In January 1965 Tjerk Vermaning, a knife, scissor and lawnmower blade grinder, stumbled upon an archaeological discovery that instantly made him the best-known amateur archaeologist in the Netherlands of his day. He found flint tools fashioned by Neanderthals around 50,000 years ago. This marked the beginning of a controversial period in Dutch archaeology. From 8 July 2018 the Drents Museum is presenting The Vermaning Affair, an exhibition in which the finder’s life takes centre stage.
Fascinated by Neanderthal Man
Tjerk Vermaning (1929–1987) developed an interest in archaeology already at a young age. Around his thirtieth, after seeing the hand-axe from Wijnjeterp, he became fascinated with Neanderthal man and his flint tools. He spent many hours scouring ploughed fields of Drenthe for the artefacts of this extinct species of human. He met with little success in the early years; however, in the beginning of 1965 he discovered two groups of tools close to the television mast of Hoogersmilde that immediately aroused the interest of the professional academic community. This was the first time that multiple tools had been found together in the northern Netherlands. The age of the find was estimated to be around 50,000 years old. He went on to discover several more sites, in Hijken and Eemster in the following years.
Real or Fake?
Vermaning’s finds were acquired by museums and published in professional journals. He was awarded the Cultural Prize of Drenthe as well as an annual stipend permitting him to continue his research. However, Vermaning wanted more recognition in the form of an honorary degree and employment at the Drents Museum. As time passed the relationship between Vermaning and the academic community deteriorated. Further research led to the conclusion that the finds were of more recent fabrications. In 1977 the Court in Assen convicted Vermaning for fraud; however, a year later the Court in Leeuwarden acquitted him because it could not be proved that he had fashioned the artefacts himself. The court remained mute on the question as to whether the stones were genuine or forged.
The Vermaning Affair
The exhibition The Vermaning Affair – A Singular Amateur Archaeologist in Drenthe takes you on a journey through the life of Tjerk Vermaning. Who was he, and what sparked his interest in the distant past? His relationship with the press is also illuminated, for without exception it took his side in the confrontation with the scientific community. Many of Vermaning’s finds are on view in the exhibition, both the forgeries (Hoogersmilde, Hijken, and Ravenswoud) and the genuine artefacts he found in various locations in Drenthe. His source of inspiration, the hand-axe from Wijnjeterp, is also on display. Various films and audio fragments bring the headstrong amateur archaeologist to life.
The exhibition is accompanied by a book of the same name, De Zaak Vermaning (in Dutch only) issued by WBOOKS (Zwolle). The publication has 160 pages and costs € 24.95. Available in the Museum Shop from 8 July 2018.
De Affaire Vermaning
Concurrently with the exhibition, PeerGrouP is staging the large-scale location theatrical performance De Affaire Vermaning (in Dutch only) from Wednesday, 5 September through Sunday, 30 September. The performance is in Hoogersmilde, close to where Vermaning made his first highly touted finds. The production is a comical spectacle about the controversial Drenthe amateur archaeologist. Jan Veldem wrote the script and the actor Mads Wittermans plays the role of Tjerk Vermaning. For tickets and information, please contact: www.peergroup.nl