Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology in Switzerland – where we stand now
As usual, the 2010 Jahrbuch Archäologie Schweiz vol. 93 includes a list of newly discovered and excavated sites. It is no surprise that the number of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites discovered or investigated in 2009 is relatively low in comparison to the number of sites from most later prehistoric, roman and medieval periods. The figure below comes from Siegmund’s 2008 publication in the Jahrbuch der Archäologie Schweiz 2008, vol. 91.


Siegmund 2008 Abb. 9, p. 95. Do not be confused by the typos in the Roman and Medieval numbers: the correct ones are 1630 & 1288.

It clearly shows the chronological distribution of the newly recorded or excavated sites in Switzerland during the period 1987 – 2006. It is also noted by Siegmund, that especially concerning the Mesolithic, Germany and France show even worse records (although for the alpine areas this might not been true; see below). Also, about a third of the Mesolithic sites mentioned in the above table are recorded in only one Canton: Fribourg.

Below the numbers of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites, and as a comparison the Bronze Age sites, recorded in 2008 & 2009. It shows ten sites mentioned in 2008 of which five were new discoveries and nine sites mentioned in 2009 of which four were new discoveries, against seventeen and forty-three sites dating to the Bronze Age.

Nr newly




Nr excav.2008 Nr newlydisco-





Cantons Total 2008 Total 2009
Middle Palaeol. 0 0 0 0 0 0
Upper Palaeol. 0 0 0 0 0 0
Epipal./E.Meso. 2 0 0 0 AI/LU 2 0
Early Mesol. 0 1 0 0 FR 1 0
Middle Mesol. 0 1 0 1 NE 1 1
Late Mesol. 0 2 2 2 FR/GR 2 4
Mesol. unspec. 3 1 2 2 FR/GR/VS/SG



4 4
Bronze Age
17 43

Newly discovered and excavated sites in 2008 & 2009 in Switzerland dating to the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic and – as comparison – the Bronze Age sites (no differentiation made between excavated and discovered sites). As published in Jahrbuch AS vol. 92 2009 & vol.93 2010.  PS. Sorry about the rubbish looking table. Can’t seem to get it to work!

The aim of this post is not to winch and complain. I just wanted to point out that it remains true that the early and middle stone ages receive relatively little attention and are perhaps also relatively difficult to detect in developer guided (but not developer funded) Swiss archaeology. However, later (pre-)historic settlements, e.g. those dating to the Bronze Age or Early Medieval sites, are typically difficult to detect as well. They hardly ever contain stone structures, mostly only consist of vague features and are often typified by very limited numbers of finds. Perhaps there really are less Mesolithic and Palaeolithic sites.

In fact, the relatively little attention for the Mesolithic (and the same is true of the Palaeolithic) causes some researchers concern. It is thought that better information exchange and communication could help the situation and thus a meeting was held in Fribourg, April 2010 where the formation of a society or interest group was discussed.

In an article just published, Huber & Bulliger (2010) write that there are many Mesolithic sites known in alpine regions surrounding Switzerland and that the lack of these in the Swiss Alps is due to research biases. Looking at their figure (which only includes sites in the alpine parts of the country) I am surprised to see so many known sites, although there are many holes to fill still. And indeed, recent surveys projects (e.g. by the SAEF in Canton Fribourg, the Grison Alpine valley Survey project and the Rückwege Project, both University of Zurich.) have shown that there does exist a large corpus of yet undiscovered Palaeolithic and Mesolithic material and that they can be found by doing adequate surveys with the right objectives and using the right techniques. Indeed, most earlier stone age sites seem to be found either during large motorway construction related projects or research projects by volunteers or universities.

Huber & Bulliger 2010, Abb.2, p. 16. Shows only the alpine sites! Mesolithic in red, open-air sites: round. The map clearly shows those areas where survey projects have already taken place.

The Roman period and the lake-site villages of the Neolithic and the bronze Age traditionally get a lot of attention in Swiss archaeology and this should not be a great surprise They have left us very well preserved remains that paint an incredibly vivid picture of these eras. On top of that, it should be mentioned that the lake side villages of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age have played, and still do play a large role in Swiss national identity. Medieval archaeology as well as the earlier Stone Ages get relatively little attention. However, the situation seems to be getting better and there is a small number of young researchers picking up the work of the older generation, especially in the alpine regions. However, a fuller integration of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology in the Kantonsarchäologien (Cantonal Units) would be a very welcome development.


Huber, R. & Bulliger, J. (2010). Neue Territorien in Sicht! Wildbeutergesellschaften der Alt- und Mittelsteinzeit Archäologie Schweiz, 33 (2), 15-21
Siegmund, F. (2008). Zwei Jahrzehnte Fundmeldungen im Jahrbuch SGUF Jahrbuch Archäologie Schweiz, 91, 89-98

One response to “Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology in Switzerland – where we stand now

  1. Pingback: Four Stone Hearth Vol 95 « Afarensis: Anthropology, Evolution, and Science

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s