For those poor archaeologists that work in the Alps: T.E.A., Taiwanese landscape painting and a bit of facebook

Perhaps October and November are the most difficult months for archaeologists working in the Alps. The summer is over, the first snow already covers the landscape above 1500/1800 masl, so fieldwork is done for the year. To fill this emptiness inside the alpine archaeologist might go skiing, or snowshoe hiking, or ice climbing. However, in all but a few ski resorts, pistes are not open yet. And there is usually to little snow for off-piste skiing and waterfalls are not yet frozen. So, what to do with yourself during these months? Well, you clean your boots, oil your trowel, wait for the results of the radiocarbon samples you have sent to come back, wax your skis. But it just is not enough, is it?
Well, if you are lucky enough – as I am – to live in Berne, Switzerland you might, going about your daily business, come across some of the electrical control cabinets with wonderful mountains scenes painted on them. You can stare at these for a while.

These cabinets were painted in 2013 by Taiwanese artist Jui-Chin Chiu, or Master Chiu. He is one of the advertisement poster painters the Taiwanese Electricity provider Taipower commissions to decorate electrical control cabinets in Taipei and other cities. In 2013 the Alpines Museum invited Master Chiu to come and brighten up the city of Bern a little.


If you do not live in Bern or if this just is not archaeological enough, there is another remedy. Since last summer I act as Alpine Archaeological Correspondent for the The European Archaeologist, the digital newsletter of the European Archaeological Society (pdf). The TEA is send out to EAA-members four times per year. However, it is also accessible for everyone else on the web. There are five regional correspondents who provide archaeological news from the region they work in. Do go and have a look for the latest from European Alpine Archaeology, from the Benelux, Finland, France or Iberia. The news is very varied. It ranges from new publications, exhibitions, portraits of archaeological personalities, conferences and ongoing projects.

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We need your help, though! If there are any publications, projects, exhibitions or anything else you would like your European colleagues and the rest of the world to know about, do get in touch with me or the other correspondents! Language should not really be a problem. You find contact details for all of us on our reports. You can also find me here. I and the other correspondents are always happy to hear from you!
Oh, and if that is not enough Alpine Archaeology to get you through these months: follow the Alpine Archaeology Facebook-page!

Kirchenfeldbrücke, Bern. Nov. 2014. Biwak#05: City Mountains. Made in Taipei, Taiwan (Alpines Museum). Artist: Jui-Chin Chiu

Kirchenfeldbrücke, Bern. Nov. 2014. Biwak#05: City Mountains. Made in Taipei, Taiwan (Alpines Museum). Artist: Jui-Chin Chiu

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Marcel:

It is already a few years ago that I took part in the fieldwork part of the “Silvretta Historica” project of my friend Th. Reitmaier. The fieldwork has been completed and now it is time for post-excavation work and once every while to look back at the great archaeology and wonderful times we had in the Alps on the Swiss-Austrian border.
But, looking to the future, today I met with another friend to talk about starting a new field project in the near future. Exciting things on the horizon!

Originally posted on Rückwege Blog:

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Ski piste archaeology, elusive hunter-gatherers and WWI – Traversar VIII

Time to finally write a last “Traversar” post for this year. There are really two sides to our Passes of the Grison Project. Mostly we do inventory related work. We survey the study areas and record any archaeological sites we discover. There is of course a research element to this. The archaeology of many of the regions we study is not very well-known and anything we discover increases our knowledge of the (pre-)history of the region. We don’t excavate, though. We do make small test-trenches of up to ca. 30×30 cm or take auger cores at most sites we find. These allow us to evaluate the stratigraphy and if we are lucky we might find artefacts or, more likely, we can take charcoal samples for radiocarbon dating.

Recording probably 20th century military structures near the Passo Bornengo.

Recording probably 20th century military structures near the Passo Bornengo.

The sites we find become part of the cantonal database of archaeological sites. This again allows the archaeological service to react when sites become threatened by building plans, erosion, ploughing etc. Our work in the Oberalppass area is an example of this. You might not realise it, but mountain slopes get bulldozed quite properly these days before they become a ski-piste. Also, pylons for lifts, water pipes for artificial snow-installations, foundations for your favourite ski bar and artificial lakes to hold water for making artificial snow, they all need substantial holes in the ground. A major expansion of the Andermatt-Sedrun Ski Arena is planned. And the Disentis 3000 ski area plans to install a whole system of snow blowers to guarantee its guests a good snow cover. Such plans will become ever more common with increasing winter temperatures and should get appropriate archaeological attention throughout the Alps.

