Category Archives: Mesolithikum

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 unexpected little joys of lithic use wear analyses II

A little while ago I posted a photo of a crystal inclusion in a white flint bladelet. I promised to post some more, whenever I think of it. So here is another example of the beautiful things I have encountered doing the use wear analyses. This burnt flint bladelet, like the last example from Late Mesolithic layers at Lutter/St. Joseph, France, did not show any signs of use. However, the microscope does show beautifully the microfossils within the flint, or possibly radiolarite, out of which it was made. And, like the last example, this photo also shows the possibilities of the digital microscope I have been able to use for the study of the use wear analyses of Late Mesolithic artefacts from two Lutter/St. Joseph, France and Arconciel/La Souche, Switzerland.

Microfossils, Lutter/St. Joseph. France. Mesolithic

Micro-fossils in a Late Mesolithic burnt retouched bladelet from Lutter/St. Joseph, France. Composite (focus stacking) image (150x) I made with a Keyence Digital microscope (Dep. Of Geosciences at the Université du Fribourg, Switzerland.)

The unexpected little joys of lithic use wear analyses I

Sometimes, when doing the microscopic analyses of use wear traces I come across fascinating things that have little to do with the actual use wear of the tools being studied. Instead they either provide something of a background to their natural origins or are just visually interesting. The digital microscope I have been using at the Dep. Of Geosciences at the Université de Fribourg, Switzerland has many technical possibilities. It allows me to document not only the use wear traces using a variety of photographic technologies. It also provides the opportunity to record composite photos such as this one of an otherwise not very interesting bladelet fragment from the site of Lutter/St. Joseph, in the French Alsace. I’ll try to publish a few more of such examples in the near future.

Lutter/St. Joseph, France. Crystal inclusion in a Mesolithic flint bladelet.

Crystal inclusion in a Late Mesolithic flint bladelet fragment from Lutter/St. Joseph, France. Composite (focus stacking) image (100x) I made with a Keyence Digital microscope (Dep. Of Geosciences at the Université du Fribourg, Switzerland.)

The alpine Mesolithic and the scrapers from Arconciel/La Souche. Oh, and much much more!

Way back in 2014 Laure Bassin and I presented the first results of our Gestures of TransitionsGestures of Transitions project at the MesoLife conference in Selva di Cadore in the beautiful Dolomites. Now these results have been published in a new volume of Preistoria Alpina. We could increase our results beyond those presented in the poster then and are pleased to be able to show a nice summary of our study of the scrapers from the Late Mesolithic layers at Arconciel/La Souche, Switzerland.

grattoirs2_arsou_saef

Late Mesolithic scrapers from Arconciel/La Souche, Switzerland. Illustration: SAEF/AAFR

Scrapers are special at this site. Not only are many extremely small, an extraordinary large proportion of tools found at Arconciel/La Souche, over 50% of tools, were scrapers. So, curious about what we found out about these seemingly so insignificant little tools? You can download the paper here:

Cornelissen, M. and Bassin, L., 2016. Alpine raw materials and the production and use of scrapers at the Swiss Late Mesolithic site of Arconciel/La Souche, Preistoria Alpina 48, pp. 11-19

Abstract
The well stratified rock shelter site of Arconciel/La Souche, Switzerland was repeatedly occupied between 7100 and 4900 cal BC. It lies in the Sarine river valley at the foot of the Prealps. This paper presents the first preliminary results of the study of the scrapers from this site. Of the chipped stone tool categories, scrapers are the most numerous found at Arconciel/La Souche. A combined technological and microscopic use wear study of the scrapers from three assemblages (ensemble
3, 4 and 5) has allowed us to examine the use and production of scrapers as well as how production and use relate to the various raw materials utilised at Arconciel/La Souche. We were able to show that although scraper morphology remained stable over time, there was a significant change in the relationship between raw materials and scraper production as well as the use of scrapers.
This research will be expanded to include other assemblages and chipped stone artefact categories from Arconciel/La Souche, but has already provided important new insights into artefact use-life in the still relatively poorly understood millennium leading up to the end of the Mesolithic on the Swiss Plateau and the nearby Prealps.

But there is even more! Preistoria Alpina has changed its set-up. The journal is now only available online and open-access. All posters from the MesoLife conference were published in this volume and are available! The papers presented one those hot summer days in the Dolomites have recently been published in volume 423 of Quaternary International. (With a little something about recent Mesolithic finds in the Swiss Alps by Thomas Reitmaier and myself.) That makes an amazing total of 48 articles on alpine Mesolithic!

grattoirs3_arsou_saef

Late Mesolihtic scrapers from Arconciel/La Souche, Switzerland. Illustration: SAEF/AAFR

These two volume show how vibrant the research of the Mesolithic in alpine and mountainous enviroments has become of late and will undoubtly be shown to be valuable additions to our knowledge of the Mesolithic in Europe. Hats off to the MesoLife organisers and editors of these two volumes!

grattoirs_arsou_saef

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

The “Gestures of Transition” circus is still touring: This week at the Berner Zirkel!

About two weeks ago Laure Bassin and I presented our PhD research at the Universität Zürich. And that’s not it yet. We are very excited to annouce that this Thursday, December 8th, we will be talking (in German) about the “Gestures of Transitions” project at the Berner Zirkel für Ur- und Frühgeschichte. Samichlaus will be off again by then, but it will be a bag full of Mesoltihic goodies for everyone! Artefact biographies, use wear, chaînes opératoires, all based on our research on the lithic material from Arconciel/La Souche and Lutter/St-Joseph. In short the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Switzerland from a different point of view. The Berner Zirkel talks are aimed at the general public. Do look in if you are nearby. We would live to see you there!

Donnerstag 8.12.2016 18:30  –  Universität Bern, Hörsaal 114

Steingeschichten. Das Endmesolithikum zwischen Voralpen und Jura, geschrieben von den letzten Jäger- und Sammler/innen

Mit ihrer für das schweizerische Mittelland einzigartigen Stratigraphie ermöglicht es die Fundstelle Arconciel/La Souche (Kt. Freiburg) 2000 Jahre des Mesolithikums zu erforschen. Die ebenfalls vor wenigen Jahren untersuchte Fundstelle Lutter/St. Joseph (Elsass, FR) dient dabei als Vergleich. Im Nationalfonds-Projekt «Gestures of Transitions» wird mit neuen methodologischen Ansätzen das Ende des Mesolithikums im peri-alpinen Europa untersucht. Im Zentrum stehen Artefaktbiographien und die Kombination von technischen Untersuchungen und Gebrauchsspurenanalysen.

