Category Archives: alpinism

A hike in the Prealps and Mesolithic on the Jaunpass, Bernese Oberland

Mai, June, early summer. For those loving the mountains, latest by now it starts to itch again. Summer has slowly arrived in the lowlands, but at higher altitudes there is still snow in places. The Prealps, or Voralpen in German, are perfect at this time of year. I have been spending the weekends exploring the Voralpen of the Simmental in the Bernese Oberland. Although apparently life is not just about archaeology, it is hard to resist seeing some Mesolithic or other prehistoric sites while there. And thus, a few weeks ago, I passed by the Kilchmoos on the Jaunpass. Many archaeological find spots, mostly Mesolithic, are known in the region around the Jaunpass on the Fribourger side of the pass. But Mesolithic artefacts are also known from around the Kilchmoos, on the Bernese side of the Pass. Other Meslithic sites in the region are located in Diemtigen, Chateau d’OEx and the Simmental (more on these some other time).

Jaunpass, Kilchmoos, Kt. Bern. @Swisstopo

Jaunpass, Kilchmoos, Kt. Bern. @Swisstopo

The Kilchmoos is a small moor at 1505 masl, just south of the pass. During a short survey Crotti and Bullinger found a few dozen chipped stone artefacts at varous locations around the moor. They are all surface finds and no absolute dates could be obtained. But from the artefacts it can be said people left them here during the Mesolithic, ca. 9700 – 5500 BC, probably at least during the earlier part of the Mesolithic, but likely this spot was repeatedly visited by people throughout the period.

Boltigen, Kilchmoos. View from the direction of the Jaunpass to the Gastlosen. June 2015

Boltigen, Kilchmoos. View from the direction of the Jaunpass towards the Gastlosen. June 2015

The area around the Kilchmoos is mostly pasture land nowadays and quite open with great views, for example towards the Gastlosen range. It would be great to know what it would have looked like 9000 or 7000 years ago. Peat core, palaeobotanical study anyone?
After looking around for a bit I continued – with great views in all directions – over the Hundsrügg towards the Relleri. A great day out!

ResearchBlogging.orgWant know more about the Mesolithic finds from the Jaunpass? Read the original report here:

Crotti, P. & Bullinger, J. (2001). Campements mésolithique d’altitude sur le Jaunpass (Simmental, canton de Berne, Suisse) Annuaire de la Société Suisse de Préhistoire et d’Archéologie, 84, 119-124 : http://dx.doi.org/10.5169/seals-117667

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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.

HazRel_TEA
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

Traversar III – a photographic record

Autumn has arrived in the Alps. The grass is losing its green lustre, leaves are slowly turning brown, farmers have moved their life-stock from alpine summer pastures down into the valleys and snow is expected later this week. Time to have a first cautious look back on this summer’s archaeological activities in the Swiss Alps.

I already wrote once about a small project we, a select team of expert alpine archaeologists (of course), started with the aim to study the archaeological remains at a number of the most important passes in the Grisons. This summer we were mostly active in the San Bernardinopass region. We also surveyed some areas in the Upper Engadin Valley which are to be subject to development in the near future. (For this we were officially commissioned by the Archaeological Unit of the Canton of Graubünden.)

We were lucky with the weather and were able to do all we set out to. We had some interesting results and although dating is difficult at this stage, we expect our finds to be both of medieval/early modern as well as prehistoric dates. While we are cleaning up the documentation, analysing the results and waiting for the C14 dates, I thought I posts some photos giving an impression of the fieldwork.

And if you are interested in the archaeology of the Alps, why not have a look at the alpine archaeology blog? Students of the Alpine Archaeology: tools and techniques e-learning course at the Universität Zürich will be blogging here this semester (DE).

During the fieldwork we discussed archaeology and bandes dessinée. We talked about the book Le soleil des morts, by comic artist A. Houot and archaeologists A. Gallay. (I believe it is not in print anymore.) I would be very interested in hearing about other good examples (in any language), so do get in touch!

steinzeitjäger im wanderweg

Stone age hunters in a hiking trail! High alpine passes, hikers, schnapps, goats and mountain biking, you’ll find it all here. If you are only interested in the Mesolithic, Bronze Age and Early Modern archaeology of the Alps, you will find a scientific report on these test trenches in the Jahrbuch Archäologie Schweiz 2013. An up-dated report will appear later this year in the 2013 edition of the new series Archäologie in Graubünden.

Rückwege Blog

630AF4B4278690B93E82A910C96998CCAC36646Din der aktuellen ausgabe 2/2013 der zeitschrift terra grischuna ist ein beitrag zu einer im sommer 2010 untersuchten alpinen fundstelle in der val forno im oberengadin/bergell erschienen.

m. cornelissen/t. reitmaier, steinzeitjäger im wanderweg. terra grischuna 2/2013, 68-71.

reitmaier_dez2012_1

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Hospental-Moos and the beauty of rock crystal

These artefacts can have something of an old-fashioned beauty, a tactile and organic beauty. There is the smoothness of the slightly undulating percussion ripples on the ventral face. The distal ends are often thin and even and clean-cut, whereas the sides can appear serrated. Where it was severed from the crystal the surface often has a slight oily shine. The opposite side, the dorsal surface, is quite the opposite of organic. It is flat, geometric, sometimes it seems as if it was build up of the thinnest of sheets of crystal. Its mass is fascinatingly transparent. But unlike glass, there are often impurities and ‘healed’ cracks that have grown back together and perhaps the fascination lies in the fact that these impurities and the structure of the opposite outside surface are so very visible.

Merovingian grave ensemble (Grave 413). Rijksmuseum voor Oudheden

Merovingian grave ensemble (Grave 413). Rijksmuseum voor Oudheden

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.

