From the Mesolithic to the Bronze Age and back again

It is not all Mesolithic in this archaeologist’s life. Last year around this time I took a break from my PhD-research, mainly to earn some money. It turned out it was not bad either to gain some distance from it and to then return to it with a fresh mind almost a year later. It also meant this blog went on a little hiatus. But isn’t it amazing, that after more than 10 years (!!!) it’s still going?! In the meantime, I joined a small team of the Service Archéologique du canton de Berne on a rescue excavation of a Middle/Late Bronze Age settlement near the Lac du Bienne in western Switzerland. It was a geologically interesting location and the site helped to fill a chronological and geographical hole in the prehistory of the region. The famous lake side villages give us a good understanding of the region’s occupation during the Late Bronze Age and the Neolithic. The period in between is sadly less well known in the region. Because of their early discovery and the amazing preservation of organic materials, the focus of archaeologists in the region has long been on these lake side villages. What took place during prehistory beyond these lakes was considered less interesting. The past years has seen a number of rescue excavations and research projects addressing these themes and our excavation of “Sutz-Lattrigen Hauptstrasse 57, 59, 59a” plays its own small part in that.

You wouldn’t think it from this photo, but for most of the excavation we were very lucky with the weather. This changed in December…

You wouldn’t think it from this photo, but for most of the excavation we were very lucky with the weather. This changed in December…

Our initial report has now been published in the Jahrbuch Archäologie Bern 2018 (full citation below). We were able to excavate part of a settlement dating to the Bronze Age C/D – Ha A1 (that is the Middle to Late Bronze Age). Apart from building remains (C14-dated to around 1500-1270 cal BC) and a large amount of ceramics and some metal finds, we also discovered a large cup-marked erratic boulder (“Schalenstein” in German). In fact, it was a regular visitor to the site, 8-year-old budding archaeologist Nahly P. who discovered the cup marks! She lives nearby and often came to visit us with her mother or grandmother to see what we were finding and helped us, of course using her own brush and trowel. The erratic seems to have been placed in a pit with some care and deliberation, together with four smaller boulders. Three of the latter were placed at the same depth in a row in front of the section with the cup marks. Many cup-marked stones are known from the region and from Switzerland in general. Few, however, are found in a prehistoric settlement context and few are secondarily deposited in a pit. When and why this happened will remain unknown for now. Two radiocarbon dates from small charcoal flakes taken from the pit fill date to the Middle Ages, but sadly this tells us very little as it is hard to known how and when these tiny charcoal particles got into the fill.

Finding this cup-marked stone reminded me of something Prof. Richard Bradley wrote in his classic The passage of Arms:

“Much of the difficulty is created because only two stages of the life cycle of an artefact can actually be observed: its production and its final deposition. What happened in between needs to be inferred.” (Bradley 1990, p.33)

Now I am back working on my PhD about the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Switzerland and the Jura Mountains. You can find out more about the site in Sutz-Lattrigen, the finds and the cup-marked stone in the Jahrbuch Archäologie Bern 2018. A short note also appeared in the Jahrbuch Archäologie Schweiz 101, 2018.

The crack team of the Service Archéologique du canton de Berne excavating at Sutz-Lattrigen-Hauptstrassse 57, 59, 59a.

The crack team of the Service Archéologique du canton de Berne excavating at Sutz-Lattrigen-Hauptstrassse 57, 59, 59a.

Cornelissen, Marcel; Ramstein, Marianne; Stapfer, Regine; Zaugg, Pascal (2018), Sutz-Lattrigen, Hauptstrasse 57, 59, 59a. Eine mittelbronzezeitliche Siedlung über dem Bielersee. In: Jahrbuch des Archäologischen Dienstes des kantons Bern, S. 107-109.

Cornelissen, Marcel; Stapfer, Regine (2018), Sutz-Lattrigen BE, Hauptstrasse 57, 59, 59a. In: Jahrbuch Archäologie Schweiz (101), S. 188.

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The unexpected little joys of lithic use wear analyses II

A little while ago I posted a photo of a crystal inclusion in a white flint bladelet. I promised to post some more, whenever I think of it. So here is another example of the beautiful things I have encountered doing the use wear analyses. This burnt flint bladelet, like the last example from Late Mesolithic layers at Lutter/St. Joseph, France, did not show any signs of use. However, the microscope does show beautifully the microfossils within the flint, or possibly radiolarite, out of which it was made. And, like the last example, this photo also shows the possibilities of the digital microscope I have been able to use for the study of the use wear analyses of Late Mesolithic artefacts from two Lutter/St. Joseph, France and Arconciel/La Souche, Switzerland.

Microfossils, Lutter/St. Joseph. France. Mesolithic

Micro-fossils in a Late Mesolithic burnt retouched bladelet from Lutter/St. Joseph, France. Composite (focus stacking) image (150x) I made with a Keyence Digital microscope (Dep. Of Geosciences at the Université du Fribourg, Switzerland.)

The unexpected little joys of lithic use wear analyses I

Sometimes, when doing the microscopic analyses of use wear traces I come across fascinating things that have little to do with the actual use wear of the tools being studied. Instead they either provide something of a background to their natural origins or are just visually interesting. The digital microscope I have been using at the Dep. Of Geosciences at the Université de Fribourg, Switzerland has many technical possibilities. It allows me to document not only the use wear traces using a variety of photographic technologies. It also provides the opportunity to record composite photos such as this one of an otherwise not very interesting bladelet fragment from the site of Lutter/St. Joseph, in the French Alsace. I’ll try to publish a few more of such examples in the near future.