Wie wiederspiegeln sich die tiefgreifenden sozialen und wirtschaftlichen Veränderungen am Übergang zum Neolithikum in der Herstellung und im Gebrauch der Artefakte? Und erlauben sie es die Geschichten, welche sich an den zwei Orten abspielten, zu rekonstruieren?

cutting_bone

Experimentally cutting wild boar bone with hafted lithic tools. Photo: M. Cornelissen

The Berner Zirkel is also on Facebook with all sorts of new about archaeology in the canton of Berne and the region.

The “Gestures of Transition” circus is touring again!

So, have you been cooking? What do you cook on a busy day? Right, back to business. This Wednesday Laure Bassin and I will be talking (in German) about the “Gestures of Transitions” project a the Universität Zürich. An hour of Mesolithic, artefact biographies, use wear, chaînes opératoires, Arconciel/La Souche, Lutter/St-Joseph; the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Switzerland from a different point of view. So, if you are anywhere near Zürich on wednesday, do look in. We look forward to seeing you!

Wed. 23rd Nov. 2016. 18:15   –  Universität Zürich, ARCH, FB Prähistorische Archäologie, Karl-Schmid-Str. 4 – Raum KO2-F-153

Steingeschichten. Das Endmesolithikum zwischen Voralpen und Jura, geschrieben von den letzten Jäger- und Sammler/innen

MA Laure Bassin (Université de Neuchâtel), Marcel Cornelissen, MA (Universität Zürich)
Im Rahmen des «Gestures of Transitions»-Projektes wird der Übergang  Mesolithikum-Neolithikum am Nordrand der Alpen untersucht. Grundstein dieser Untersuchung ist eine innovative, kombinierte Analyse der Technologie, der chaȋnes opératoires sowie der makro- und mikroskopischen Gebrauchsspuren an den geschlagenen Steinartefakten aus gut stratifizierten Fundensemble von Arconciel/La
Souche (Kt. Freiburg) und Lutter/St. Joseph (Elsass, Frankreich) aus dem 7./6. Jt. v. Chr.). Das Projekt untersucht ob und wie sich die tiefgreifenden sozialen und wirtschaftlichen Änderungen am Übergang zum Neolithikum in der Herstellung und im Gebrauch der Artefakte wiederspiegeln. Die Entwicklung in den Gesten der Werkzeugherstellung und des Gebrauchs lässt neues Licht auf die letzten Jäger- und Sammler/innen im peri-alpinen Europa werfen.

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.

Gallery

Experimenting with notched blades

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Filling some gaps – Recent research into the Mesolithic in the Swiss Alps

It was a scorching hot day in June 2014 in the Italian Dolomites. Now it is Febuary 2016. It is cold and dark out and I can’t wait to get on skis again. Still, it is a good day to think back on that hot June day when Thomas Reitmaier and I presented the results of a decade or so of Mesolithic research in the Alps of south eastern and central Switzerland at the MesoLife conference in Selva di Cadore. It is now available online!

Now you might think, is there any evidence for Mesolithic hunter-fisher-gatherers in the inhospitable high Alps? Well, yes there is. Up to 2007 hardly a handful of surface and loose finds were known. But many hours of dedicated fieldwork by many people have resulted in quite some new information. Thomas and I have tried to pull it all together and write it up. We were not only able to give a good impression of what we know of Mesolithic life in this part of the Alps, but also of what we do not yet know and what is to be done about that!

We are very excited that the corrected proof of the article is now available online as a preprint. So, get in your lazy chair in your snug warm room with a hot bevvy or a beer, look out on the wintery world outside and read all about the marvelous lives of people in the Alps 11’000 – 7’500 years ago. As you do, please also spare a thought for the archaeologists who spend days in rain, fog, sunshine and snow, with or without us, plodding across alpine meadows, climbing obscure passes and help dig innumerable – often empty – test-trenches.

Cornelissen, M., Reitmaier, T., in press. Filling the gap: Recent Mesolithic discoveries in the central and south-eastern Swiss Alps, Quaternary International (2016), 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.

I am sorry about the pay wall (but, pssst, check the publications page …).
And when this is not enough entertainment, look for the other preprints of paper on the Mesolithic of the Alps that resulted from MesoLife conference. Many thanks to the editors of Quaternary International and the MesoLife guest-editors for enabling us to publish this here!

Glaciers, forests and prehistory between Andermatt and Hospental

«Gletscher, Wald und Steinzeitmenschen im Urschnertal»

English text below.

Sechs Jahre ist es schon her, dass ich an den archäologischen Prospektionen und Ausgrabungen im Urserntal, zwischen Andermatt und Hospental, teilnahm. Die Funde, welche v. A. aus der Römerzeit, dem Mittelalter sowie aus der Bronzezeit und dem Mesolithikum stammen, wurden vor einigen Jahren ausgewertet und publiziert. Jetzt sind diese archäologischen Funde mit der faszinierenden Wald- und Gletschergeschichte zusammen geführt worden und in einer schönen Sonderausstellung im Talmuseum Urserntal in Andermatt zu sehen.
Neben vielen Bilder, die die Wald-, Gletscher- und Kulturgeschichte illustrieren und einem eindrücklichen Tonbildschau sind viele originale Objekte ausgestellt. So gibt es erstaunlich gut erhaltene und bis zu 8000 Jahre alte fossile Baustämmen zu bestaunen. Sie sind instrumental für das Verständnis des Urserntals so wie wir es heute kennen. Zu guter Letzt ist auch eine schöne Auswahl von archäologischen Funden zu sehen, die etwa 7000 Jahre Menschheitsgeschichte im Urserental widerspiegeln.
Letzten Freitag fand die Vernissage statt, verbunden mit einem erfreulichen Wiedersehen mit alten Kollegen. Die Ausstellung ist noch bis 8. Okt. 2016 zu sehen. Die Öffnungszeiten (Mi-So 16-18:00) erlauben den Besuch nach einen schönen Tag im Schnee oder einer Wanderung im Gotthardgebiet.

Publikationen: Siehe weiter unten

Hazrel_20160108_GletscherWaldSteinzeitmenschen

Fosil woods in the exhibition “Gletscher, Wald und Steinzeitmenschen im Urscherntal” Talmuseum Urserntal, Andermatt.

It has already been six years since I took part in the archaeological survey and excavations between Andermatt and in Hospental in the Urserntal. Finds dating to roman times, the Middle Ages as well as the Bronze Age and Mesolithic, have been analysed and published some years ago. Now, these finds have been combined with the evidence for glacial- and forest histories and have been made into a special exhibition at the Talmuseum Urserntal in Andermatt.
A great number of visuals and an impressive slide/audio-show illustrate the natural and cultural history of the valley. But many original objects can be seen as well. Amazingly well preserved fossil trees dating up to 8000 years back are essential in explaining the glacial and forest histories of the Ursern valley. The valley’s 7000 year long cultural history is shown through archaeological finds spanning this long period.
Friday, the exhibition was officially opened. It is well worth a visit and for many of us it was a good opportunity to meet up with old colleagues again. The exhibition will be open until Oct. 8th 2016. And the best thing is: the opening times (16-18:00 Wed. – Sun.) mean that it is perfect for a visit after a day on the slopes or after a good hike.

