Traversar VI – a day in the clouds

A day in the clouds. Now that might sound rather romantic and such day does give you very dramatic views. Sadly however it is also rather wet and it limits your view, not very handy when doing archaeological survey work. It is hard to orientate yourself in such conditions and it isn’t easy to get a good impression of the landscape and how it might have been used by people in the past.
We were in the Oberalppass region today. Definitaly a region with high archaeological potential. There seem to be many remains of past transhumance activity. These probanly date to medieval or post-medieval times. What was a little more surprising were the remains of buildings and other structures which might have military origins. We expect at least some of these might be related to fortifications from WWI. That would be quite exciting, as such remains are not as well recorded as one might expect.

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And a few more nice photos from a colleague:

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That’s it for today. I promissed to make potato-salad and people are getting hungry!

Preparing for fieldwork – Traversar IV

Het is stil in Nederland.

“Mr. President,

We are here to discuss a tragedy: the downing of a commercial airliner and the death of 298 innocent people. Men, women and a staggering number of children lost their lives, on their way to their holiday destinations, their homes, loved ones, their jobs or international obligations. Since Thursday I’ve been thinking how horrible the final moments of their lives must have been, when they knew the plane was going down. Did they lock hands with their loved ones, did they hold their children close to their hearts, did they look each other in the eyes, one final time, in a wordless goodbye? We will never know.

The demise of almost 200 of my compatriots has left a hole in the heart of the Dutch nation, has caused grief, anger and despair. Grief for the loss of loved ones, anger for the outrage of the downing of a civilian airplane and despair after witnessing the excruciatingly slow process of securing the crash site and recovering the remains of the victims. …”

Speech to the UN Security Council by Frans Timmermans, Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Netherlands

It seems to me lately we are confronted again and again by waves of news of people suffering from violent conflicts they might have no active part in. News from Syria, Nigeria, Afganistan, Sudan, Irak, Palestine and many other places across the globe, like the Ukraine. And now the Netherlands – the country I was born and grew up in – mourns, is quiet.

Many of us are lucky. Our lives continue, almost as usual. And I have been feeling a little guilty about looking forwards to and preparing for our next fieldwork campaign of the Traversar Pässe Project. But perhaps we owe it to our loved ones, all those who do not have the possibility to do so and who have passed too young, to make the most of our lives, to enjoy it and make the best of it.

Remains of one of the many old incarnations of the road leading from the north over the San Bernardinopass.

Remains of one of the many old incarnations of the road leading from the north over the San Bernardinopass.

Last year a small team commissioned be the Archaeological Service of the canton of the Grison (ADG), started a survey project of the main passes of the Grison. We started with the San Bernardino region. This weekend we head into the field again. The Oberalp- and Lukmanierpasses are the main focus of this year’s campaign. This is all the more pressing as large construction works are planned for the near future, which should lead to the connection of the skiing areas of Andermatt and Sedrun.

Not much is known about the archaeology of the region yet. But with these important passes and the important Monastery in Disentis/Mustér the region has had a prominent role in more recent history of the Alps of Central Switzerland. Also the regions in the cantons of Uri and Ticino west of the Oberalppass and southwest of the Lukmanierpass have been studied during the past 2-3 decades by the Leventina (Hess et al 2010) and the Gottthard Projects of the University of Zürich (Primas et al 1992) and a rescue archaeological project in the Urserenvalley (Urner Historisches Neujahrsblatt 2013, e.g. Auf der Maur & Cornelissen 2013). We thus expect our study area to have much archaeological potential. The first deskbased work seems to confirm this.

Simultaneously, the documentation of remains of WWI fortifications near the Umbrailpass will continue. We will also host the kAltes Eis-Project whose team will undoubtely make us run up to many faraway ice patches high up the end of some valley to look for archaeological remains.

We will have limited internet access in the Vorderrheinvalley, but hope to report whenever possible of our progress. Most likely here or on twitter (hashtag #traversar). You might also want to keep an eye on the Alpine Archaeology facebookpage.

Heading to the Vorderrhein we will be gratefull that we are able to continue doing such fascinating archaeological work in a beautiful part of the world with great friends and colleagues and fab archaeologists.

 

AUF DER MAUR, C. & CORNELISSEN, M. 2013. Die spätmesolithische und bronzezeitliche Fundstelle Hospental-Moos. Ein Einblick in das urgeschichtliche Urserntal. Historisches Neujahrsblatt, 68, 37-84. (As well as furhter contributions in this volume).

