The Naturhistorisches Museum in Berne exhibits an amazing array of crystals of all shapes, colours and sizes. The largest of these is the so-called Planggenstock treasure which was found in the crystalline mountains of the Canton of Uri, Switzerland. To this day ‘Strahler’, or ‘Strahlner’, search for rock crystal in the extension clefts of the Central Swiss Alps. An aquarelle from 1868 shows men on a glacier, against a steep rock face, wearing hats and heavy boots, busy with ropes and sledges and carrying racks as they mine the smokey quartz near the Tiefengletscher. The past few centuries most large crystal finds like these have ended up in museums and collections. And in a way the crystal bead from a Merovingian grave from Rhenen, the Netherlands is also part of a collection. A small private collection of beautiful, precious beads made of glass, amber and rock crystal. Later, during the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern times, rock crystal was often cut into reliquaries and splendid bowls, drinking vessels and carafes. Swiss rock crystal was valued by stone cutters, for example in Milan, for its purity and clarity.
Many years later the Dutch artist Hans Lemmen, fascinated by both palaeolithic hand-axes and crystal,
had a number of hand-axes knapped from blocks of synthetic crystal, which were shown solely for their aesthetic value at the Limburgs Museum.
Although this does not exclude an insensitivity to its beauty, it seems the Late Mesolithic stone knappers at Hospental-Moos had different reasons for using rock crystal to produce tools, scrapers and arrowheads. The knapping techniques used at Hospental-Moos suggest these people had not specialised on working rock crystal, but used similar techniques as were used for working more common raw materials, like flint and radiolarite. Apparently, they just used the raw material that was available to them in the central Swiss Alps.
The past few months I have been working on my PhD, getting to know the digital microscope I am doing the lithic microscopic use wear analyses for my PhD research with. I have also been doing the lithic analyses of the Late Mesolithic finds from Hospental-Moos in the Canton Uri, Switzerland. The photo below was made with that digital microscope. It is a difficult material for the archaeologist, rock crystal. The artefacts are often hard to read. Retouch, percussion characteristics such as bulbs and ripples etc. are not always easily recognised. They are also difficult to draw or photograph. However, the tools are fascinating and beautiful. The site, which also shows evidence of early Bronze Age occupation, is equally fascinating from an archaeological point of view. Sites dating to the latest Mesolithic in Switzerland and especially the Swiss Alps are rare. However, slowly the evidence for the use of the subalpine and alpine zones during the Late Mesolithic in Central and Eastern Switzerland is amassing. The earliest Neolithic, however, remains even more elusive.