Category Archives: excavation

impressionen 2007-2012

It is already a few years ago that I took part in the fieldwork part of the “Silvretta Historica” project of my friend Th. Reitmaier. The fieldwork has been completed and now it is time for post-excavation work and once every while to look back at the great archaeology and wonderful times we had in the Alps on the Swiss-Austrian border.
But, looking to the future, today I met with another friend to talk about starting a new field project in the near future. Exciting things on the horizon!

Rückwege Blog

impressionen_07-12

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Blogging Archaeology – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly at Hazelnut Relations and beyond

Blogging Archaeology
Finally, I get around to writing my second instalment for Doug’s archaeological blogging carnival and the first post of 2014. Happy New Year everyone! The december question he asked us was about the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of archaeological blogging. My blogging experience has been predominately good. I have enjoyed writing here so far, I believe blogging has helped me improve my writing skills and it has led me to ‘get to know’ many other archaeological bloggers and it is a joy to read about their work and their interests and (archaeological) lives.
However, some of the best experiences I have had through having started this blog, is my involvement with two other blogs. In 2010/2011 and 2013 I have taught an e-learning course on the techniques and methodology of alpine archaeology at my department at the Universität Zürich. The Alpine Archaeology Blog has been an integral part of this course and was quite a success. Not only in terms of readers, but esp. in 2010/2011 when the course and blog were part of an alpine themed semester, it engaged staff and students beyond the course. I believe it also enriched the studying experience and the students wrote some very good articles as part of the course. For me, as tutor, it was equally enriching and I think a blog can, under the right circumstances and as part of the right course, be an interesting addition to regular teaching methods.

Summer 2010 & 2011 I was part of the field equipe of the Rückwege Project in the Swiss-Austrian Alps. In 2011 we decided to try blogging from the field (go and have a look, there are some great articles and photos, but do go all the way back to the beginning for the posts from the field!) This was not always easy, as we often camped for days on end in the high Alps at 2400 masl, far beyond any internet or mobile phone reception. Still, it worked! The blog was set up by project leader Th. Reitmaier and me, but we encouraged the students and other team members to contribute. We even managed to convince some of the specialists who visited us in the field for a few days to write for the blog. Many people in various countries learned about the ongoing fieldwork and our objectives and the many aspects of a modern, multi-disciplinary archaeological research project through the blog. We were, largely because of the blog, able to reach even more people, by attracting quite a lot of attention from regional, national and even international media.

Alltag auf der Grabung “Eisenzeitliche Hütte” im Fimbatal. From the Rückwege Blog (01.09.2011)

Alltag auf der Grabung “Eisenzeitliche Hütte” im Fimbatal. From the Rückwege Blog (01.09.2011)

Fieldwork is a very good theme for a blog, it seems. My own research is – and this brings us to the Bad of archaeological blogging – in my experience, well, I am not so sure yet if it is. The initial idea behind this blog was to write mainly about my PhD research, but so far this might have proven to be the most difficult to write about. It seems all these other things you do, the little side projects, the fieldwork that are easy to write about. Maybe it is also, because for so long I have been predominantly a field archaeologists and I feel so at home there. In any case, it is a challenge I hope to address this year as my research reaches another stage and I should be able go get more specific results from the lab. So, considering this a challenge, even this is not that bad.

Now onto the Ugly: Other than repeating what I mentioned in the answer to the first blogging carnival question (that it would be appreciated if there would be some sort of support from my department, faculty or university for blogging and science communication in generall) I am lucky to have very little ugly to say about blogging archaeology so far. So, what have you got in store for us for January, Doug?

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!

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.

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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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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