HESS, T., REITMAIER, T., JOCHUM ZIMMERMANN, E., BALMER, A., DOBLER, I. & DELLA CASA, P. 2010. Leventina – prähistorische Siedlungslandschaft. Archäologischer Survey im alpinen Tessintal und entlang der Gotthardpassroute 2007/2008: kommentierter Katalog. Jahresbuch der Archäologie Schweiz, 93, 173-193.

PRIMAS, M., DELLA CASA, P. & SCHMID-SIKIMIC, B. 1992. Archäologie zwischen Vierwaldstättersee und Gotthard: Siedlungen und Funde der ur- und frühgeschichtlichen Epochen, Bonn, Habelt

 

Day of Archaeology 2014

Eingebetteter Bild-Link

www.dayofarchaeology.com

Last Friday, the 11th of July, was the annual Day of Archaeology! It is when we archaeologists creep out of our offices, labs, archives and trenches and share with you what our day, a normal Friday in July, looks like. Want to know what archaeologists do all day? Go and have a look at the Day of Archaeology website, or follow the day of archaeology on twitter with hashtag #dayofarch.

Here you can read about my Day of Archaeology 2014. However, do check out the many other contributions as well, especially this contribution: the archaeology of early tourism in the Swiss Alps.

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Hazelnut – Corylus Avellana

Hazelnut, Corylus Avellana. Switzerland June 2014.

Isn’t it fascinating that this is what happens when you don’t collect all hazelnuts carefully one summer? Hazelnut, Corylus Avellana. Switzerland June 2014.

MesoLife – Scrapers, lithic technology and use wear and the Mesolithic of the Swiss Alps

What better way to celebrate the beginning of summer, than to spend a few days relishing the combined joys of the Alps with the Mesolithic? I will be deep in the Dolomites this week, at the MesoLife conference in the Museo Vittorino Cazzetta, Italy. Together with Laure Bassin I have made a poster with some of the first combined results of our PhD research. We have looked at the technological aspects and the microscopic use wear of scrapers from the Late Mesolithic site of Arconciel/La Souche. Below you find the abstract and you can download a pdf of the poster.

Microscopic use wear traces on three Late Mesolithic scrapers from Arconciel/La Souche, CH. Left to right: Radiolarite, fine-grained quartzite and flint.

Microscopic use wear traces on three Late Mesolithic scrapers from Arconciel/La Souche, CH. Left to right: Radiolarite, fine-grained quartzite and flint.

Together with Thomas Reitmaier I will also present a talk summarising the recent work and new Mesolithic finds in the alpine parts of southeastern Switzerland. Either one of us was involved in almost all of the new discoveries. This is quite something, as less than a decade ago hardly any sites were known here. Do have a look at the abstract at the end of the post. We hope to get a synthesis published sometime in the near future.

Alpine raw materials and the production and use of scrapers at the Swiss Late Mesolithic site of Arconciel/La Souche
Due to their abundance, scrapers can be regarded as the typifying tool category of the site of Arconciel/La Souche, a rock shelter with a well stratified, multi-phased Late Mesolithic occupation (7000 – 5000 cal BC).
The site is located in the Sarine valley, on the edge of the Swiss Plateau at the foot of the Prealps. Much of the lithic assemblage is produced on raw material which originates from these nearby Prealps. The remainder of the artefacts are made from raw material brought here from further afield, e.g. the Jura mountains, the Geneva region and eastern France.
A large majority of the tools found at Arconciel/La Souche are scrapers (46% of the tool assemblage). Chaînes opératoires studies and microscopic use wear analysis are combined to investigate how the variety of local and non-local raw material relates to the production and use of the scrapers. As well as determining whether tool use might have varied according to raw material, these studies raise questions relating to the possibility of foreign techniques being imported along with the raw material. This will not only aid the interpretation of one of the most important Mesolithic sites in Switzerland, it might also provide insights into the developments at the end of the Mesolithic on the northern edge of the Swiss Alps.   –   Laure Bassin (Université du Neuchâtel) & Marcel Cornelissen (Universität Zürich)

Alpine raw materials and the production and use of scrapers at the Swiss Late Mesolithic site of Arconciel/La Souche (PDF)

Filling the gap – Recent Mesolithic discoveries in the Swiss Alps
Until less than a decade ago, it seemed that – unlike in the surrounding part of the Alps – no sites dating between the end of the LGM and the Middle Neolithic existed in the alpine regions of central and south-eastern Switzerland. A number of recent rescue excavations, research projects and single finds have now proven the presence of people in these parts of the Alps from the 9th Millennium cal BC onwards. The majority of the currently known sites date between 7500 and 6500 cal BC. Both open-air sites and rock shelters are represented. Many sites lie above the valley floor, in the upper subalpine or alpine zones, and on routes to minor as well as major passes.
Together with new palaeoenvironmental data, these archaeological finds allow us first insights into the nature of interaction of Mesolithic people in the south-eastern Swiss Alps with their social and natural environment and into their relationship with regions further afield. Furthermore, the finds allow us to think about future research into the early prehistory of the south-eastern Swiss Alps.   –   Marcel Cornelissen (Universität Zürich) & Dr. Thomas Reitmaier (Archäologischer Dienst Graubünden)

