fires. Interestingly, the socketed axe head from the Bronze Age found in Maastricht seems to differ somewhat from the design of today’s common axe. Although they all need to be attached to a wooden handle, it is not attached horizontally, but vertically which is rare.

By the Roman period, the complexity of human labor began to gradually manifest itself in the construction industry. To withstand stormy weather more effectively, the Romans strategically modified the shape and combination of the rooftiles, thus leaving a channel for rainwater to flow from the top downwards. But the rooftiles, made of clay, had to be left outdoors to harden before being subjected to fire. This explains why the rooftile found in Maastricht has a couple of footprints of pets, as their presence was common and unavoidable.

NWO project ‘Putting life into Late Neolithic houses’
Illustrations of Neolithic mines: The reconstruction of Neolithic miners at work. Made by Judith Dobie (Historic England)
Comparison of vertical socketed axe and horizontal socketed axe from Bronze Age (Horizontal axe on the right sourced from the Future Museum)
Maquette of Roman Maastricht depicting roof tiles (Centre Céramique)
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Sounds of the objects: antler pick, socketed axe, rooftile
Oculist's stamp, inscribed with Latin abbreviations written in reverse on both faces, and on sides (British Museum)
Iron Boss Shield: Digital illustration of Frankish warrior wielding a recovered saxon long knife, and holding a shield. Made by JLazarusEB (Deviant Art, 2017)
Bone skates: Ice skating using poles and bone skates (Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus, 1555 CE)
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Sounds of the objects: oculist stamp, iron shield boss, bone skates

The ingenuity of the Romans in terms of labor was not only evident in architecture but also more specific occupations. At the time, poor hygiene and environmental pollution led to a high incidence of eye diseases among the inhabitants (Birley, 1993). To treat the disease, ophthalmologists usually carried a stamp made of stone with the names of the different types of eye diseases and the corresponding prescriptions engraved on it when they visited patients. Arguably, the stamp holds the hope that many patients would be freed from eye disease and be able to lead a normal life.

Additionally, Maastricht, a former military site, was a place where the ambitions of rulers and the blood of countless soldiers were intertwined. In the seventh century, the Carolingian dynasty, ruled by Charlemagne, attacked most of Western Europe (including the Netherlands), thus achieving a further expansion of the Frankish kingdom (MacKitterick, 1993, p. 19). From the deep notches above the iron shield found from that period, it is enough to appreciate the effort the shield-bearer put in during the fierce struggle.

Not long afterward, during the Middle Ages, life in Maastricht inevitably changed as well as the needs of the people. The advent of bone skates not only facilitated daily transportation, but also became a valuable tool for winter hunting (Formenti & Minetti, 2007). This is because ice skates enable hunters to move more swiftly and deftly on slick, hard ice, greatly increasing the efficiency of labor in extreme weather.