Publications:
2014 “Spuren einer Kulturlandschaft. Archäologie Untersuchungen bei Hospental 2007 und 2010.” Historisches Neujahrsblatt 2013, Neue Folge 68, 1/103, pp. 37-83. ISSN: 978-3-906130-87-3

Auf der Maur, C. & Cornelissen, M., 2014, Die spätmesolithische und bronzezeitliche Fundstelle Hospental-Moos. Ein Einblick in das urgeschichtliche Urserntal, in “Spuren einer Kulturlandschaft. Archäologie Untersuchungen bei Hospental 2007 und 2010.Historisches Neujahrsblatt 2013, Neue Folge 68, 1/103, pp. 37-83.

Spillmann, P., Labhart, T., Brücker, W., Renner, F., Gisler, C. & Zgraggen, A., 2011, Geologie des Kantons Uri. Naturforschende Gesellschaft Uri, Bericht 24, Altdorf

A hike in the Prealps and Mesolithic on the Jaunpass, Bernese Oberland

Mai, June, early summer. For those loving the mountains, latest by now it starts to itch again. Summer has slowly arrived in the lowlands, but at higher altitudes there is still snow in places. The Prealps, or Voralpen in German, are perfect at this time of year. I have been spending the weekends exploring the Voralpen of the Simmental in the Bernese Oberland. Although apparently life is not just about archaeology, it is hard to resist seeing some Mesolithic or other prehistoric sites while there. And thus, a few weeks ago, I passed by the Kilchmoos on the Jaunpass. Many archaeological find spots, mostly Mesolithic, are known in the region around the Jaunpass on the Fribourger side of the pass. But Mesolithic artefacts are also known from around the Kilchmoos, on the Bernese side of the Pass. Other Meslithic sites in the region are located in Diemtigen, Chateau d’OEx and the Simmental (more on these some other time).

Jaunpass, Kilchmoos, Kt. Bern. @Swisstopo

Jaunpass, Kilchmoos, Kt. Bern. @Swisstopo

The Kilchmoos is a small moor at 1505 masl, just south of the pass. During a short survey Crotti and Bullinger found a few dozen chipped stone artefacts at varous locations around the moor. They are all surface finds and no absolute dates could be obtained. But from the artefacts it can be said people left them here during the Mesolithic, ca. 9700 – 5500 BC, probably at least during the earlier part of the Mesolithic, but likely this spot was repeatedly visited by people throughout the period.

Boltigen, Kilchmoos. View from the direction of the Jaunpass to the Gastlosen. June 2015

Boltigen, Kilchmoos. View from the direction of the Jaunpass towards the Gastlosen. June 2015

The area around the Kilchmoos is mostly pasture land nowadays and quite open with great views, for example towards the Gastlosen range. It would be great to know what it would have looked like 9000 or 7000 years ago. Peat core, palaeobotanical study anyone?
After looking around for a bit I continued – with great views in all directions – over the Hundsrügg towards the Relleri. A great day out!

ResearchBlogging.orgWant know more about the Mesolithic finds from the Jaunpass? Read the original report here:

Crotti, P. & Bullinger, J. (2001). Campements mésolithique d’altitude sur le Jaunpass (Simmental, canton de Berne, Suisse) Annuaire de la Société Suisse de Préhistoire et d’Archéologie, 84, 119-124 : http://dx.doi.org/10.5169/seals-117667

Pinus cembra, Tamangur, Las Gondas and the Mesolithic

“The Stone pine, each its own, unmistakable: born and growing on this very spot, while birds came and moved along and other birds came and left again. And she has turned old, ancient, she became ever more beautiful, more free, whether you look at her or not, one day she will die up here, torn by fire, thrown down by the dry hot föhn-wind, with her trunk hollow of age which will lie pale as bone, with its blunt branches, bumbs and horns on her almost indistructable patriarchical body.”

Andri Peer. «Daman da chatscha» / «Jagdmorgen» (1959/1961); my translation.

In German:

«Die Arve, jede sich selbst, unverwechselbar: geboren und gewachsen auf diesem Platz, während die Vögel gekommen und fortgezogen sind und andere Vögel gekommen und wieder gegangen. Und sie ist alt geworden, uralt, immer schöner, immer freier, ob du sie anschaust oder nicht, eines Tages stirbt sie hier oben, zerrissen von einer Feuerpranke, zu Boden geworfen vom Föhn, mit dem vor Alter schon hohlen Stamm, der noch Jahre und Jahre rein erbleicht mit seiner Knochenweisse, mit seinen stumpfen Ästen, Buckeln und Hörnern auf dem fast unverweslichen Patriarchenleib.»

Andri Peer. «Daman da chatscha» / «Jagdmorgen» (1959/1961)

In Peer’s text this magnificent stone pine, Pinus cembra (also known as the Arolla or Swiss stone pine) might stand as a symbol for the Romansh languange and culture and its perserverence (ca. 60.000 people speak one of its dialects). It reminds me of the piece of wood that was cut from a trunk in an alpine moor at 2363 masl in Las Gondas. The Las Gondas moor lies just below the Fuorcla da Tasna, above the Lower Engadin valley. Because a sample taken from the tree trunk could be dendrochronologically dated, we know it grew and grew old here over eight and a half thousand years ago. But already almost 2000 years before that Arolla pine grew here, as needles from that time have been found in the Las Gondas moor.

If you have never been there, you should visit the Tamangur forest on the southern side of the Lower Engadin valley. It is fantastic to walk through this open forest high in the Alps, a forest made up almost exclusively of Stone pines. Alive there is a softness about them, with their many small bundles of each five needles. But they can also appear almost archaic, their bare roots arching into the soil below. There is not much undergrowth, low bilberry bushes and alpenroses, the ground soft with needles, moss and grass.

Die knochenweissen Arven von Sursass, im Hintergrund der Piz Lindard bei Lavin. (Foto: Rudolf Grass, Zernez) Bild: Simon Schmid Aus Ganzoni in Der Bund 02.01.2015

Die knochenweissen Arven von Sursass, im Hintergrund der Piz Lindard bei Lavin. (Foto: Rudolf Grass, Zernez) Bild: Simon Schmid Aus Ganzoni in Der Bund 02.01.2015

Tamangur forest is one of the last of its kind. I am at the moment trying to write an article about the Mesolithic of the Alps of southeastern Switzerland. We know that 10’000 years ago, with the glaciers still retreating, people were already at similar altitudes not far from Las Gondas and they might well have walked in the cool shade of the very Stone pines that shed their needles and left their trunks in Las Gondas. They might have sheltered under the enormous rocks in the Plan da Mattun and have rested on the bare, bleached bone roots and trunks of these ancient trees.

