Category Archives: Bern

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

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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.

PETINESCA – FEST

Petinesca-Fest - 24.06.2012 - Studen

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Unterseen II: the archaeology of a 19th Century road surface – Strassenarchäologie des 19. Jh.s

English text below.

Manchmal bleibt es bis lange nach der Ausgrabung noch ungewiss was Du ausgegraben hast, manchmal ist es sofort klar. Dies war letzte Woche der Fall. Auf der Ausgrabung in Unterseen legten wir zwei alte Strassenpflästerungen frei.

Neben der Stadthauslaube, direkt unter dem heutigen Strassenpflaster dokumentierten wir einen letzten Rest einer Pflästerung, die aus in Mörtel gesetzten Flusskiesel bestand. Das zweite Stück eines Kopfsteinpflasters dürfte älter sein, wurde aber direkt unter dem modernen Teerbelag gefunden. Auf seiner Unterseite waren selbst die Abdrücke der Steine sichtbar.

Vielen Passanten fiel die gut verständliche und wunderschön erhaltene Pflästerung auf und weckte ihr Interesse, sogar mehr als die daneben liegenden mittelalterlichen Mauern. Vielleicht auch weil ihre Urgrosseltern noch darauf spaziert sind?

Zwei Reihen aus grossen Quadersteinen, die tief in die darunterliegende ältere Oberfläche einer Naturstrasse gesetzt worden waren, begrenzen einen ca. 1 m breiten Streifen Flusskiesel. Die etwas grösser als faustgrossen Steine waren nur in lockere Sand gesetzt worden, bilden aber trotzdem eine bemerkenswert feste Oberfläche. Regula Glatz wertet im Moment ältere Grabungen des ADB in Unterseen aus. Sie wies mich auf ein Büchlein hin, in dem ich dieses Bild von 1819 fand. Es zeigt nicht nur das Stadthaus kurz nach der Umbau von 1818, sondern auch eine Bollensteinpflästerung in der Unteren Gasse: vier schmale und ein breiteren Streifen Pflästerung, die durch Quadersteinreihen voneinander getrennt waren.

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Sometimes you do not know what you are excavating until long after you are finished on site. Sometimes, however, you know it all too well. This was the case a few weeks back on our Unterseen excavation when we uncovered an old street surface. It was the second bit we found.

We discovered a first section directly below the present road surface against the old Stadthaus (town hall). A small area covered with river pebbles set on their sides in mortar. The second, probably older, section was also found directly underneath the modern surface. Its stones’ impression in the bottom of the tar covering them.

Many passers-by commented on it. The beautifully preserved street on which some of their great grandparents might have walked still was instantly recognisable as such and grabbed people’s attention. Even more so than the walls in other parts of the excavation.

Two rows of stones set deep into the compacted, older road surface below frame a ca. 1 m wide stretch of pebbles. Although these slightly larger than fist sized pebbles were only set in loose sand, they formed an incredibly stable road surface. Regula Glatz is doing post-excavation work on earlier excavations in Unterseen. She showed me a booklet with paintings and etchings of Unterseen, mostly dating to the 18th and 19th C. And yes, the one depicted here shows the Stadthaus, just after its 1819 renovation with a pebbled road surface in front of it. Four narrow and one wider stretches of pebbles, separated by rows of large rectangular stones.

Unterseen I – temps de repos

Lunch break at the excavation in Unterseen. Archaeological Service Canton Berne, Switzerland)

Lunch break at the excavation. Archaeological rescue excavation of medieval building remains in the small city of Unterseen by the Archäologische Dienst des Kt. Bern (Archaeological Service of the Canton Berne, Switzerland)

Bronze Age, Spiez-Einigen, Ct. Berne, Switzerland

There we go, already diverging. My wife, Regula Gubler, and Marianne Rammstein, both Archaeological Unit Ct. Berne, Switzerland have made some fantastic discoveries in Berne’s Alpine Region.

Already in 1970, 2 Early Bronze Age graves dating to ca. 3800 BP were discovered at the Holleeweg in Spiez-Einigen, Ct. Berne, Switzerland. A concentration of graves dating to this period is known from the region around the Lake of Thun, Switzerland. It was therefore not much of a surprise to find more graves during building work carried out right next to the graves that were dug almost 40 years ago.

bronze age graves, Einigen, Switzerland

The newly discovered graves are well preserved. Two graves contain the skeleton of a woman. The other grave is actually a double grave of two young children. Of the grave-structures only the underground parts are preserved. These consist of grave pits, lined with stones. They were probably also covered with stones.

The skeletons and the grave goods are very well preserved. The grave goods of the women include wrist-bracelets, bronze pins (incl. a two-egged pin), finger-rings, a bronze necklace and hair adornments made of parallel placed bronze tubes at the back of the skull. At least one of the children also wore a finger-ring. The grave goods can typologically be dated in the period about 1800-1600 BC. The pottery found on site confirms this date.

Bronze Age Grave, Spiez-Einigen

Bronze Age grave 2, Spiez-Einigen

Even though no building remains were found, it can still be expected – because of the quantity of recovered ceramic – that a settlement existed in the immediate vicinity.

It is likely that the region formed part of transit-routes across the Alpes, as earlier finds and also the finds from these graves are known in various regions north and south of the Alpes.

Post-ex and anthropological work should shed more light on this. A re-analysis of the graves dug in1970 will probably be part of this.

Finds, Spiez-Einigen

More infos at the site of the Archäologischer Dienst Canton Berne.

Many thanks to Regula Gubler for the information & the photos!

UPDATE. The excavations have now been published:

Gubler, R. 2010. Spiez-Einigen, Holleeweg 3. Gräber am Übergang zwischen Früh- und Mittelbronzezeit, In Archäologie Bern/Archéologie bernoise. Jahrbuch des Archäologischen Dienstes des Kantons Bern/Annuaire du Service archéologique du canton de Berne, 147-173.

Cooper, C., Harbeck, M., Kühn, M., Rast-Eicher, A., Schweissig, M., Ulrich-Bochsler, S. & Vandorpe, P. 2010. Spiez-Einigen, Holleeweg 3: Naturwissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zu den bronzezeilichen Bestattungen, In Archäologie Bern/Archéologie bernoise. Jahrbuch des Archäologischen Dienstes des Kantons Bern/Annuaire du Service archéologique du canton de Berne, 2010, 175-198.