Category Archives: archeologie

Developments in Swiss glacial archaeology

Glacial archaeology in Switzerland has been on the move. And that was long overdue! Glaciers and ice patches are melting at heart stopping rate in the Alps and valuable archaeological ressources are being lost without us having the chance to record, investigate and understand them!

10-10-010 Glacial archaeologists from Switzerland and Italy met last May in Berne and the meeting resulted in quite a bit of media interest. The meeting was innitiated by the L’Académie suisse des sciences humaines et sociales (ASSH/SAGW) and they have set up a website with with a number of ressources concerning the meeting and glacial and ice-patch archaeology. Do have a look, esp. also at the glacial archaeology dossier in their Bulletin (2/2019)! And certainly not just because I was also fortunate to be allowed to contribute something about the so far little known “Fuorcla da Strem Sut”-site, the oldest glacial archaeological site from the Alps, dating back to the Mesolithic.

SAGW/ASSH – Gletscherarchäologie

Furthermore, there was an amazing little exhibition at the Geschichtsmuseum in Sion, VS about glacial archaeology last winter. And lastly, the Konferenz der Schweizer Kantonsarchäologen und Kantonsarchäologinnen (KSKA) has build a website which instructs the public and all those who are regularly activ in the Alps what to do in case of archaeological finds on or near ice patches or glaciers in the Alps, it’s called ALPARCH.CH

If you go hiking, climbing or mountaineering or work in the Alps, bookmark this site on your mobile phone and notify archaeologists if you find something interesting! And don’t be shy. It’s hard, even for archaeologists, to see on first sight, whether something is interesting or not, and we rather go and look a few times with limited success then loose more finds. We love to hear from you!

 

 

Trapèzes, fléchettes et autres pointes – a new publication!

« Trapèzes, fléchettes et autres pointes : évolution des armatures du second Mésolithique au Néolithique ancien entre Jura et Préalpes suisses. » was just published as part of a volume full of French, Belgian and Swiss Mesolithic goodies. It has it all: lithic technology, typology and use-wear. Enjoy your reading!

You can buy the book here. Or surely, your preferred local bookshop will be able to organise it for you as well.

Bassin (L.), Cornelissen (M.), Jakob (B.), Mauvilly (M.) 219 – Trapèzes, fléchettes et autres pointes : évolution des armatures du second Mésolithique au Néolithique ancien entre Jura et Préalpes suisses. In : Arbogast (R.-M.), Griselin (S.), Jeunesse (C.), Séara (F.) (dir.) – Le second Mésolithique des Alpes à l’Atlantique (7e – 5e  millénaire). Table ronde internationale, Strasbourg, les 3 et 4 novembre 2015 , Strasbourg, 11-37 (Mémoires d’Archéologie du Grand-Est 3).

Summary

The rich lithic assemblages from the sites Arconciel/La Souche and Onnens/Praz Berthoud provide new insights into the end of the Mesolithic in western Switzerland. The continuous stratigra-phic sequence at the rock-shelter of Arconciel/La Souche (canton of Fribourg) was excavated between 2003-2012. It evidences the repeated occupation of the site between 7100-4800 BC. The numerous projectile points found here show the typological development of this artefact category throughout its occupation. This development is characterised by the appearance of Late Mesolithic blade and trapeze industries just before the middle of the 7th Millennium BC and a continuing tradition of production into the 5th Millennium BC. Macro- and microscopic use wear analysis of a sample of artefacts allows the discussion of the function of artefacts which are habitually called projectile points. These analyses indicate multiple uses of the artefacts throughout the site’s occupation and show how those artefacts used as projectile points were probably hafted. Excavated between 1997-2004, open-air site Onnens/Praz-Berthoud (canton of Vaud) is another rare example of a recently excavated site dating to the end of the Mesolithic on the Plateau Suisse. In addition to a comparable corpus of Late Mesolithic projectile points, an assemblage of Early Neolithic, 5th Millennium lithic artefacts extends the chronological range offered by Arconciel/La Souche. Although there are small differences between the projectile point assemblages from the two studied sites, there are many parallels as well. This is especially true for the symmetric and rectangularly shaped trapezes and some of the so-called “evolved” points. A diversification of shapes can be observed towards the end of the Mesolithic. This diversification is accompanied by an increasingly asymmetric trapezes and the appearance of small, asymmetric points with concave bases, called “evolved” points or “fléchettes”. With time these small points show ever increasing inverse and invasive retouch, slowly developing the characteristics of Early Neolithic points. The comparative study of two assemblages of projectile points provides new insights into the typological characteristics and their developments throughout the End of Mesolithic and the beginning of the Neolithic north of the Alps. This study increases our knowledges of the Late Mesolithic of the Swiss Plateau, while the archaeology of the following period, esp. that between 4800 and 4500 BC remains difficult to grasp here. Little comparative material is momentarily available for the rare material from this period from Onnens/Praz Berthoud.