Literature:

Dietre, B., Walser, C., Lambers, K., Reitmaier, T., Hajdas, I., Haas, J.-N., 2014. Palaeological evidence for Mesolithic to Medieval climatic change and anthropogenic impact on the Alpine flora and vegetation of the Silvretta Massiv (Switzerland/Austria). Quarternary International 353, 3-16.

Ganzoni., A., 2015, Aufgetaucht: «Das verborgenere Engadin». Fundstücke aus dem Schweizerischen Literaturarchiv: Eine Fotokarte des Engadiner Schrifstellers Andri Peer, in: Der Bund 02.01.2015  (last visited 16.01.2015)

Nicolussi, K., 2012. Jahrringdaten zur Früh- und mittelholozänen Baumgrenze in der Silvretta, in: Reitmaier, T. (Ed.), Letzte Jäger, Erste Hirten. Hochalpine Archäologie in der Silvretta. Amt für Kultur, Archäologischer Dienst Graubünden, Chur, pp. 87-100. (PDF of an older version).

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. Amt für Kultur, Archäologische Dienst Graubünden (ADG), Chur, pp. 9-65.

Sharing the joy of scrapers

Fribourg near the SAEF

Fribourg near the SAEF

Today I met up with my project partner Laure in Fribourg, to discuss our progress and collect another sample of chipped stone artefacts for use wear analyses. We do not work in the same place and do not see each other every day. So, it is always stimulating and encouraging and fun to meet up and exchange ideas and plans as well as problems and results.

30 000 chipped stone artefacts (8000 - 7500 years old) on a table

30 000 chipped stone artefacts (8000 – 7500 years old) on a table

At the moment we are both working on the Late Mesolithic scrapers from Arconciel/La Souche, Switzerland. We are working towards a poster for the MesoLife conference this June and it is our aim to look at the relationship between production, use and raw material of the exceptionally many scrapers found at Arconciel/La Souche and how this develops towards the end of the Mesolithic. It was great to see that the method of our combined approaches will, as we hoped and planned, indeed bear fruit and comparing technology and typology with use will bring further insights into Late Mesolithic behaviour just North of the Alps.

Snapshot of the sample of Late Mesolithic scrapers (~6000-5500 BC) from Arconciel/La Souche I selected today

Snapshot of the sample of Late Mesolithic scrapers (~6000-5500 BC) from Arconciel/La Souche I selected today

 

Oh, and this is me playing with a fancy digital microscope. Thanks to the University of Fribourg for that!

Oh, and this is me playing with a fancy digital microscope. Thanks to the University of Fribourg for that!

Sickles? You’ve been wondering about sickles?

In Switzerland the Neolithic first becomes really visible around 4300 BC, in fact it bursts onto the scene quite extravagantly: Palafittes, Seeufersiedlungen, lake side villages! Because of the fantastic preservation of organic finds such as wood and bone, they are the showstoppers of Swiss archaeology.

Sickle from Egolzwil, canton Lucerne, Switzerland; ca. 4300 BC. Ash wood, birch tar and flint. Figure adapted from: Bachman & Hügi, 2004, Die Pfahlbauer/Les Lacustres: 150 Objekte erzählen 150 Geschichten / 150 objets racontent 150 histoires, p. 117

Sickle from Egolzwil, canton Lucerne, Switzerland; ca. 4300 BC. Wood and flint. Adapted from: Bachman & Hügi, 2004, Die Pfahlbauer/Les Lacustres: 150 Objekte erzählen 150 Geschichten / 150 objets racontent 150 histoires, p. 117

I have been wondering about sickles lately. About sickles of the earliest Neolithic and perhaps the latest Mesolithic and about the way they were used and what they might have been used to harvest. As finds of any kind dating to the earliest Neolithic up to about 4500 BC are very very rare in what is now Switzerland, it makes sense to use the fantastic archaeological archive of the Lake side villages. (Sickles also play quite a role in the history of use wear analysis and more here.)

4500 BC. That is when the Late Neolithic starts here. Before that there are a barely visible Early (from ca. 5500 BC) and Middle Neolithic (from ca. 5000 BC). We known of a few sites dating to the Early Neolithic, though. Some very rare

LBK settlements are found, mostly in those few scraps of Swissness north of the Rhine, such as two sites in Gächlingen, Schaffhausen and Bottmingen/Bäumliackerstrasse, Basel. A small remnant of an early deposit at the site of Herznach-Unterdorf, in the Aargauer Jura might be the first place where LBK pottery was found south of the Rhine (JbAS 2013, p. 172). Further “Neolithic” finds are know from unstratified contexts or from sites otherwise attributed to the Late Mesolithic. This includes La Hoguette pottery fragments and/or Bavans projectile points from, for example Baulmes/Abri de la Cure and Mont la Ville/Col du Mollendruz, Abri Freymond or sites in the canton of Lucerne. And indeed from Lutter/St. Joseph (FR), one of the two sites from which I am studying finds for my PhD, Grossgartach pottery is known. Lastly, occasionally occupation layers older than the Late Neolithic lake side villages are observed underneath Late Neolithic deposits, but the evidence is scant and there is not much more to say about these or the sickles that might once have been used by the people living in Bottmingen or in Baumles or Lutter. In the Alsace, North of my study sites, relatively many Early Neolithic sites are known.

Sickle from Burgäschisee, canton Berne, Switzerland; ca. 3500 BC. Adapted from: Osterwalder & André, 1980. Fundort Schweiz Band 1.

Sickle from Burgäschisee, canton Berne, Switzerland; ca. 3500 BC. The extention at the top of the photo will have had a similar function as the hook on the sickle shown below.
Figure adapted from: Osterwalder & André, 1980. Fundort Schweiz Band 1.

Together with the archaeobotanical discussion about cereal-type pollen from off-site locations, the small Early Neolithic archaeological record leaves many questions unanswered. Questions about the definition of the “Neolithic” and “Mesolithic”, about the economies of the 7th and 6th millennium BC, about harvesting technologies and their first appearances in the archaeological record of the region. Naturally, this will all feature in my PhD research, in fact I have already conducted harvesting experiments (and here). But what do these sickles look like? Their striking variation is shown by the examples shown here. They are some of the older, well preserved sickles from Swiss (Late) Neolithic lake side villages. So, yes, sickles.

