3 October University: from Russian DNA to drug-related violence
In prehistoric times there was a huge wave of migration, from the steppes in Russia and Ukraine to West Europe. The newcomers’ genes began to dominate. Archaeology research in Leiden into burial mounds in the Veluwe and Utrechtse Heuvelrug areas of the Netherlands yielded this spectacular conclusion. This is what Quentin Bourgeois told the audience at 3 October University in Van der Werfpark. Researchers Maartje van der Woude and Marieke Liem also spoke about their research.
Archaeologist Quentin Bourgeois had an exciting research tale to tell. For several years the Leiden Faculty of Archaeology had been trying to map the burial mounds in the central Netherlands. These mounds are where people were buried in prehistoric times and it is thought there are many more. Agriculture and land uses have erased many burial mounds in the Netherlands, but in the traditionally wooded Veluwe and Utrechtse Heuvelrug areas many more are thought to still be intact.
A fantastic opportunity arose when the government carried out height measurements to discover which parts of the country might be submerged in the future. From helicopters laser beams measured the height of the ground, even through the vegetation, in places including on Veluwe and Utrechtse Heuvelrug of each 50 cm2, so the data was extremely detailed. A treasure trove for archaeologists because a burial mound is sometimes only 1.5 metres high.
Maps are made of the surveyed areas, and thousands of volunteers studied these during the lockdown. This was in the form of an enormous citizen science project that anyone could volunteer for. The woods are filtered out on the maps, and the participants detect circular locations that may be the site of a burial mound. (Bourgeois: ‘We now know where all the roundabouts are in the area.’) Each of the maps was looked at by as many as 60 volunteers. The test evaluations of the maps showed that the more people identify a location, the greater the chance of it actually being a burial mound.
This year the newest DNA technology has been used to examine and compare bones from a great many burial mounds. The discovery: a predominant number of genes were found that were the same as those of earlier inhabitants of the Russian and Ukrainian steppes. So from 3,000 BC onwards an enormous wave of migration began from those areas to West Europe. ‘It might well explain why West-European languages belong to an extensive Indo-European language area,’ said Bourgeois. It has been established that the residents of the steppes also reached Great Britain. ‘And the research has only just begun,’ Bourgeois added.
Visitors Klaas Knol and Cheri Nienkemper said they were planning to listen to all three lectures, as long as Klaas’s behind was up to it because he hadn’t been blessed with an ample model. He was particularly interested in the lecture on the burial mounds, whereas Cheri was more interested in the other two, about violent crime and how empathic Leideners are. They were also going to the funfair and the market. And Klaas had listened to the reveille (at 7.00) from his bed. Klaas’s behind proved to have coped admirably because the two only left after all three lectures.
Drug-related violence difficult to tackle
Marieke Liem is Professor of Social Resilience and Security at Leiden University. In her lecture she looked at whether violence has increased in the Netherlands. She showed figures that demonstrate that the total of homicides has decreased (110 to 120 deaths per year in total) but not in the drugs world. There it fluctuates between eight and 35 deaths per year, but the numbers have not decreased over a longer period. Why isn’t violence decreasing in that world? Liem focused on violence relating to the import and trade in cocaine: ‘That market has continued to expand but the import and trade have become very fragmented. Whereas not long ago this was in the hands of the South Americans and Spanish, the increased demand in West Europe and the emerging markets further into Europe have meant that the Dutch, Moroccans and Eastern Europeans also want a piece of the pie. Europe is attractive: it is easy to bring drugs in via the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam, there is little chance of being caught and there are good money laundering opportunities. ‘A lawless underworld has developed, where vendettas, sometimes extremely violent, are fought out. We don’t know much about this but what we see is the tip of the iceberg,’ said Liem.
Easier to get drugs than bananas
We should take an honest look at the Dutch drugs strategy, said Liem. Admittedly the Netherlands faces major problems, such as nitrogen, education, housing and poverty, but it seems as though drug trafficking had only been added to the list when a lawyer and a crime reporter were murdered, presumably by drugs criminals. There would at least now be a multidisciplinary taskforce to tackle the problem from all perspectives, but the fact remained that drugs have been normalised. ‘You can get your hands on a gram of coke faster than a bunch of bananas,’ says Liem. A woman in the tent could confirm this. She had been shocked to hear from schoolchildren how easy it is to get hold of drugs in the schoolyard.
Visitors Josta Hofer and Jasper Visser had been invited to 3 October University by speaker Maartje van der Woude. They met during Van der Woude’s research. Hofer and Visser both work for Stichting 2030 (in Dutch), a national foundation that is based in Leiden and wants to help achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Some of these goals were covered in Van der Woude’s lecture: inequality and banishing poverty, for instance. ‘But we like learning new things too. That was mainly from the lecture about the burial mounds.’
Leiden, City of Refugees
Like many of us, criminologist Maartje van der Woude took up walking during the pandemic, also outside the old city ramparts. She had to admit that she had had no idea that there was such diversity in Leiden. She realised that many people in Leiden had it harder than the average white city centre resident like herself. How could she help them? She began by considering the question that preceded this: How empathic is Leiden? Together with Dutch and international students from a criminology Master’s Honours Class she started a research project. Do the people from Leiden Noord and Leiden Zuid-West, where Leideners with a non-Western background live (17% of the total), feel discriminated against in any way? The students asked this to passers-by in 180 street interviews in both neighbourhoods. Surprisingly enough many answered: not themselves but they knew someone who was... Another question was whether people knew that the city’s slogan is still Leiden, City of Refugees. If they did, they mainly referred to the past. Members of the Municipal Council were also asked about the meaning of the slogan. They mainly said that it was supposed to mean... Perhaps it wasn’t that simple after all.
We need the other to feel superior
Van der Woude recommended that the audience strike up open, curious conversations with ‘others’. She began with a theoretical consideration of ‘the other’. And how we think we need ‘the other’ to feel superior and shift our social unease onto another: being against “the other” makes us strong. One of her most striking comments was that countries that hammer it home how important human rights are, generally in North-West Europe, are themselves not particularly inclusive. Something to think about.
Studentenvereniging Augustinus (in Dutch) has been involved in 3 October University, now the seventh edition, from the beginning. It wanted to be more involved in the city, says Floor Meijer, a member of the external affairs committee. By partnering up with 3 October University, the association killed two birds with one stone: increasing its visibility in the city and joining forces with the University. The external affairs committee is present in the 3 October University tent each year. The committee provided the presenter (Gijs Abbing this year), helps set up the tent and clean up afterwards, and hands out flyers in the area before and during the event.
Text: Corine Hendriks
Photos: Eelkje Colmjon