Résumé

Avec chacun de riches séries lithiques, les deux sites d’Arconciel/La Souche et d’Onnens/Praz Berthoud viennent compléter nos connaissances de la fin du Mésolithique en Suisse occidentale. L’abri sous roche d’Arconciel/La Souche (canton de Fribourg) a comme principale caractéristique une stratigraphie conséquente, avec des phases d’occupation qui se succèdent chronologiquement presque sans interruption de 7100 à 4800 av. J.-C. Il livre également une série importante d’armatures dont l’évolution typologique jalonne le remplissage de l’abri. En plus d’un corpus comparable du second Mésolithique, le site de plein air d’Onnens/Praz Berthoud (canton de Vaud) vient quant à lui apporter un assemblage de pièces qui sont datées dans la continuité au cours des quelques siècles postérieurs à 4800 av. J.-C. L’observation des séries de ces deux sites apporte des élé-ents de caractérisation typologique pour la fin du Mésolithique au nord des Alpes. En plus de cette approche typologique, la fonction de ces pièces définies comme armatures est également questionnée avec l’analyse tracéologique de quelques artefacts d’Arconciel/La Souche. Les résultats de ces observations conjointes mettent en évidence la diversité des armatures de la fin du Mésolithique avec une évolution des trapèzes qui deviennent de plus en plus asymétriques, parallèlement à l’apparition de petites pointes dites « évoluées » (fléchettes, pointes asymétriques à base concave) tendant vers des pièces davantage recouvertes de retouches rasantes, jusqu’à celles caractéristiques … (auch auf Deutsch unten) Continue reading

Mountains and prehistory at the EAA 2019 meeting in Bern

In roughly nine months many, many archaeologists will be swarming the streets and filling the “Beizen” (the name for restaurants etc. in Swiss German) of the beautiful city of Bern. They will gather here at the 2019 EAA-meeting to share their news and ideas. It will not only be an opportunity to see old friends and make new ones, but also to wander through the city‘s old centre, swim in the Aare (if the weather permits), have a cheese fondue or raclette and a glass of local wine (or beer!) or visit the 3-Lake region, or the nearby Alps of the Bernese Oberland. And, of course, one almost forgets, to discuss fascinating archaeology!

With the Alps nearby and the Alps being such an important part of the Swiss identity, it is no wonder there will be quite a few sessions based around themes concerning the prehistory of mountainous regions. I was lucky enough to be able to join forces with some wonderful colleagues and suggest two of these:

In search of “cloudstones”? Lithic raw material procurement in mountainous and alpine regions during the Mesolithic and Neolithic Session 252 EAA meeting 2019 (PDF)

  • Marcel Cornelissen – Archaeological Service of the Canton of Grisons / Universität Zürich (marcel.cornelissen (at) uzh.ch)
  • Astrid J. Nyland – Archaeological Museum, University of Stavanger, Norway (astrid.j.nyland (at) uis.no)

and also

Settling at high altitudes. Intra-site and and inter-site variability, site function and mobility of hunter-gatherers and the first agropastoral societies Session 319 EAA meeting 2019 (PDF)

  • Federica Fontana – Università di Ferrara (federica.fontana (at) unife.it)
  • Xavier Mangado Llach – Universitat de Barcelona (mangado (at) ub.edu)
  • Marcel Cornelissen – Universität Zürich (see above)

It would be great if you would consider contributing to either of these sessions and are curious about your research and thoughts. The deadline for contribution submission is February 14th! And if you don’t want to or cannot contribute a presentation/poster, do come and listen to some fascinating mountainous archaeology and meet us in person! There should at least be pretty mountain pictures. If you are not entirely sure if your research fits the session, have any questions about the format or have any other thoughts and questions, do not hesitate to contact any of the organisers. There are, however even more great mountainous archaeology sessions to choose from. In any case, we would love to hear from you!