Lutter/St. Joseph, France. Crystal inclusion in a Mesolithic flint bladelet.

Crystal inclusion in a Late Mesolithic flint bladelet fragment from Lutter/St. Joseph, France. Composite (focus stacking) image (100x) I made with a Keyence Digital microscope (Dep. Of Geosciences at the Université du Fribourg, Switzerland.)

das auge des experten

… sieht bis in die Silvretta!silexanalysen im bahnhofsbuffet olten…

Source: das auge des experten

Après-Ski 2010 | Rückwege Blog

https://silvrettahistorica.wordpress.com/2017/01/13/apres-ski-2010/

The alpine Mesolithic and the scrapers from Arconciel/La Souche. Oh, and much much more!

Way back in 2014 Laure Bassin and I presented the first results of our Gestures of TransitionsGestures of Transitions project at the MesoLife conference in Selva di Cadore in the beautiful Dolomites. Now these results have been published in a new volume of Preistoria Alpina. We could increase our results beyond those presented in the poster then and are pleased to be able to show a nice summary of our study of the scrapers from the Late Mesolithic layers at Arconciel/La Souche, Switzerland.

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Late Mesolithic scrapers from Arconciel/La Souche, Switzerland. Illustration: SAEF/AAFR

Scrapers are special at this site. Not only are many extremely small, an extraordinary large proportion of tools found at Arconciel/La Souche, over 50% of tools, were scrapers. So, curious about what we found out about these seemingly so insignificant little tools? You can download the paper here:

Cornelissen, M. and Bassin, L., 2016. Alpine raw materials and the production and use of scrapers at the Swiss Late Mesolithic site of Arconciel/La Souche, Preistoria Alpina 48, pp. 11-19

Abstract
The well stratified rock shelter site of Arconciel/La Souche, Switzerland was repeatedly occupied between 7100 and 4900 cal BC. It lies in the Sarine river valley at the foot of the Prealps. This paper presents the first preliminary results of the study of the scrapers from this site. Of the chipped stone tool categories, scrapers are the most numerous found at Arconciel/La Souche. A combined technological and microscopic use wear study of the scrapers from three assemblages (ensemble
3, 4 and 5) has allowed us to examine the use and production of scrapers as well as how production and use relate to the various raw materials utilised at Arconciel/La Souche. We were able to show that although scraper morphology remained stable over time, there was a significant change in the relationship between raw materials and scraper production as well as the use of scrapers.
This research will be expanded to include other assemblages and chipped stone artefact categories from Arconciel/La Souche, but has already provided important new insights into artefact use-life in the still relatively poorly understood millennium leading up to the end of the Mesolithic on the Swiss Plateau and the nearby Prealps.

But there is even more! Preistoria Alpina has changed its set-up. The journal is now only available online and open-access. All posters from the MesoLife conference were published in this volume and are available! The papers presented one those hot summer days in the Dolomites have recently been published in volume 423 of Quaternary International. (With a little something about recent Mesolithic finds in the Swiss Alps by Thomas Reitmaier and myself.) That makes an amazing total of 48 articles on alpine Mesolithic!

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Late Mesolihtic scrapers from Arconciel/La Souche, Switzerland. Illustration: SAEF/AAFR

These two volume show how vibrant the research of the Mesolithic in alpine and mountainous enviroments has become of late and will undoubtly be shown to be valuable additions to our knowledge of the Mesolithic in Europe. Hats off to the MesoLife organisers and editors of these two volumes!

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Filling some gaps II – a new publication about recent research into the Mesolithic in the Swiss Alps

A whole volume of Quaternary International dedicated to the Mesolithic of mountain environments in Europe has just been published! It is the result of the MesoLife conference in Selva di Cadore, Italy June 2014. It is full of Mesolithic goodies, including a little something by Thomas Reitmaier and me on a decade of Mesolithic research in the Alps of south eastern and central Switzerland.

Do have a look at the rest of the volume as well, though. We hope you enjoy the read!

MesoLife: A Mesolithic perspective on Alpine and neighbouring territories (Quaternary International, Vol. 423, Nov. 2016)

Edited by Federica Fontana, Davide Visentin, Ursula Wierer

Marcel Cornelissen, Thomas Reitmaier, 2016,  Filling the gap: Recent Mesolithic discoveries in the central and south-eastern Swiss Alps,  Quaternary International, Vol 423, 22 Nov., pp. 9-22, ISSN 1040-6182.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2015.10.121

Abstract
Until 2007 only a handful of surface finds dating to between the end of the LGM and the Middle Neolithic were known in the alpine regions of central and south-eastern Switzerland. A number of recent rescue excavations, research projects and single finds have now shown the presence of people at high altitude in these parts of the Alps from the 9th millennium cal BC onwards. 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, as well as their relationship with regions further afield. Furthermore, the finds allow us to start thinking about future research into the early prehistory of the south-eastern Swiss Alps.
Keywords:   Alps; Excavation; Mesolithic; Survey; Switzerland