Jug, gilded silver and rock crystal. 1500-1550 AD. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Jug, gilded silver and rock crystal. 1500-1550 AD. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Many years later the Dutch artist Hans Lemmen, fascinated by both palaeolithic hand-axes and crystal,

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Grande tour des Alpes I: Berneroberland

Outside the rain splashes up from the slate and the rocks. We are in a mountain hut near a pass in the Berneroberland and are repacking the first finds. The three of us are here for the Archaeological Service of the Canton Berne.  We received a call from a hiker (by chance a fieldtechnician from another canton) who had found a wooden artefact. He joined us to show us the find location.

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Archaeologists of the AD Bern working at high altitude in the Berneroberland.

These new finds are not all that surprising. Throughout the years various artefacts dating to the Roman period, the Late Middle Ages, but also the Bronze Age have been found near the pass. They show the pass’ continued importance.

The weather was good again this morning and we used the occasion to survey some more of the pass region. We have already found a few more artefacts, some of which undoubtedly are of prehistoric date.
Then it is time for stage two, in Graubünden.

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Geological folds, Berneroberland

So, if you are ever on a hike or bike ride in the Alps and find something, best leave it in place and please contact the people at local mountain hut/hotel or the cantonal archaeological service.

Central alpine Mesolithic and threats to alpine archaeology – the summery of a presentation

Every year on the second Friday of March about 150 Swiss prehistorians gather in Bern. This year they were made to look at, amongst other things, the red dots on the map be below. I made this map for a presentation Th. Reitmaier and I gave at the yearly meeting of Swiss Prehistorical Society (AGUS). Since the 1980s quite a few Mesolithic sites have been found in the central Alps of northern Italy. Until the beginning of the 21st C hardly any Mesolithic sites were known in the Swiss Central Alps, however. There is Mesocco Tec Nev, of course. And many sites are known further west in the Cantons of Fribourg, Vaud and Wallis. Since ca. 2000 the map of Canton Graubünden in southeastern Switzerland has slowly been filling up as well. As in the Italian Central Alps, many off the sites are found above 1800masl and many date to the 8th and early 7th mill BC.

We presented the site of Bergaglia, Val Forno-Plan Canin. Amateur archaeologist K. von Salis discovered a few chipped stone tools and charcoal in the steep sides of a hiking trail going up to the Fornoglacier and the Murettopass. The trail already had cut through it and threatens to erode it further. To establish the nature of the archaeology and its state of preservation we placed two test-trenches over the two find spots, which were ca. 8m apart. In each of the two test trenches a multi-phased hearth was found, dating to the late 8th and early 7th Mill. BC. A further find probably dates to the early fifth Mill BC. While earlier Mesolithic (Sauveterrien and Castelnovien) finds are common, not many sites dating to the latest Mesolithic and especially the earliest Neolithic are known in the sub-alpine and alpine zones of the central Alps. A further hearth dates to the Late Bronze Age.

known Mesolithic sites in SE-Switzerland and most sites in neighbouring Italy.

All known Mesolithic sites in this part of Switzerland and most sites/site concentrations in Italy. (yellow: two Bronze Age sites.)
1. Bergalia, Val Forno-Plan Canin; 2. Pontresina, Val Languard-Chamanna dal Paster; 3. Maloja, Lunghinpass; 4. Val S. Giamcomo-Borghetto; 5. Val S. Giacomo-Pian dei Cavalli; 6. Mesocco Tec Nev; 7. Mustair-Lai da Rims; 8. Guarda, Val Tuoi, Abri Frey; 9. Ftan, Val Urschai, Plan da Mattun L2 & L3; 10. Sent, Fimba, Kuppe Blaisch; 11. Galtür, Jamtal, Abri Futschöl; 12. Airolo-Alpe di Rodont; 13. Hospental Moos; 14. Muotatal Caves; 15. Sites of the Simplon-region.

The Alps are of course a stunning natural landscape. However, we should not forget it has been heavily shaped by human activity during the past ten thousand years. And this process continues to this day. The impact of our activity in the Alps, whether in the shape of tourism, mining, transport and the changing agricultural practices should not be underestimated. This means we, archaeologists as well as policy makers, should be aware of the threats our living in and enjoyment of the Alps pose to our cultural heritage. These same activities, however, provide many opportunities to discover hitherto unknown archaeology. The word-cloud lists the most prominent categories of threats to archaeology in the alpine regions. (I wrote more about this here and here.)

Threats to archaeological remains in the alps.

concept & production by Th. Reitmaier

However, it is not only through this more `passive´ way of discovery that we can increase our knowledge of the cultural history of the Alps. It has been shown that active searching for archaeological remains, through survey work with well aimed research questions and adequate methodology, can be very successful. These surveys can vary between simple field-walking to predictive modelling (put into practise here) and everything in between.

One cannot protect what one does not know. Cantonal Units can therefore not limit themselves to dig known sites that are in danger of being destroyed, but should increase their knowledge of the archaeology in their Canton and actively search for it, whether in the Alps or in the lowlands.

If you are ever in the Alps and find any archaeological finds in the sides of a hiking path, on a ice patch on a pass or anywhere else, please get in touch with the local police or the people in the nearest mountain hut or hotel and they will pass on the information to the archaeological authorities. We need your help and are very interested in hearing from you!

The test-trenching at Bregalia, Val Forno, Plan Canin will be published in the Jahrbuch Archäologie Schweiz 2012:

Cornelissen, M., Reitmaier, Th., Gubler, R., Andres, B. & Hess, Th., 2012, Bregaglia, Val Forno, Plan Canin – Eine neue alpine Fundstelle im Oberengadin, in Jahrbuch Archäologie Schweiz, Vol. 95, pp.133-140