See you in Bern!

EAA 2019 Bern

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.

The “Gestures of Transition” circus tours Switzerland

It’s been a busy few weeks for Laure, my project partner, and me. We’ve been doing a bit of a tour of Switzerland, presenting and discussing our research. Back in February I did a so-called “lightning talk” (6 min) on Late Mesolithic scrapers at a colloquium for PhD candidates in Archaeology of the Universities of Basel, Berne and Zürich in Basel. It’s an interesting format, forcing you to focus on what is essential in your research. It provides a nice challenge for the speaker in that she/he has to really think about what are the most important points she/he wants to get across to her/his audience and how to do so. As a listener they are pleasant to listen to, as they are meant to have a good narrative, focuss on a single or few main points and leave out lots of secondary material. I think a lot of conferences/round tables etc. would benefit from having at least some presentations being held in some form of short presentation.
Last week, those researchers involved in the post-excavation analyses of Arconciel/La Souche met in Fribourg to share their first results and discuss how to continue. We were able to see a selection of finds, such as the bone and antler tools and Laure showed us briefly how she is dealing with 25,000 lithic artefacts. It’s nice to see, that besides Laure’s and my work on the lithic artefacts, other work is also getting underway. Patricia Vandorpe is studying the archaeobotanical macro-remains. Luc Braillard has been studying the sedimentological thinslides, providing new evidence on sediment ontology in the rock-shelter. And Aurelie Guidez is getting the first interesting results on the faunal remains from the younger occupation at Arconciel/La Souche.

After a fruitful meeting in Zürich on Wednesday with Prof. Ph. Della Casa, project PI and one of my PhD supervisors, Laure and went to present our methodology and first results to her colleagues at the Université de Neuchâtel. I had been to Neuchâtel a few times before, but had always had bad weather. So, not only have I come back from Neuchâtel with happy memories of interesting discussions, but I am also very chuffed to have finally seen the beautiful Lac de Neuchâtel and the view of the Alps from there!

View over the Lac de Neuchatel towards teh Swiss Alps.

View over the Lac de Neuchatel towards the Swiss Alps.

So, thanks to everyone we met, who listened to and discussed with us and for the invitations! But, after meeting so many colleagues all over Switzerland and after all the stimulating discussions, I have to say I am keen to once again get on with my research and get writing again!

Pile dwellings and dug-outs. A review of two archaeological exhibitions in Bern and Biel.

The first European Neolithic site I dug was in the south of the Netherlands. All we found were post holes, colourful traces in the yellow sand. We found a handful of pottery shards and a few flint tools, and not very nice ones either, as far as I remember. We were most excited about the remains of traces of old top soils from various periods, or at least I was. It was all very different from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites in Jordan I had worked on, where we found huge quantities of finds as well as standing walls.
Yesterday was the official opening of the new exhibition at the Bernisches Historisches Museum. A new temporary exhibition on the Pfahlbauer – Am Wasser und über die Alpen (The Pile Dwellers – on the water and over the alps). And it’s a jaw dropper! I remember the reverence in the voice of the lecturer – I think it was Prof. G. Barker – of our introductory course at University of Leicester. There was obviously something very special about these Swiss Lake side villages. And indeed, you do not have to work in Swiss archaeology long to realise there is something extraordinary about these sites.

Visual zur Wechselausstellung «Die Pfahlbauer – Am Wasser und über die Alpen» © Bernet & Schönenberger, Gestaltung und Typografie, Zürich

Visual zur Wechselausstellung «Die Pfahlbauer – Am Wasser und über die Alpen»
© Bernet & Schönenberger, Gestaltung und Typografie, Zürich

In the middle of the 19th Century Switzerland made a new start, with a new constitution and a new political organisation. Around the same time the first Lake side villages were discovered when, during a dry summer, water levels in lakes across the country dropped dramatically. The inhabitants and builders of these Pfahlbauten, or pile dwellings, have since played a remarkable symbolic role in the building and maintaining of the Swiss national identity. The exhibition, however, only goes into this very briefly and mostly pictorial.

