Category Archives: Ausgrabung

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

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An era coming to an end? Alpine archaeology will never be the same again!

So, that’s that. Last week I had the honour and immense pleasure to help dig a few trenches at Las Gondas in the Fimbertal, between the Lower Engadin and Paznaun valleys. The Rückwege project was initiated by Thomas Reitmaier in 2006 and this might or might not turn out to have been the last ever field season. 10 years of multi-disciplinary and highly successful alpine archaeological fieldwork have come to an end. It was a fantastic time and a great week away from the PhD. A week in which a wonderful group of archaeologists and friends, who have all been involved in the project over the years, got together to excavate a system of animal pens in the beautiful Fimber valley. We managed to sort out the stratigraphy and expect it to be prehistoric, perhaps chronologically comparable to the Iron Age hut ruins we excavated further down the valley. But, as so often in the Alps, finds are scarce. So, we’ll have to wait for the 14-C dates to come back.

I would like to thank my friends, and especially Thomas, for their companionship, the laughs, the snoring, the Streusel, the EIER, the Schnapps, wine and beer, the snow, Lassiter, the tons of charcoal and the many buckets full of dirt and stone. Do have a look at Thomas’s post on  the Silvretta-Historica blog, which I’ve linked to below as well!

 sodalla – wir sind also schon wieder gut zurück aus dem schönen fimbertal und einer sehr erfolgreichen einwöchigen grabungskampagne im gebiet las gondas  … . das hauptanliegen, die dortigen pferchstrukturen genauer zu untersuchen und hoffentlich im verlauf der nächsten wochen auch mittels 14c-datierungen zeitlich einzuordnen, haben wir mit einem ausgezeichneten und hochmotivierten grabungsteam problemlos erreicht, trotz der mitunter etwas widrigen wetterbedingungen …    (CLICK ON THIS LINK TO THE SILVRETTA-HISTORICA PROJECT BLOG FOR MORE INFO AND LOTS OF GREAT PHOTOS FROM THE FIELDWORK!)

Holidays in a rock-shelter. Early Mesolithic occupation of the Berglibalm in the Bisistal (Muotathal, canton Schwyz).

Last summer part of my holidays was spend with friends in a rock-shelter in the pitoresque Bisistal in central Switzerland. A badger had dug his/her sett in the abri and, doing so, brought up a few bones and charcoal. These were discovered by Walter Imhof, a speleogist, who has discovered and surveyed many sites and caves over the past decades. A small test-trench resulted in some stratified charcoal which was dated to the ninth millenium BC. After more bones and a rock crystal flake were found, it was decided to start a small excavation, organised by Walter Imhof and Urs Leuzinger. We dug a two by two meter trench where the archaeology was most threatened to be disturbed by further digging by our friend the badger, as well as a few more test-trenches to see if there were more areas of occupation.

berglibalm_regenbogen_haz_rel

Abri Berglibalm, Bisistal (Muotathal, Switzerland) during excavation, August 2015.

The results were fantastic! Worked bone finds from caves dating to the Early Mesolithic had been known from caves in the region, but now we found a decent collection of lithic artefacts (total 285, incl. 10 microliths) and faunal remains in a well-stratified, charcoal rich layer (probably the replaced remains of a fire-place). This greatly improves our knowledge of the Mesolithic in the alpine regions of Central Switzerland. Also, it was a fab week with friends and colleagues and a great break from the work on the PhD. Nothing better to clear your mind then listening to yodelling (as well as, sadly, quite a bit of german schlager music of a lesser quality) and friends snorring for a week, drinking mediocre beer, stomping up a hill every morning through a field consisting entirely of cow pads, breaking your back sieving, breakfasting with amazing cheeses and excavating great archaeology!

Mostly due to the fantastic engagement of Urs Leuzinger and the rest of the team, the site has already been comprehensively published in the Annuaire d’Archéologie Suisse (Leuzinger et al, 2016). It includes lithic analysis, ltihic raw-material provencing, charcoal-, palaeobotanical- and faunal analyses. It’s well worth a look!

