Formation of the landscape
The Waddenland region's clay landscape is a combined creation of the forces of the sea and wind, further enhanced by man.
Waddenzee, Lauwerszee and Lauwersmeer
The end of the latest ice age (9000-8000 BC) witnessed the melting of the ice caps and a rise in sea levels. The North Sea was formed. The dunes from this era, which once stood north of the current islands, were partly destroyed, creating the Wadden Sea. Due to deposits and accretion, clay layers were formed which resulted in the salt marsh banks. These where colonised immediately they became practically high enough for habitation (approx. 500 BC). Settlements appeared on the banks of the funnel shaped De Hunze bay, which penetrates far into the mainland from the north. The De Hunze river finally silted up and the drainage migrated further west, forming the Lauwerszee (currently the Lauwersmeer) as the sea levels rose.
Living on mounds
The inhabitants raised their lands into mounds to protect their property against tides and storm surges. The creation of these 'wierden' can be seen as the first phase in the endless war against the sea. The wierden system worked until around 1200, after which the policy was changed and the polder system was introduced. The systematic construction of dikes was started during this period, permitting fertile sea clay to be added to the farmland, enabling the inhabitants to feed a larger community.
Salt marshes and polders
Religious orders in the area at the time became the repositories of knowledge regarding the technology of building dikes and draining the excess water. They took on a lead role in the construction of canals and drainage sluices. The continuous process of accretion and poldering eventually yielded a series of highly fertile coastal polders, and a place where the dikes remain key component of the system. The poldering process was also introduced to the south side, by constructing dikes and reclaiming the Reitdiep polders. The development was made easier here by the sealing off of the Reitdiep in 1876. The next step in creating the polders, and the last one for the time being, was taken in 1969, when the Lauwerszee was sealed off.
The Wierdenland Museum in Ezinge, the Fishery Museum in Zoutkamp and the Buitenplaats Noordkust information centre in Pieterburen explain and demonstrate the ideas and work behind what finally resulted in the Waddenland.