For me as an archaeologist one of the most exciting aspects of these Neolithic and Bronze Age sites, which date between 4300 – 800 BC, is the Continue reading

Blogging Archaeology – Join us!

Blogging Archaeology

It is already the last month of Doug’s Blogging Archaeology Carnival and although I have not been able to join in every month’s instalment, it has been great to see such a large part of the international archaeological blogging community come together and take part. However, it has been mostly bloggers from the English speaking world. And that is something I am a bit surprised about and I would really like to see changed. It would be fantastic to see more archaeologists from non-English speaking countries to start their own blogs and become more active on social media. So I would like to take the opportunity that Doug gave us by asking us where we are going with archaeological blogging or where we would like it to go and take stock of the archaeological social media and blogging situation in the country where I live and work: Switzerland.

Now, I am not sure I have not missed anything here or there, but as far I am aware there are at the moment, beside this blog, only two archaeological research blogs being actively maintained in Switzerland: kAltes Eis, the newest, and Silvretta Historica, which I helped set up in 2011. The Alpine Archaeology blog was part of a course I taught at the University of Zürich in 2011 and 2013. A facebookpage which resulted from that is still maintained by a few colleagues and me. The L’Arkeoblog is, as far as I know, the only other active personal partly archaeologically themed blog in Switzerland. Surprisingly, there no other personal research blogs by research students or other archaeologists that I know of, although I have noticed some MA-students and a few other archaeologists have started posting photos and other information about their research on facebook (e.g. MA dissertation). And the Universität Bern has a facebookpage for their training excavation in Buchs-Chammeren, canton Lucerne.

Quite some private archaeological and heritage firms and museums are present on social media, but most of their content is not research related and are limited to exhibition or event related items. To my amazement no Swiss archaeological university department or cantonal archaeological unit (who do most archaeological field and post-ex work) are present on social media, let alone maintain blogs. Especially the units are very active in public archaeology, but rely solely on the more traditional channels: the print media, TV and radio, as well as open days and guided tours. However, I have to say, when I worked for the Archaeological Service of the Canton of Berne, I was allowed to blog about my work with them here (see the posts here).

The reason for their absence on social media is, I believe, threefold: personal, resource related and the restrictive communication policies of the cantonal governments. To start with the personal, I have the impression that many Swiss archaeologists wrongly (!) do not consider themselves to be tech-savvy enough for using social media. Even the students I taught in two e-learning courses in the past 3 years had very little affinity with technology and social media, except for perhaps being on facebook. Most cantonal archaeological services, even in Switzerland, have limited resources and are struggling to do their core business and thus is an expansion of an, admittedly well-functioning, public archaeology strategy not a priority. Thirdly, the communication policies of the Cantons tends to be very restrictive and very much controlled by their communication departments. Hardly a written word leaves the offices without it having passed their scrutinising eyes. I even wonder if they would allow a blog or social media presence that is not maintained by them instead of the archaeologists themselves. But have a look at all the blogs that take part in this blogging carnival, people. There are so many things you can do with a blog and so many forms, aims, voices and audiences are to be had! Use it!

In the countries around us there are a few blogs from German archaeologists and I know of one Austrian blog. In France there are a few and in Italy there seems to be quite an active archaeological community on social media, esp. of young archaeologists. As an example, historians in the German-speaking world are much more active when it comes to blogging.

I like the way so many museums and other heritage institutions have embraced the possibilities of social media and the web and believe these are an essential tool for them these days. However, I love the personal blogs and social media efforts of individual researchers even more and would like to see more of these from non-English speaking countries (even if they would decide to write in English, as I have done). I believe – and with this I return to my first contribution to the blogging carnival – this could be increased if employers, whether university departments or cantonal units, would start to see the value of this work and would support it.

So, if there are among you readers out there archaeologists who blog or are active on social media but I have not discovered yet, I would love to hear from you. And if you are an archaeologist, a student, academic or in a unit and you would like to join us by starting a blog, a twitter account, pinterest page or anything else, but don’t know where to start, get in touch with any of us. We’re a friendly bunch, really!

The last words here, though, should be dedicated to thanking Doug for organising this Blogging Carnival and congratulating him on the success of it!