Zusammenfassung
Die Fundstelle Berglibalm befindet sich in der Gemeinde Muotathal im Bisistal auf 1140 m ü.M. In der 4 m2 grossen Grabungsfläche von 2015 konnte eine frühmesolithische Schicht aus der Zeit um 8100 v.Chr. dokumentiert werden. Die vorhandene Holzkohle belegt Hasel und Ahorn als bevorzugtes Brennmaterial. Daneben kamen viele gut erhaltene Faunenreste, wenige botanische Makroreste sowie ein lithisches Inventar mit 285 Artefakten, darunter 10 Mikrolithen, zum Vorschein. Der Abri diente als Lagerplatz für mittelsteinzeitliche Jäger, die im hinteren Bisistal Jagd auf Steinbock, Gämse, Hirsch und Wildschwein machten.

Résumé
La Berglibalm est un abri sous roche mésolithique situé dans la vallée du Bisistal (commune de Muotathal), à 1140 m d’altitude. La surface fouillée en 2015, couvrant 4 m2, a livré une couche du Mésolithique ancien datée d’environ 8100 av. J.-C. On y recense des concentrations de charbons de bois – le noisetier et l’érable comme combustibles principaux. Le site a livré de nombreux restes de faune bien conservés, quelques macrorestes botaniques, ainsi qu’une industrie lithique comprenant 285 artefacts, dont 10 microlithes. L’abri servait de campement à des chasseurs mésolithiques à la quête aux bouquetins, chamois, cerfs et sangliers des régions d’altitude du haut de la vallée du Bisistal.

Bibliography

Full publication:

Leuzinger, U., Affolter, J., Beck, C., Benguerel, S., Cornelissen, M., Gubler, R., Haas, J. N., Hajdas, I., Imhof, W., Jagher, R., Leuzinger, C., Leuzinger, C., Leuzinger, P., Müller, W., Pümpin, C., Scandella, S., Scandella, T., Schoch, W. & Warburton, M., 2015, Der Frühmesolithische Abri Berglibalm im Bisistal, Gemeinde Muotathal (SZ), in Jahrbuch Archäologie Schweiz, Vol. 99, 7-26

Popular short text about the site:

Leuzinger, U. 2016, Dachs entdeckt Steinzeitfunde, in Archäologie in Deutschland, Nr. 1.

A short summary (EN) of the first preliminary results can also be found here:

Cornelissen, M. and Reitmaier, Th., In press, Filling the gap. Recent Mesolithic discoveries in the central and south-eastern Swiss Alps, in Quaternary International (to be published 2016; Click here for more infos / a PDF of corrected proof.

Gampelen/Rundi, Mesolithic sites on a sand dune in the Swiss `Seeland´.

View over the Rundi dune, Gampelen during the test-trenching campaign for the AD Bern. September 2015.

View over the Rundi dune, Gampelen during the test-trenching campaign for the AD Bern. September 2015.

Sand. Like the sand in a sand box. No stones, no clay nor silt, just beautiful yellow sand. My very first dig was in the southern Netherlands and the soil consisted solely of sand. And it was great! I then spend a number of years digging in sand and I guess, it became my first archaeological “home-soil”. I have since dug in many countries and even more soil types and let me tell you, digging is never faster as in sand. I am not saying there are no challenges in understanding the stratigraphy and archaeology, but it truly is very handy. So when I got a phone call if I wanted to do some test-trenching in a sandy area in Switzerland I was quite keen. When I heard it was in Gampelen, where a number of Mesolithic surface concentrations have been long known and one – Jänet 3 – has been excavated, I was sold!

Two chipped stone tools from Gampele, Jänet 3 (surface finds), found by H. Stucki. From Cornelissen, in Archäologie Bern, 2015.

Two chipped stone tools from Gampelen, Jänet 3 (surface finds), found by H. Stucki. From Cornelissen, in Archäologie Bern, 2015. Drawings: Chr. Rungger (AD Bern).