Sickle from Egolzwil, canton Lucerne, Switzerland; ca. 38000 BC. Figure adapted from: Bachman & Hügi, 2004, Die Pfahlbauer/Les Lacustres: 150 Objekte erzählen 150 Geschichten / 150 objets racontent 150 histoires, p. 125

Sickle from Egolzwil, canton Lucerne, Switzerland; ca. 38000 BC. Ash wood, birch tar and flint. The hook at the end of the sickle (right) supposedly was used to collect a bunch of stems which can be grabbed with the free hand and then be cut with the sickle blade.
Figure adapted from: Bachman & Hügi, 2004, Die Pfahlbauer/Les Lacustres: 150 Objekte erzählen 150 Geschichten / 150 objets racontent 150 histoires, p. 125

P.S. I thought I would not bother you with references to scientific literature this time. Many can be found on hazelnut_relations. But do get in touch if you have questions.

Reader of Traces – archaeology is documentation

Leading excavations, especially on rescue excavations with a good amount of financial and time pressure, you become part of a machine that has an incredible energy. You are dealing with builders, people from the local authorities, specialists like archaeobotanists, as well as with your own team of diggers, drawers, photographers and the back office. A relentless, exhausting, but also very energising rhythmical sequence of digging, discovery and documentation drives you and becomes an integral part of the process of understanding and interpretation.

However, for the first time in 16 years, I think, I am not digging at all this summer. I am doing experiments for my PhD research . The animation in this post calls use wear analysts `Spurenleser´/`Tracéologue´, or Reader of Traces. The film also shows that experimental use of replica tools is part of many use wear studies.

Photo of an experimentally produced blade (radiolarite), made to act as a reminder to myself of the way it looked before I used it.

Photo of an experimentally produced retouched blade (radiolarite), made to act as a reminder to myself of the way it looked before I used it.

My experiments are specifically aimed at reproducing microscopic use wear traces on replica tools. These then become a reference collection for the actual use wear analysis of Late Mesolithic tools. I am finding the experiments quite time intensive, not so much the experiments themselves, but all the documentation that is part of the process. The experiments are documented in forms, photos, notes and descriptions and even film. Some of this documentation is part of the research process, at other times it is for future publication and some of it is just to remind myself later of exactly what I did and how, as is the case with the photo above. I seem to have underestimated these many steps of documentation somewhat, but routine is kicking in now and it is time I show my loyal readers a few photos of the experiments and its documentation.

An experimentally made scraper being used on hazel wood.

An experimentally made scraper being used to work hazel wood.

Whether in the field or in the lab: archaeology is documentation! But not next week. Archaeologists too need a vacation sometimes!

Microscopic photo of an experimentally produced scraper. 30x; made with a Keyence digital Microscope.

Microscopic (30x) photo of an experimentally produced and used scraper. Made with a Keyence digital Microscope.

The lab II: Is that a bit of dead sheepskin on your distal end?

After a short break, which I mainly spend writing the Hospental-Moos lithics report and flintknapping a bit, I am back at the microscope again. I now feel quite confident that I seem to have found my way around the machine and to have found, at least for now, my favourite settings. That is, the ones that seem best for my work. The photo shown here is a composite, The microscope takes a large number of photos, each with a different focus and combines them into a single picture with a large depth of field. This make it possible to produce the level of detail shown here.

The photo shows the distal, steeply retouched dorsal end of a scraper. That is lithic analyst speak for the scraper’s working edge, the bit that actually touches the material it is used to work. In this case that was dry sheepskin. And that is exactly what the white stuff atached to the stone is: sheepskin residue. At the Late Mesolithic site of Arconciel/La Souche (Switzerland) many very small scrapers were found and this scraper is pretty much an experimental replica of some of those scrapers.

Experimental hergestellter Kratzer aus Radiolarit. Kratzer wie dieses wurden in der Spätmesolithischen Fundstelle Arconciel/La Souche (Schweiz) gefunden.

Experimental hergestellter Kratzer aus Radiolarit. In der spätmesolithischen Fundstelle Arconciel/La Souche (Schweiz) wurden vielen solchen Kratzer gefunden. Bild gemacht mit einem Digitalmikroskop.
Experimental radiolarite scraper. At the Late Mesolithic site Arconciel/La Souche (Switzerland) many scrapers like this were found. Composite photo made with a digital microscope.

During its experimental life (More information and photos here), this radiolarite scraper was on of seven which we used hafted (in a wooden handle, using birchtar and sinue) or unhafted to scrape sheep- and goatskin. Now taken out of its haft and cleaned, it is part of the reference collection for my use wear project,

The Middle Ages and the Middle Stone Age – rock crystal tools and stone walls

At some excavations you do not really know what you are finding until you are done in the field and in a warm and cosy office again. Rescue excavations of Mesolithic sites can be like that. There might not be much stratigraphy and resources in the way of time and money are sparse. One digs out 50x50x5cm squares and the spoil gets wet sieved for finds and botanic remains.

The excavation of Hospental-Moos was a bit like that. The Urseren valley, between Andermatt and Hospental in Central Switzerland, is being re-landscaped into a holiday resort and golf course. The valley floor – ca. 1500 masl – lies at the crossroads to the Furka, Gotthard and Oberalp-passes and has long been an important valley on routes connecting various parts of the Alps. I already briefly wrote about the 2010 building brief and the partial excavation of a Late Mesolithic site (Hospental-Moos). Now it looks like we will be able to analyse and hopefully publish the results of the fieldwork as well.

Most post-excavation work will flow into the metal finds and the excavated Mesolithic site. Last Friday, I met my colleague in Zug to have a first viewing of the finds, in order to organise the post-excavation work. A large part of the affected landscape was searched with metal-detectors. The metal finds seem to spread chronologically across at least two millennia and a first look the finds-map shows how widely these are spread across the valley floor. At the same time, already now some patterns seem to be discernible. These finds will need to be stabilised and at least those that will need to be included in more detailed post-ex work will need further conservation.

The Mesolithic finds seem to date to Late Mesolithic (around 6000 cal BC). I already expected it, but it was only when I had finished a first artefact count, I truly realised what a fantastic site it is! Due to considerable time pressure, we did not do much on-site analyses and some of the excavated earth was only screened in the lab, after the actual excavation had long been finished. So, to some extend we really did not know what we were finding. The artefacts are almost exclusively made from rock crystal. It is a beautiful material, but from the point of view of a lithics analyst, they take some getting used to. They come almost exclusively from the excavated site. Only a few were found at various locations across the landscape.