 

Visualising lithic use wear traces – photo stacking

It is not always immediately apparent to non-specialists what we – use wear analysts – do and see and how we can be certain of our observations. This is partially due to the imagery many use wear analysts produce. In a recent paper A. van Gijn (2013) reflects on the current state of the field of lithic microwear or use-wear analysis and points out a number of aspects of our work in which improvements are possible or even necessary. These, in my opinion rightly, include an increase in sample sizes (e.g. by scanning tools with a stereomicroscope before moving on to higher magnifications); more incorporation of ethnographic data; a standardisation of practise and nomenclature; embedding the use wear traces in the cultural biographies of artefacts and providing better quality imagery.

The basal end of a Mesolithic scraper from Arconciel/La Souche, Switzerland (quartzit au grain fin/Ölquarzit). Left a normal photo. Right a composite photo of the same part of the artefact. Taken with a Keyence Digital Microscope.

The basal end of a Mesolithic scraper from Arconciel/La Souche, Switzerland (quartzit au grain fin/Ölquarzit). Left a normal photo. Right a composite photo of the same part of the artefact. Taken with a Keyence Digital Microscope.

The last point can be achieved by photo-stacking through the use of specialist software or microscopes, such as the digital microscope I use, which are able to make composite photos. The image above shows what photo stacking or composite photos allows you to do.

One major drawback of the microwear approach is the lack of convincing visual evidence. The pictures generally shown at meetings are fuzzy and lack depth of field. Usually only a small part of the photograph is sharp, namely the spot of polish we want to address. Although insiders may usually see and recognize what is being discussed, it is little wonder that the general audience has no idea what it has to look at and remains rather skeptical. There is much to gain from improving the visualization of the microwear traces. – A. L. van Gijn (2013 – p. 3)

Typically, it is difficult to make microscopic photos of larger parts of artefacts that are in focus. Photo stacking, however, allows exactly this: an increased depth of field with much larger parts of the artefact shown in focus. This way not only the traces, but also their contexts can be visualised. I find this technique does not work very well in all situations or for all raw-materials or for all traces. Nonetheless, it makes our work more effective and it will surely allow us to communicate our methodology and findings much better not only to fellow specialists, but also to non-use wear specialist archaeologists and the general public.

ResearchBlogging.org

Gijn, van A. (2013). Science and interpretation in microwear studies, Journal of Archaeological Science, DOI:

Historical fantasies or the inherent subjectivity of archaeology? Die Pfahlbauer in Bern.

In the Swiss national newspaper NZZ, Urs Hafner wrote an eloquent short but critical review of the current Pile dwelling-exhibition in the Bernisches Historisches Museum titled `Historische Phantasie´ (in German). His criticism focuses on the little attention the Neolithisation process gets in the exhibition and the large panels showing scenes of daily live in Neolithic and Bronze Age Pile dwelling villages. (My review can be found here.)

Bauen und Wohnen (Neolithikum) Leucht-Wandbilder (270 x 1000 cm), Ausstellung Die Pfahlbauer - Am Wasser und über die Alpen, in Zusammenarbeit mit illustra.ch Bernisches Historisches Museum

Bauen und Wohnen (Neolithikum) Leucht-Wandbilder (270 x 1000 cm), Ausstellung Die Pfahlbauer – Am Wasser und über die Alpen. Atelier Bunter Hund, in Zusammenarbeit mit illustra.ch. Bernisches Historisches Museum

First, it should be said that by the time of the oldest known Swiss pile dwellings (~4300 BC), the processes of Neolithisation in Switzerland and surrounding areas can be considered concluded (`Neolithic Revolution´ is by archaeologists today seen as an antiquated term). Already 1000 years before the first lake side villages sedentary farmers were living in regions north of the Alps, including Switzerland (e.g. at Gächlingen, Schaffhausen, Bottmingen/Bäumliackerstrasse, Basel and Herznach-Unterdorf, Aargau).

Hafner’s main criticism is the projection of our believes and subjective interpretations on aspects of the lives of past peoples. He wonders whether we know how houses were furnished and whether we actually know if people had chairs and tables in their houses or not. Actually, I believe it can be assumed we do know. As the exhibition shows the preservation at these sites is of such quality that if such items of furniture were common, we would have found them. We also know there were fireplaces in the houses, we know which artefacts were found where within a settlement, so also whether that was within houses or not. We can often tell how certain artefacts were used and what people ate. This amazing range of archaeological evidence allows us many unexpected insights into the daily lives of prehistoric people.