I took a few months off from the big PhD and although we did not find much archaeology in the way of finds and structures, we did find some and we were also able to firmly establish the edge of the Lac de Neuchâtel here during the Mesolithic. Besides, it was very good to be able to take some distance from the PhD-work for a short while. The surface scatters in the vicinity of our test trenches we now know were, like Jänet 3, situated near small depressions on top of Aeolian sand dunes. In these depressions might have either stood open water or moors. From the stratigraphy it is now also clear that not all finds have been ploughed up yet and some of the archaeology might still be preserved in-situ. So, in a way it turned out to be more of a landscape archaeological project than your average Meso-dig. Since then dendro-archaeologist Matthias Bollinger and the WSL have also established that much of the sand of the Rundi dune must have been deposited in the 10th Millennium BC. Moreover, the wood samples we took during the test-trenching will help to extend the dendrochronological curve of the area a bit further towards the Late Glacial period. And all of that from that lovely sand in the Seeland!

Cover Archäologie Bern 2015

We even made it on the cover of “Archäologie Bern 2015”!

It was photographer Heini Stucki who originally discovered these sites and he has been field walking here the past 30 odd years. The full test-trenching report has now been published and also includes the surface finds from the past decade. A short summery of the results was also published as a “Fundbericht” in the Annuaire d’Archaéologie Suisse 98, 2015.

And when you’re finished looking up the Gampelen report, do have a look at Heini Stucki’s website and his beautiful photos as well!

(With many thanks to the mighty Rolf W.!)

References:

Cornelissen, M., 2015, Gampelen, Rundi und Jänet. Eine mesolithische Dünenlandschaft am Neuenburgersee. In Archäologie Bern / Archéologie bernoise. Jahrbuch des Archäologischen Dienstes des Kantons Bern 2015 / Annuaire du Service archéologique du canton de Berne 2015. Bern, Arch. Dienst Kanton Bern. Pp. 64-67. ISBN 978-3-907663-48-6.    (Zu beziehen in Buchhandlungen oder bei Verlag RubMedia, Tel. 031 380 14 80.)

Cornelissen, M., 2015, Gampelen BE, Rundi. Annuaire d’Archéologie Suisse 98.  Pp. 176-7.

Nielsen, E., 1991, Gampelen – Jänet 3. Eine mesolithische siedlungsstelle im westlichen Seeland. Bern, Staatlicher Lehrmittelverlag.

Attinghausen-Geissrüggen, the media and the battle over the oldest Swiss Alp Hut

So often it is the superlatives, the oldest, the biggest, the first that make it into the media. That is what happened with the site of Attinghausen-Geissrüggen in the Canton Uri, “the oldest Alp Hut in Switzerland”, or at least Central Switzerland. (See hyperlinks in the text.) Regular visitors to Hazelnut Relations will know that in 2010 I was involved in compiling the archaeological site inventory of the Canton Uri and during that same summer was part of the team surveying and excavating the area between Andermatt and Hospental ahead of the building of a golf course. Some weeks ago now, I helped some colleagues dig an alpine site in Canton Uri for a few days. And I actually got to wield my mighty trowel! Even though I thought I would not really get to dig at all this summer.

Profile and stratigraphy discussion by the experts. Die Experte diskutierten über die Stratigrafie auf Attinghausen-Geissrüggen.

Profile and stratigraphy discussion by the experts at Attinghausen-Geissrüggen.
Die Experte diskutierten über Stratigrafie auf Attinghausen-Geissrüggen.

The site my colleagues were excavating is one of over 500 alpine ruins documented during survey work by Marion Sauter and Walter Imhof since 2009. Together with a small team around Urs Leuzinger, they spend a good week excavating the remains of a building, tentatively dated to the 7th – 5th C. BC. More charcoal samples for radiocarbon dating from good contexts will provide more secure dating. Sadly, but not uncommon for such alpine sites, no finds were made within the building’s outline. A structure in Val Fenga, in the Silvretta (in the excavation of which I was also involved), was dated by associated finds and radiocarbon dating to the 6 – 7th C. BC. So, whichever one turns out to be older, it is interesting to see that the evidence for the prehistoric use of the Swiss Alps is increasing.

A further alpine ruin, probably dating to the Early Modern Period, in the region. Eine weitere Wüstung in der Region, wahrscheinlich frühe Neuzeit.

A further alpine ruin, probably dating to the Early Modern Period, in the region.
Eine weitere Wüstung in der Region, wahrscheinlich frühe Neuzeit.

The site of Attinghausen-Geissrüggen is situated above the bushes on the flank of the ridge.