So, I am very much looking forwards to the post-ex! For most of us involved, this is a bit of a side project, so it will draw itself over the rest of the year. I will write more when we really get going. At the moment I am excavating part of the Medieval and Early Modern remains of a small city in the south of the Canton of Bern. Very different! I will write more about that soon. You are also welcome to follow my Twitter feed: look for #Unterseen.

Dingos, lynxes, stone tools and the wilderness downtown

After almost two years, I’ll be visiting my hometown again soon. I live and work as an archaeologists in a country in Central Europe where I did not grow up. I was reading John Bradley’sWhen a stone tool is a dingo: Country and relatedness in Australian Aboriginal notions of landscape” the other day. Bradley manages to illustrate and summarize some important points about how past (and present) societies might understand their surroundings much less compartmentalized as we in western societies of the 21st C might do. It made me wonder if the concept of a lithic tool being a dingo can be translated to the (peri-)alpine Central European Mesolithic. Could a stone tool be a lynx instead?

However, intuitively the first thing that came to mind reading about such a complete/holistic worldview did not concern the Mesolithic, but my own life. More than a third of my life I have now spend away from where I grew up. Those ca. 13 years were spend in 6 cities on two continents. All of these cities have grown dear to me, but none of them I know as well as the city I spend my younger years in.

A. Deusser - Arcen von Westen (Lottum, von Arcen aus gesehen, mit Bodennebel, Abendlandschaft an der Maas, Lottum, 1918 - 1924)

A. Deusser - Arcen von Westen (Lottum, von Arcen aus gesehen, mit Bodennebel, Abendlandschaft an der Maas, Lottum, 1918 - 1924.)
Deusser moved to the region I grew up in, during the 1910s-1920s, living and painting in Arcen.

One of the band members of Arcade Fire went back to the neighbourhood he grew up in and wrote the song “We used to wait” about this. Chris Milk and a team from Google made the interactive video The wilderness downtown around it, taking you back to YOUR youth. It is an amazing experience and shows what is possible with HTML5. It’s worth a try (best with google chrome).

My understanding and knowledge of the part of Europe where I spend the first 19 years (and a few more later on) of my life goes back at least four generations, roughly 120 years. It is probably the most in depth and intense knowledge and understanding I will ever have of any part of the world. I guess this will be true for most if not all people who pack up their things and go and live in a new part of the world. Perhaps I will look back at this post in 20 years and think how wrong I was. But maybe archaeologists, dealing with the material and immaterial remains of the past (and present?) in our surroundings find it easier than many others to find stone-tool-dingos – or lynxes – in their newly adapted homes.

 Bradley, J., 2008, When a stone tool is a dingo: Country and relatedness in Australian Aboriginal notions of landscape, in David, B. & Thomas, J. (eds), Handbook of Landscape Archaeology. Left Coast Press

Central alpine Mesolithic and threats to alpine archaeology – the summery of a presentation

Every year on the second Friday of March about 150 Swiss prehistorians gather in Bern. This year they were made to look at, amongst other things, the red dots on the map be below. I made this map for a presentation Th. Reitmaier and I gave at the yearly meeting of Swiss Prehistorical Society (AGUS). Since the 1980s quite a few Mesolithic sites have been found in the central Alps of northern Italy. Until the beginning of the 21st C hardly any Mesolithic sites were known in the Swiss Central Alps, however. There is Mesocco Tec Nev, of course. And many sites are known further west in the Cantons of Fribourg, Vaud and Wallis. Since ca. 2000 the map of Canton Graubünden in southeastern Switzerland has slowly been filling up as well. As in the Italian Central Alps, many off the sites are found above 1800masl and many date to the 8th and early 7th mill BC.

We presented the site of Bergaglia, Val Forno-Plan Canin. Amateur archaeologist K. von Salis discovered a few chipped stone tools and charcoal in the steep sides of a hiking trail going up to the Fornoglacier and the Murettopass. The trail already had cut through it and threatens to erode it further. To establish the nature of the archaeology and its state of preservation we placed two test-trenches over the two find spots, which were ca. 8m apart. In each of the two test trenches a multi-phased hearth was found, dating to the late 8th and early 7th Mill. BC. A further find probably dates to the early fifth Mill BC. While earlier Mesolithic (Sauveterrien and Castelnovien) finds are common, not many sites dating to the latest Mesolithic and especially the earliest Neolithic are known in the sub-alpine and alpine zones of the central Alps. A further hearth dates to the Late Bronze Age.

known Mesolithic sites in SE-Switzerland and most sites in neighbouring Italy.

All known Mesolithic sites in this part of Switzerland and most sites/site concentrations in Italy. (yellow: two Bronze Age sites.)
1. Bergalia, Val Forno-Plan Canin; 2. Pontresina, Val Languard-Chamanna dal Paster; 3. Maloja, Lunghinpass; 4. Val S. Giamcomo-Borghetto; 5. Val S. Giacomo-Pian dei Cavalli; 6. Mesocco Tec Nev; 7. Mustair-Lai da Rims; 8. Guarda, Val Tuoi, Abri Frey; 9. Ftan, Val Urschai, Plan da Mattun L2 & L3; 10. Sent, Fimba, Kuppe Blaisch; 11. Galtür, Jamtal, Abri Futschöl; 12. Airolo-Alpe di Rodont; 13. Hospental Moos; 14. Muotatal Caves; 15. Sites of the Simplon-region.

The Alps are of course a stunning natural landscape. However, we should not forget it has been heavily shaped by human activity during the past ten thousand years. And this process continues to this day. The impact of our activity in the Alps, whether in the shape of tourism, mining, transport and the changing agricultural practices should not be underestimated. This means we, archaeologists as well as policy makers, should be aware of the threats our living in and enjoyment of the Alps pose to our cultural heritage. These same activities, however, provide many opportunities to discover hitherto unknown archaeology. The word-cloud lists the most prominent categories of threats to archaeology in the alpine regions. (I wrote more about this here and here.)

Threats to archaeological remains in the alps.

concept & production by Th. Reitmaier

However, it is not only through this more `passive´ way of discovery that we can increase our knowledge of the cultural history of the Alps. It has been shown that active searching for archaeological remains, through survey work with well aimed research questions and adequate methodology, can be very successful. These surveys can vary between simple field-walking to predictive modelling (put into practise here) and everything in between.

One cannot protect what one does not know. Cantonal Units can therefore not limit themselves to dig known sites that are in danger of being destroyed, but should increase their knowledge of the archaeology in their Canton and actively search for it, whether in the Alps or in the lowlands.

If you are ever in the Alps and find any archaeological finds in the sides of a hiking path, on a ice patch on a pass or anywhere else, please get in touch with the local police or the people in the nearest mountain hut or hotel and they will pass on the information to the archaeological authorities. We need your help and are very interested in hearing from you!