Passo Bornengo. Probable military structures (20th C).

Passo Bornengo. Probable military structures; terracing & building remains (20th C).

So on Wednesday, we surveyed the relevant parts of the Disentis 3000 ski resort. Rudolf Büchi kindly took the time to explain the current plans and let us use the ski lifts to save time. Up in the ski area we were surprised to find quite a few hitherto unknown archaeological sites as well as further archaeologically interesting areas. It will be very very interesting to have a more detailed look at the finds we made and see the dates we get from the charcoal samples we took. Other areas, however, have already been heavily disturbed by previous building activities.

The days after this we were lucky the weather got a bit better. We turned our attention to the upper part of the Val Maighels and the Val Strem. In both valleys we recorded a number of building remains, which may relate to transhumance activity of Medieval or post-Medieval date. One of these, near the Chrüzlipass in the Val Strem, might well be much older. Very exciting. Hunter-gatherers and shepherds remained rather elusive, as so often. However, both on the Passo Bornengo and the Chrüzlipass we were surprised to find substantial building remains. These are almost certainly military, probably part of the fortifications made during the WWI. Later 20th century military structures are often well recorded, but few records exist of these WWI fortifications. Although Switzerland was neutral during WWI, mobilisation did take place and many passes were fortified. The canton of Graubünden/Grison has started to record some of these, hopefully other cantons with strategic passes will follow this example soon.

Val Maighels, near Passo Bornengo.

Val Maighels, near Passo Bornengo.

The finds we made in these two valley reflect the situation we found the rest of the week as well. Despite the not ideal weather, we have been able to do almost everything we wanted. Also, our expectations based on our desk-based work have been fulfilled. So also methodologically, we seem to be on the right track. Concerning those elusive hunter-gatherers, perhaps they did not leave many traces, perhaps these can only be found with more intensive surveying and more test-trenching.

Traversar VII – dodging the clouds

Tuesday evening and I am staring out at the clouds that are slowly filling the valley top to bottom again. It has been a bit of a fight with the weather so far. We had a good day on monday, though. At least archaeologically. Our hunting grounds were a side valley of the Val Medels, which culminates at the Lukmanierpass. A lake high up at the end of this valley caught our attention. Such lakes have long been of interest to shepherds and especially to Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. We were lucky enough to survey its shores in sunny weather, but weren’t lucky enough to find any archaeological remains there.

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Lai Blau, 2448 masl, looking towards the Lukmanierpass.

After a picknick lunch we turned our attention to the valley flanks where our deskbased work, esp. with old maps and arial photos, had shown we should expect the remains of huts and animal pens. It quickly became clear we were right. However, the weather turned, but we stuck it out in the rain and recorded a number of transhumance related building remains. We even located a potential hearth of these elusive hunter-gatherers underneath a rockshelter. When people used this probable hearth we will only know once we have dated the charcoal samples we took.
Today we dodged the clouds, as it turned out to be an office day. With the low clouds and at times heavy rain it would have been impossible to do any useful surveying. But our documentation is finished to perfection now and we got to enjoy the sights of Disentis/Mustér, where we are based.

Traversar VI – a day in the clouds

A day in the clouds. Now that might sound rather romantic and such a 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.20140727-175430-64470093.jpg
We were in the Oberalppass region today. Definitely a region with high archaeological potential. There seem to be many remains of past transhumance activity. These probably 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.

With the imminent building activity for the connection of the Andermatt and Sedrun ski areas, it is important any archaeological remains are located, so they can be studied before construction work starts.

 

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Alpine archaeologist in action. Photographing medieval/post-medieval building remains. Above the Oberalppass, Switzerland.

And a few more nice photos from one of my colleagues:

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Lead bullet. Above the Oberalppass, Switzerland.

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

P.S. These photos are all made with mobile phone cameras. We only have internet access over our phones, which is how I write these posts as well.

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Traversar V – Gauliglacier Dakota

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Glacial archaeology of the 20th C AD. Propeller of the Dakota DC-3 (Grimseltor, Innertkirchen) that crashed on the Gauliglacier, November 1946.

On the road to the Vorderrheinvalley we stopped at the Grimseltor, Innertkirchen. In November 1946 a US Dakota DC-3 crashed in bad weather on the Gauliglacier. Parts of the plane reappeared in 2012. These parts had moved 3350m with the ice in that time. The remains found then were recovered and documented by the Swiss Army and the Archaeological Service, Canton Berne.  Tomorrow we truely start with our survey in the Oberalppass area.

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