The site of Attinghausen-Geissrüggen is situated above the bushes on the flank of the ridge.
Die Fundstelle Attinghausen-Geissrüggen befindet sich oberhalb der Strauchen oben auf der Rücke.

The Attinghausen structure is situated on the present day route to the Surenenpass. Its function remains unknown, but the media (tv item) has endorsed it as (one of two?) the oldest Alp hut of Switzerland. No evidence for prehistoric alpine transhumance economies in Switzerland was known until the investigation of the structures in Attinghausen and the Val Fenga, but with the investigation of these and further sites, esp. in the Silvretta, we are gaining a much better understanding of the prehistory of trancehumance in Switzerland. First results from pollen cores, taken in moors near Geissrüggen also seem to point in this direction. However, some function related to traffic across the Surenenpass, as is known from historic periods, would also be a possible interpretation. One old and three new surface finds show the pass was used during late prehistoric and Roman times. Interestingly, to this day a chapel stands near where some of these were found.

View over Attinghausen-Geissrüggen. Befund Attinghausen-Geissrüggen.

View over Attinghausen-Geissrüggen.
Befund Attinghausen-Geissrüggen.

As the Canton of Uri still has no archaeological service and archaeology still lives a quiet and largely undiscovered and unloved life there, the almost exaggerated media attention can only be seen as a good thing. And that the people of Uri are interested in their archaeological heritage is clearly shown by 150-200 people that visited the excavation over the weekend. Considering that they had to walk up 500 height meters, I’d say that that is a good show up. Thanks to all those visitors and to M. Sauter and W. Imhof for their survey work!

It is hoped to continue the fieldwork 2014. The results of the 2013 excavation will probably be published in the Jahrbuch Archäologie Schweiz 2014.
On November 6th 2013 (18:15), the excavators will talk about thier work at the Abt. UFG at the Universität Zürich. The talk is open to everyone.

Stunning geological folding near the site. Schöne geologische Faltung in der Nähe der Fundstelle.

Stunning geological folding near the site.
Schöne geologische Faltung in der Nähe der Fundstelle.

Archaeology and sardine tins: lunch breaks through the ages

“A deserted camp with empty sardine tins gave proof of Newcombe and Hornby.”

T. E. Lawrence – Seven pillars of wisdom, 1935, p.250

In the Swiss Alps for many hunting is an integral part of life. When doing archaeological survey work and excavating in the Alps one often comes across little sites dating to the 19th and 20th century: the remains of hunters’ camps, sheltering from the elements, most often under abris, or rock shelters. These sites mostly consist of varying combinations of beer bottle shards, bottle lids, a cartridge or two and drinks cans and – particularly Swiss – small metal pots which contained paté. Sometimes we even find the remains of a fire. The sardine tin, however, is almost always part of these assemblages.

The presence of such assemblages often coincides with us archaeologists finding older traces of humans using rock shelters while hunting or shepherding. These can date back to any period from the Mesolithic to the early modern era.

The photo below I took in 2012 in Lisbon, Portugal. Sardine tins: the universal sign of past human lunch breaks.

Sardine tins on a building site in Lisboa, 2012.

Sardine tins on a building site in Lisboa, 2012.

Unterseen IV: Do you dig with a trowel or gräbst Du mit einer Kelle?

It was almost a rite of passage. Sometime during the first year of my archaeology degree in the UK, we were told to get a trowel. It all sounded quite mysterious to a young foreign student: a WHS 3 or 4 inch pointing trowel. I barely knew how many cm an inch was. So, I went to the small hardware store in the village near the halls of residence where I lived and bought a 4 inch WHS trowel. I remember thinking it was really rather small but it felt great in my hand. I was quite proud, it felt like the beginning of something. And now, more than a decade later it still lies snugly in my hand.

Kellen/Trowels at Unterseen-Untere Grabe

A selection of trowels at the Unterseen/Kreuzgasse-Untere Grabe excavation.

I have moved on now and have worked a lot in the Netherlands and in Switzerland. For many archaeologists in the English-speaking world their trowel is the symbol of their professional pride. It was thus a surprise when starting to work in the Netherlands, that there were hardly, sometimes even no trowels at all on site!
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