Category Archives: Beer

Barley and hops

What are you going to do with it? Will you brew beer? Can you make bread with that? Friends and colleagues are quite fascinated with the barley I harvested in the garden a few days ago and with what to do with it. In fact, I do not really know what to do with it myself. It is a big bucket full of ears, a kilo or two, perhaps a bit more, but I have not weighed it yet.

I kept the experimental harvesting simple, while trying not to do anything Late Mesolithic people might not have done. I hafted two blades with birch tar in a simple, straight wooden haft. The blade’s morphology is comparable to some of the blades found at Late Mesolithic sites in Switzerland. I used retouched as well as unretouched blades. The unretouched blades were definitely sharper, but both worked very well and the harvesting was quite fast. Of course, we don’t know whether Late Mesolithic people in Central Europe grew and harvested cereals. The debate about this has come to a standstill and probably will only advance with more data. It is also possible they harvested other sicileous plant material, such as grasses and reeds, for thatching or matting, for example.

Experimental harvesting of barley (Hordeum vulgare) with hatfed radiolarite and `Ölquarzite´ blades.

Experimental harvesting of barley (Hordeum vulgare, imperial) with hatfed radiolarite and `Ölquarzite´ blades (Late Mesolithic type). August 2013.

The harvested barley needs to dry now and will need threshing, then we will see what to do with it. Surprisingly, though, the hop plant that has been quitely, and prettily, growing in our garden for 4 or 5 years now is actually flowering for the first time. Saint Arnold or Gambrinus or however must be sending me a message: “Dash that PhD! What are you, a fine young fellow, doing playing with old rocks, when the ingredients for a fine alcoholic beverage are growing right there in your own garden?” So, I’ll consider it while commuting to Fribourg for another microscope session.

Hops, growing and, for the first time, flowering in my garden.

Hops, growing and, for the first time, flowering in my garden.

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Gardening and the onset of agriculture in the Swiss Alps

Hordeum vulgare Imperialgerste, 2 row hulled summer barley

Hordeum vulgare Imperialgerste, 2 row hulled summer barley

A small patch of my garden has become an unlikely symbol of my archaeological activities of the past 4-5 years. Far away on the slopes of the lower Engadin Valley in the south eastern corner of Switzerland, deep in the central Alps lies the village of Ramosch. Nearby a well preserved terrace landscape is still visible. Recent archaeological work has shown that these terraces date back to the Late Neolithic. These terraces have been used well into the 20th C AD to grow flax and cereals, mostly rye and barley which does not mind dry spells and the short growing season. Even to this day brewing barley is grown in the Lower Engadin Valley above 1000masl from which Birra Engiadinaisa makes some very good brews.

The presence of terraces such as these and settlement sites dating to the Bronze and Iron Ages in combination with the lack of known sites of similar dates in the higher side valleys prompted the Rückwege Projekt (Reitmaier, 2012), in which I took part 2010 and 2011. Since then I have not been able to let loose the archaeology of the Alps anymore. And now barley from Ramosch is growing just below my office window (obtained through the fantastic organisation ProSpecieRara). Also, with a few friends we are starting a new three year project in the Alps this August, about which I will write more some time soon.

Although I am relishing the idea of cooking some fine Bündner Gerstensuppe (barley soup), I am almost more keen for the actual harvesting of the ripe grains using experimentally made Mesolithic chipped stone blades. The focus of the experiment will be on the tools as they will become part of the reference collection for the use wear analyses of the artefacts from Arconciel/La Souche and Lutter/St. Joseph. There has been a long debate about pre-Neolihtic cereal use in Central Western Europe (Behre, 2007, Tinner et al., 2007). Perhaps the experimental harvesting of this barley in combination my use wear analyses of Late Mesolithic artefacts will be able to contribute a little to our understanding of the processes of the adoption of agriculture in the region.

Literature

BEHRE, K. E. 2007. Evidence for Mesolithic agriculture in and around central Europe? Vegetation History and Archaebotany, 16, 203-219

REITMAIER, T. 2012. Letzte Jäger, erste Hirten. Alpine Archäologie in der Silvretta 2007-2012. In: REITMAIER, T. (ed.) Letzte Jäger, erste Hirten. Hochalpine Archäologie in der Silvretta. Chur: Amt für Kultur, Archäologische Dienst Graubünden (ADG)

Tinner W., Nielsen E. & Lotter A.F. (2007). Mesolithic agriculture in Switzerland? A critical review of the evidence, Quaternary Science Review, 26 1416-1431. DOI:

a return to the Jura: expanding horizons

I had not expected such a quick return, but yesterday I was in the Jura mountains again. I visited the excavation of the site of Lutter/St. Joseph. It lies just across the border in France on the very northern edges of the Jura mountain range.

This summer has seen some changes for my phd project. My project will hopefully soon be accompanied by a second phd project. L. Bassin (Université de Neuchtel) will study the lithic technology of the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in northern pre-alpine central Europe. This means a slight overhaul of my project too. One of the biggest changes is that we are looking for other sites to include in our study. Lutter/St. Joseph is the most likely candidate.

Near Lutter a clift in the northernmost ridge of the Juramountains allows access into Continue reading

The «6. Interregionales Silex Symposium» – an interregional/-national early summer’s evening in Basel

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of taking part in the highly informal „6. Interregionale Silex Symposium” in Basel. The fabulous weather allowed for an early May bbq and beer gathering, followed by a stimulating evening of flinty-talk.

Acheulean Implements, Kent UK

Acheulean Implements, Kent UK

D. Schuhmann (Germany) started us off with some musings on the Yabrudien in Hummal other sites in Syria. H. Flück (Fricktal), really a Romanist, took a brave step standing up in front of a room full of hard-core prehistorians and introduced us to the fabulously beautiful knapping work of the Mayas. M. Bolliger (Fricktal) subsequently read out a highly informative alphabetic list of 1000 interesting rawmaterial sites in Europe. We will never again be lost for ideas on what to do when on holidays!

The break was spent with more interregional international beer (Efes, Kronenbourg and Bittburger; thanks to the little Turkish shop next door’s tendency to promote cosmopolitism) outside again and used for much valueless networking, the most useful kind.

Flint nodule

Flint nodule; ©Arco Ardon, Flickr

I (Limburg) had the honour to start the second block and gave the audience my take on Kohn & Mithens (Antiquity 1999) so called Sexy Handaxe Theory. D. Brönnimann (Baselländer) then proceeded to succinctly explain us the many things we can not learn from flint thin sections. Dr. R. Jagher (Basel) finished off the evening by giving us a slightly worrying insight into the biology and toxicology of the Tuber silexorum (Common Flint nodule) from a Baseller point of view. After which we just managed to get the last train home (although there are rumours that a few locked themselves in the building and stayed a bit longer.)

Thanks everyone for a good evening!

Neandertal genome sequence and Belgian Beer

I wonder if it is slowly time to change the name of this blog to Gene relations. The max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Svante Pääbo and Richard Green and colleagues did it. It’s only an initial version, but using material from four sites, they have decoded the Neanderthal genome, and surprise surprise, a little bit of Homo Neanderthalensis lives on in some of us, in Europeans, East Asians, and Melanesians. Having grown up not too far from the actual Neanderthal valley in Germany I like to think I have some in me too.

DNA clusters on Roche/454 Genome analyzer. ©Frank Vinken; http://www.eva.mpg.de/neandertal/press/press_kit.html

This is cool stuff! Continue reading