Texel, Netherlands: An island where science and culture meet

The Frisian Islands are barrier islands off the coast of the Netherlands. Between these islands and the mainland, there is an area called the Wadden Sea. This sea is only wet in some places, at some times. Instead of being a proper body of water, it's speckled with shallow pools, wetlands, mud flats that flood and dry up depending on storms and changing tides.

That geography makes the Frisian Islands, including the island of Texel, a great place to go beachcombing. During high tides and storms, water from the North Sea flows into the Wadden Sea through inlets. Not all of this water flows back out again, some evaporates. And water isn't the only thing in the North Sea. Wander the mud flats after the tide goes back out and you'll find all manner of random things washed up on Texel's shores—from buckets and signs, to bottles stuffed with anonymous letters.

On a more practical level, current patterns in the North Sea push whatever is in the water towards Texel. That means when a container ship loses something like a box full of luxury coats, the beaches of Texel are a great place to find it again. All that flotsam and jetsam (both the useful and the whimsical) helped create a culture of beachcombing on Texel. For generations, people went down to the shore and finders-keepers was the name of the game.

You can watch a new 14-minute documentary on Texel beachcombers and the goodies they've found. It's called Flotsam & Jetsam and it's available on Vimeo and it's really interesting—a great example of how the realities of nature and science can shape the way culture develops.

Watch the documentary Flotsam & Jetsam

Read a geosciences master's thesis that explains in more detail how the tidal mud flats at Texel work.

Via the Annals of Improbable Research


  1. I love this film on multiple levels; one of which is linguistic. Frisian is the closest language to English. Here, there are some marvelous examples, much of which can be understood by us English speakers without subtitles. (To my ear, it almost sounds like a Scottish brogue.) Yet, go to the Netherlands and listen to Dutch — our second-closest language — and, if you don’t know Dutch, you can hardly understand a thing (until, of course, they break into their impeccable English).

    1. Although you’re right about Frisian being close to English, none of the people in the documentary spoke it.

      The reason being that Texel is the only of the Frisian (or Wadden) isles that was successfully conquered by the Hollanders in the 13th century in a particularly bloody series of wars in the 13-14th Century (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friso-Hollandic_Wars ). As a result the only Frisian you’re likely to hear on Texel  is either in place names, or from visitors. Apologies for the nitpick…

      That is not to say the documentary is not linguistically interesting. (It’s just generally great, BTW!) But as a native speaker of Dutch I have always been fascinated by this strange and obscure word for beach-combing: “jutten” is the verb, these people are “jutters”, and one of them refers to an object as a “jut” (pronounced “yut”). My amateur linguistic skills tell me that when a verb has no clear connection to any other verb (like “beach combing” clearly being a figure of speech), we must be dealing with an activity that has a long local history.

      1. Thanks!

        Nitpicking? Actual information is always preferred over vague inference (and B.S.).

      2. i was also thinking about the verb “jutten”… do you think it might be related to the verb to hunt, “jachten”?

        also, i love the 83 year old dude cranking out his english!  he certainly has a young, able mind. :)

        and loved the titles/credits.

        one thing that struck me as strange – the first guy to be interviewed pronounced texel as “texsel”.  i’ve only ever heard it pronounced “tessel”.  i wonder if he anglicising it, or if some dutch say it that way.

        1. You may be right that “jut” is related to “jacht” (“jagen”; to hunt).

          See: “opjutten” (to exhort someone go or work faster), which is semantically  close (if less severe) to “opjagen”.

        2.  In the local dialect the island’s name  is pronounced “tessel” and quite some non-islanders use the same pronunciation.

          Others just pronounce it just like it’s written: “texel”.

  2. Thank you for sharing this movie. I live on Texel but hadn’t heard about this movie. I’m really glad to learn a but more about my new home. It’s such a lovely island with a long history connected to the ocean.

  3. This place sounds great.  I love stumbling over random weird stuff, which is why I sometimes enjoy wandering through antique malls, flea markets, and garage sales.  It sounds like you’d never know _what_ you were going to find there.  I probably wouldn’t even want to keep any of it; just to see it would be enough.

  4. I worked as the producer on Flotsam & Jetsam and i really want to say thank you for watching it. Seeing this film get two and half thousand hits a day feels really great.

    In Answer to some of the questions and statements,

    The film is in Dutch and English,

    Gil the first interviewee  studied in Manchester briefly and has a slight Mancunian accent.

    Cor the oldest interviewee died this year he was buried in a drift wood coffin on the island.

  5. Texel was still part of the province of North Holland, not Friesland. At least the last time I was there (2 years ago).  That might be the reason they speak mainly Dutch (albeit with a very strong accent with a lot of Frisian elements). 

    Last year I visited Ameland, which is a Frisian Island and many people there spoke Frisian in their daily lives. Difficult to understand for a Dutch speaker.
    The film is really nice and reflects the atmosphere and the “locals” really well. Great work!

  6. If you want a great story set in the area, grab The Riddle of the Sands from gutenberg.org or your favorite out of copyright download site. The story involves some espionage and a lot of sailing. The islands, the sea and the tides are all characters in the tale. The author was later arrested by the British for his nautical activities on behalf of Irish independence.

    1. I only knew about Texel at all, because it is a great meat sheep, and often used in hybrids.

  7. Had a weird title-scanning dyslexia attack; read it as “Texas Neanderthals” while scrolling by. The actual movie seems better….

  8. No mention of the beachcombing drink Juttertje? If you enjoy Jagermeister, give some of this a try. Far superior to the mass marketed German labelled booze, in the same sort of style. It comes in a very stylish clay bottle, with a fantastic picture of a Jutter on a beach. Not too sure if it is sold on Texel, but I drank more than my share on Terschelling.

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