The test-trenching at Bregalia, Val Forno, Plan Canin will be published in the Jahrbuch Archäologie Schweiz 2012:

Cornelissen, M., Reitmaier, Th., Gubler, R., Andres, B. & Hess, Th., 2012, Bregaglia, Val Forno, Plan Canin – Eine neue alpine Fundstelle im Oberengadin, in Jahrbuch Archäologie Schweiz, Vol. 95, pp.133-140

Hafting microliths – from Scandinavian moors to high alpine slopes

Microliths, superstars of the Mesolithic lithic industries in Europe. They come in many shapes and yes even sizes. Somehow we are all captivated by the image of the hunter, stealthily moving through the green undergrowth at the edge of a forest clearing or through a shallow gully in the moors, it seems. It is in one of these moors that the arrow point described by Larsson and Sjöström (2011) was lost. It has long been established that microliths had many uses. Their acting as tips and barbs of arrows was certainly one of these, as this spectacular find from Rönneholms Mosse, southern Sweden shows. Four obliquely retouched triangular microliths attached to the ca. 10cm long hazel wood arrowshaft formed barbs. A fifth microlith was found immediately next to the arrow and seems to have once served as the tip of the arrow. The authors describe it as having an intermediate shape between an triangle and a lanceolate. So, are we in Central Europe solely dependent on Scandinavian finds for our understanding of the use of microliths?

The only other certain Mesolithic arrow point was found in 1951 in Lilla Loshults Mosse, Sweden (Larsson 2009, Malmer 1969). On one of two arrows found here, the tip, a true microlith, and a microblade, acting as a barb, were still attached to the shaft with resin. Two further microblades acted as tip and barb of a second arrow. Interestingly, Larsson (2009) writes that there are good reasons to believe the artefacts were intentionally deposited. At Vinkel and Holmegaard IV, both in Danmark, fragments of arrow shafts have been found (Becker 1945, Troels-Smith 1962).

arrowheads from Lilla Loshults Mosse, Sweden. Malmer 1969

arrowheads from Lilla Loshults Mosse, Sweden. Malmer 1969

Most often, though, we have to use less direct evidence and methods to establish the actual uses of microliths and stone tools in general. Occasionally artefacts are found within the skeleton of a hunted animal, such as the shaft fragment and 15 microliths/lanceolates with an aurochs skeleton at Prejelrup, Denmark (Aaris-Sorensen and Brinch-Petersen 1986). Or they are found in direct association with other archaeological evidence, which might indicate their use. Last but not least there’s the fantastic science of microscopic use wear analysis.

I know of two lithic artefacts with the remains of adhesive still attached to them found in the (southern) Central Alps. Continue reading

arconciel/la souche and the high and wild

tamisage, arconciel/la souche

tamisage. Microfauna, archaeobotanical macro remains as well as flint artefacts and worked and un-worked bones that might have been missed on site, are retrieved by slow and concentrated sorting of the sieving residues. All the earth removed from site is wet sieved by the Sarine river near the site of Arconciel/La Souche. August 2011

échafaudage, arconciel/la souche

échafaudage. To aid excavation, the site is caged in by scaffolding. It seems to create a distance between the twenty first century archaeologists and the site. It allows us to move around the site. However, only the excavators actually enter the site and even they do so while moving and sitting on boards suspended above the ground. So, for them the scaffolding not only separates the site from its surrounding but also separates them from the site, the archaeology. It seems a bit odd, as excavating is such a tactile activity, always in touch with the dirt and the archaeological remains.

These days the site overlooks a floodplain. The Sarine river flows perhaps 120m from the rock shelter. During the Early Atlantic it would have lain directly below the abri, perhaps also separating it, in a sense, from the outside world. August 2011

Besides, from August 20th our fieldwork in the Fimbertal, Jamtal and many more high and wild valleys continues. Join our alpine archaeological adventures again on the rückwege-blog

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

St.Ursanne: middle ages and hazelnuts

There has to be some diversion in the life of a phd student. So on a quiet rainy Sunday a few friends suggested a visit to St. Ursanne, Switzerland. (Thanks for a great day L., Chr. & R.!). I have been living very close to the Jura Mountains for a number of years now, but never actually made it there. It was starting to gain mythical proportions in my mind. So, time for some exploration. The whole day I had a nagging feeling that I should know St. Ursanne, that it was known for something else, besides from being a well preserved town and the medieval monastery.

St. Ursanne, from Kunstführer durch die Schweiz 3 (1982)

St. Ursanne lies in the remote but beautiful valley of the Doubs. You enter the town through one of its 3 towers. The town has bags of charm and it is not surprising that it is rather touristy. At its centre lies the church and monastery of Saint Ursanne. Its predecessor was founded ca. 635 AD over the grave of St. Ursinicus, an irish monk and student and companion of St. Columban. The present church and monastic buildings dates mostly to early 13th C AD and is stylistically truly on the transition of the romanesque to the gothic. The cloister dates to the 14th C AD. The southern entrance is one of the best pieces of romanesque sculpture in Switzerland. Beautiful, but a little mad is the baroque choir. In the lapidarium one walks over a glass floor under which lie scores of those fascinating early medieval trapezoid sarcophagi made of the local chalkstone.

Cloister, St. Ursanne

Sometime this week it finally dawned on me: the Abri Les Gripons lies just northwest of St. Ursanne! I cannot blame the others for not knowing of this site. Although all four of us were trained archaeologists, none of the other have much to do with the Mesolithic. But I should have remembered. The site was excavated in 1986 – 1989 (Pousaz 1991; see also Nielsen 2009) and is mostly known for its Early Mesolithic horizon. Burned earth and charcoal indicate hearths. Finds include mostly calcinated bones and flint artefacts.

My interest is in the Late Mesolithic horizon, though. Continue reading

Microliths, Engadin Valley and a museum visit

The past four wonderful weeks I spend in the Val Tasna, camping at 2200 masl, surveying, documenting and digging sites spread over a number of valleys and dating from the 10th mill BC to the second half of the 20th century. (The second half of the campaign starts august 19th – do contact me if you’d like more info.)

Already in 1976 Clarke suggested that Mesolithic microliths might have been used to process plants material, perhaps as grater boards. Although it is still widely assumed most microliths were used as arrowheads, it has since been established that microliths were used for a variety of functions (e.g. through strong associations with plant remains and use wear analysis). Artefacts like this might show us how.

Tscharesch, Museum d'Engiadina Bassa, Scuol. Thanks to M. "ZwetschKe" Oberhänsli

It is a Tscharesch from the Museum d’Engiadina Bassa, Scuol. It was used for working flax. The metal pins, driven with the blunt side into a decorated wooden board function as a comb which loosen flax fibres. One could just imagine replacing the metal pins with flint Late Mesolithic bladelets or what we often assume to be arrowheads.

