Going down the Danube – Meso2015

Last week we received confirmation our abstract for a paper at the 9th International Conference on the Mesolithic in Europe (Belgrade, sept 2015) has been accepted. The program is now online as well. See you in Belgrade!

Late Mesolithic artefact biographies. Integrating technological and use wear analyses of the chipped stone artefacts from Arconciel/La Souche (CH) and Lutter/St-Joseph (F).

This paper presents the results of our combined technological and microscopic use wear studies of the chipped stone assemblages from two multi-occupational sites dating between 7000 and 5000 BC located north of the Swiss Alps.
These sites, Arconciel/La Souche (CH) and Lutter/St-Joseph (F), are situated in the Sarine Valley at the foot of the Swiss Prealps and in the French Jura mountains respectively. Recently excavated and well-stratified, they allow new insights into the still relatively poorly understood developments at the end of the Mesolithic on the Swiss Plateau. The sites are located within different geographical and archaeological contexts. Whereas Lutter/St-Joseph is situated on the edge of the known LBK occupation of the Alsace and southern Germany, Arconciel/La Souche is located on the Swiss Plateau, between influences from the Rhone and Rhine valleys.
The integration of these two methodological approaches leads to an increased and more comprehensive understanding of artefact biographies, of the development of production techniques and artefact use, during the end of the Mesolithic and the transition to farming in the research area. It also allows further interpretation of the Mesolithic occupation and the transition to the Neolithic on the Swiss Plateau in general.

Marcel Cornelissen, MA
Universität Zürich
Insititut für Archäologie, Fachbereich Prähistorische Archäologie

Laure Bassin, MA
Université de Neuchâtel
Chaire d’archéologie pré- et protohistorique

Pinus cembra, Tamangur, Las Gondas and the Mesolithic

“The Stone pine, each its own, unmistakable: born and growing on this very spot, while birds came and moved along and other birds came and left again. And she has turned old, ancient, she became ever more beautiful, more free, whether you look at her or not, one day she will die up here, torn by fire, thrown down by the dry hot föhn-wind, with her trunk hollow of age which will lie pale as bone, with its blunt branches, bumbs and horns on her almost indistructable patriarchical body.”

Andri Peer. «Daman da chatscha» / «Jagdmorgen» (1959/1961); my translation.

In German:

«Die Arve, jede sich selbst, unverwechselbar: geboren und gewachsen auf diesem Platz, während die Vögel gekommen und fortgezogen sind und andere Vögel gekommen und wieder gegangen. Und sie ist alt geworden, uralt, immer schöner, immer freier, ob du sie anschaust oder nicht, eines Tages stirbt sie hier oben, zerrissen von einer Feuerpranke, zu Boden geworfen vom Föhn, mit dem vor Alter schon hohlen Stamm, der noch Jahre und Jahre rein erbleicht mit seiner Knochenweisse, mit seinen stumpfen Ästen, Buckeln und Hörnern auf dem fast unverweslichen Patriarchenleib.»

Andri Peer. «Daman da chatscha» / «Jagdmorgen» (1959/1961)

In Peer’s text this magnificent stone pine, Pinus cembra (also known as the Arolla or Swiss stone pine) might stand as a symbol for the Romansh languange and culture and its perserverence (ca. 60.000 people speak one of its dialects). It reminds me of the piece of wood that was cut from a trunk in an alpine moor at 2363 masl in Las Gondas. The Las Gondas moor lies just below the Fuorcla da Tasna, above the Lower Engadin valley. Because a sample taken from the tree trunk could be dendrochronologically dated, we know it grew and grew old here over eight and a half thousand years ago. But already almost 2000 years before that Arolla pine grew here, as needles from that time have been found in the Las Gondas moor.

If you have never been there, you should visit the Tamangur forest on the southern side of the Lower Engadin valley. It is fantastic to walk through this open forest high in the Alps, a forest made up almost exclusively of Stone pines. Alive there is a softness about them, with their many small bundles of each five needles. But they can also appear almost archaic, their bare roots arching into the soil below. There is not much undergrowth, low bilberry bushes and alpenroses, the ground soft with needles, moss and grass.

Die knochenweissen Arven von Sursass, im Hintergrund der Piz Lindard bei Lavin. (Foto: Rudolf Grass, Zernez) Bild: Simon Schmid Aus Ganzoni in Der Bund 02.01.2015

Die knochenweissen Arven von Sursass, im Hintergrund der Piz Lindard bei Lavin. (Foto: Rudolf Grass, Zernez) Bild: Simon Schmid Aus Ganzoni in Der Bund 02.01.2015

Tamangur forest is one of the last of its kind. I am at the moment trying to write an article about the Mesolithic of the Alps of southeastern Switzerland. We know that 10’000 years ago, with the glaciers still retreating, people were already at similar altitudes not far from Las Gondas and they might well have walked in the cool shade of the very Stone pines that shed their needles and left their trunks in Las Gondas. They might have sheltered under the enormous rocks in the Plan da Mattun and have rested on the bare, bleached bone roots and trunks of these ancient trees.

Literature:

Dietre, B., Walser, C., Lambers, K., Reitmaier, T., Hajdas, I., Haas, J.-N., 2014. Palaeological evidence for Mesolithic to Medieval climatic change and anthropogenic impact on the Alpine flora and vegetation of the Silvretta Massiv (Switzerland/Austria). Quarternary International 353, 3-16.

Ganzoni., A., 2015, Aufgetaucht: «Das verborgenere Engadin». Fundstücke aus dem Schweizerischen Literaturarchiv: Eine Fotokarte des Engadiner Schrifstellers Andri Peer, in: Der Bund 02.01.2015  (last visited 16.01.2015)

Nicolussi, K., 2012. Jahrringdaten zur Früh- und mittelholozänen Baumgrenze in der Silvretta, in: Reitmaier, T. (Ed.), Letzte Jäger, Erste Hirten. Hochalpine Archäologie in der Silvretta. Amt für Kultur, Archäologischer Dienst Graubünden, Chur, pp. 87-100. (PDF of an older version).

Reitmaier, T., 2012. Letzte Jäger, erste Hirten. Alpine Archäologie in der Silvretta 2007-2012, in: Reitmaier, T. (Ed.), Letzte Jäger, erste Hirten. Hochalpine Archäologie in der Silvretta. Amt für Kultur, Archäologische Dienst Graubünden (ADG), Chur, pp. 9-65.

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.