Lastly, archaeology is a science which studies the lives of past people through their material remains. And although we can never assume to be objective – we archaeologists are too much part of our own culture – we have a large and ever-increasing knowledge and understanding of prehistoric people, not in the least because of advances in other scientific subjects with which we cooperate, such as physical anthropology and palaeoenvironmental sciences. But yes, some of our interpretations are just that, interpretations. That is our job as archaeologists, to collect the archaeological evidence using up-to-date scientific methods, to subsequently interpret this evidence to our best ability and share our findings with the public. It goes without saying, we do this from our own position in the world. But doing so we also incorporate the current knowledge base of the discussed period as well as others, here in Switzerland and beyond. Moreover, this is a cumulative knowledge, gathered by scientists throughout the past few hundred years.

The panels in the exhibition show what we know about the people living on the lakes between 4300-800 BC resulting from the described scientific processes and the most likely interpretation of this knowledge. And that there is some fiction in them – as there is in the paintings by Anker albeit far, far more – should be clear to visitors. As archaeologists we use such visualisations to show what we know about (pre-)historic life. The medium dictates that this is impossible without including some fiction, in the same way a historical novel does, although less of course. So, should we make the general public read scientific reports instead? Stop making reconstruction visuals? Stop writing historical novels or cartoons and designing exhibitions? Or provide an accompanying books which are to be read before visiting the exhibition? I think not.

Archaeology and visual representation have a long history together. This includes photography and drawing. Both are an integral part of the archaeological process, drawing arguably a bit more. Drawing is deeply integrated in the archaeological processes of recovery, understanding and interpretation. This already starts during the excavation and continues afterwards. Producing field plans, phase plans and finds drawings help the archaeologist understand the evidence from the past (Wickstead 2008). Scenic reconstructions are a further step in this process. When making a new scenic interpretation of the finds from the Iron Age archaeology at the salt mines of Hallstatt, Rescheiter et al (2013) have written a scientific text to accompany it and explain their decisions on what to show and why. (There exists an extensive literature on the visualisation of archaeology which cannot all be dealt with within the space of a blog post). This will be interesting for fellow scientists, perhaps less so for a general audience in an exhibition. Forster (2012) takes a different approach. She shows the making of a scenic reconstruction of the interpretation of a shepherd’s shelter and the find from it. It poignantly shows what the archaeological evidence is and what interpretation. I could, for example, also imagine documenting the process of the making of scenic panels such as those shown in Bern in film, which can be shown as part of the exhibition. It is now up to the exhibition makers in Bern whether they see it fit to provide more information concerning these panels or not. As an archaeologist I’d be interested in their opinion. Certainly it is in itself a success that the panels are being discussed at all.

Dominic Groebner Hans Reschreiter NHM Wien 2012

By D. Groebner – Hans Reschreiter – Naturhistorisches Museum Wien [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

That does not take away that to not attempt to interpret would be a serious deficiency on the side of the archaeologists. So it is not that we archaeologists do not want to look upon the `Pfahlbauer´ objectively, or in Hafner’s words `ohne Projektionen´. But firstly these panels might be less subjective than might be expected (we do know, for example that the Lady of Spiez-Einigen was buried lying on a sheepskin) and secondly, we simply have no choice but to be – to some extend – subjective. And even if we could travel back in time, we could still not truly know what it was to be a farmer living on the Lake of Biel in 1800 BC.

ResearchBlogging.org

Literature

 

Forster E. (2012). Vom archäoligischen Befund zum Lebensbild, Reitmaier, Th. [Hrsg.], Letzte Jäger, erste Hirten. Hochalpine Archäologie in der Silvretta, Archäologischer Dienst Graubünden, Chur, 67-69. DOI:

Reschreiter, H. , Pany-Kucera, D. & Gröbner, D. (2013). Kinderarbeit in 100m Tiefe? neue Lebensbilder zum prähistorischen Hallstätter Salzbergbau, Karl & R. Leskovar, J. [Hrsg.], Interpretierte Eisenzeiten. Fallstudien, Methoden, Theorie. Tagungsbeiträge der 5. Linzer Gespräche zur interpretativen Eisenzeitarchäologie. Studien zur Kulturgeschichte von Oberösterreich, 37 25-38.

Wickstead, H. (2008), Drawing archaeology, in Duff, L. & Sawdon, Ph. [eds.], Drawing: the purpose. Bristol, U.K., Intellect Books. 13-27