Clarke, D. (1976) Mesolithic Europe: the economic basis, in Sieveking, G., Longworth, I., Wilson, K., Problems in Economic and Social Archaeology, p. 449-481, London, Duckworth

Can we have a social Mesolithic archaeology yet?

childe_1951haz_rel

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!

Digging a multi period site in the southern Swiss Alps

It is a wonderful feeling to see, feel and hear how you scrape free a new layer or feature. It does not matter whether your tool is a shovel or trowel, the tool in your hand moving intuitivelly in the dirt, flicking a stone or taking that little bit more dirt away. Or whether your eyes follow the shovel of a mechanical digger as it tentatively scrapes and collects dirt. The texture, colour and the sound, often even the smell change. The distinctive sound of metal against flint or ceramics. I wrote a while ago that I dug a number of prehistoric sites in the Alps last summer. One was in the Val Forno valley, above Maloja in the southern Swiss Alps.

An amateur archaeologist had found a number of Mesolithic flint artefacts in the eroded sides of a hollowed out single track hiking path (Seifert 2008). Me and four friends spend a lovely week’s `holiday´ digging two test trenches to establish the extend of the site, how much it was threatened by erosion and hikers and to see how much it was still present. We uncovered a number of hearths and have since obtained AMS C14 dates from various hearths and layers, spanning nine millennia[1]. We tried to sieve as much spoil as possible on site, but it was impossible to get through it all, so we carried it down. We dragged roughly 50 bags of 4-9 liter of earth down, helped by some very friendly passing hikers, who volunteered to carry some bags down. (Thank you so much, if you happen to read this!)

Last week we continued the site’s excavation in the labs of the Archäologischer Dienst des Kantons Graubünden (Cantonal Unit of Grison). Bag after bag, context by context, we wet-sieved for finds. Using a column of sieves with decreasing mesh-width, water becomes our tool as we wash the finds from the earth. It is much wetter affair, but we agreed that there is still the wonderful smell of moist earth as soon as you open the bag.

Stampa Maloja, wet sieving and flotation residues

Stampa Maloja, wet sieving and flotation residues

However, it is not just the finds that we look for. Flotation allows the recovery of organic macro remains such as charred seeds, (burned) bone fragments and charcoal. Finds are typically scarce on these alpine sites. Seeds, bone and charcoal can tell us much about vegetation, fauna and climate as well as about the diet of the site’s inhabitants. Charred material and charcoal provide absolute dates through C14-analysis and dendrochronology.

In Val Forno we back filled the trenches and took measures to try to prevent further erosion. In our labs and offices we continue our excavation and hope to find some way (the eternal search for funding) to be able to analyse the finds and organic remains in greater detail.

Seifert, M., 2008, Stampa, Maloja, Plan Canin (LK 1276, 775 090/137 530, 1985 m ü. M.), in Jahresbericht ADG 2008, p.93-94


[1] Thanks to a friendly donation by an architectural practice in St. Moritz!

The Aesthetics of Lithics – Marden Henge and Late Mesolithic Switzerland

I have great respect for the prehistoric flintworkers that produced the extraordinary pieces of craftsmanship that stand out from the usual crowd of artefacts and debitage we archaeologists mostly deal with. However, I do not count myself amongst the lithics fans who can dote on these special artefacts for hours. When I saw the picture of these ripple-flaked oblique arrowheads, though, it struck me how much they differ from the late Mesolithic artefacts from Central Europe that I am working with.

Ripple Flaked Arrowheads, Marden Henge. from Leary etal 2010, PAST 66

Ripple Flaked Arrowheads, Marden Henge. from Leary etal 2010, PAST 66

Let me introduce the mentioned arrowheads briefly. First, they are stunning and amazing pieces of craftsmanship! They were found during excavations by English Heritage at Marden Henge, southern England. Marden Henge dates to the Late Neolithic, ca. 2500 BC and lies between Avebury and Stonehenge. Leary, Field and Russell (2010) briefly report on the fieldwork in Past 66. The arrowheads came from a trench in which a remarkably well preserved building was discovered. More on Marden Henge and the fieldwork can also be found on these sites: The BBC site shows a short video and The Guardian website has an article and a small interactive feature. Digital Digging made this nice little overlay video.

Back to the lithics. Leary, Field and Russell (2010, p. 16) write:

“Two exquisitely crafted ripple-flaked oblique flint arrowheads were also recovered from this trench, but with broken tips and one missing barb each. However, if an intriguing broken fragment of flint from another part of the site is correctly interpreted, these arrowheads may have once sported grossly elongated barbs on one side. This long and narrow surface-flaked ‘barb’ fragment closely matches the character and width of the stubs on the arrowheads – so much so that it almost refits with one of them. Such an overstated feature places the artefact well beyond the realms of practicality, and must have been the ultimate show-off item. As far as we know, nothing similar exists in Britain – and even the barbs on elaborate continental barbed and tanged arrowheads are small by comparison. We lay a challenge here at the feet of all flint knappers out there to try to recreate a similar arrowhead and barb.”

What struck me was how different they are from the finest, most sophisticated artefacts from the Central European Late Mesolithic. And yes, I do realise artefacts from different periods and different parts of the world are being compared. It is also not my aim to do a typological comparison, but to take a moment to look at some of the wonderful things we – as archaeologists – have the privilige to work with, to contemplate how a skill can be used in such varied ways, producing artefacts withi such different functions and meanings.

Late Mesolithic Trapezes from Switzerland

To me the small trapezes are the most aesthetically beautiful chipped stone tools from Late Mesolithic Switzerland. These, however, can be assumed to have been practical tools, used and hafted as arrowheads, unlike the “ultimate show-of items from Marden Henge”. And unlike the Marden arrowheads, their beauty lies in their simplicity, their elegance, their practicality. With this technique many highly efficient arrowheads (or other tools) can be produced from relatively small pieces of raw-material (if need be raw-material of lesser quality). They can be routinely made and replaced. There is no reason to suppose they were show-off items, in fact when hafted you would hardly have seen much of them.

late mesolithic trapeze, Central Switzerland

late mesolithic trapeze, Central Switzerland (Foto ProSpect)

That almost seems to be a shame with e.g. trapezes like this one, made of rock crystal (from a site in the Central Swiss Alps). Its beauty, it seems, is in the design, and not in an ostentatious display of skill and luxury as in the Marden Henge arrowheads.

Update here!

Leary, J.,  Field, D.  and Russell, M., 2010, Marvels at Marden Henge, in PAST 66, p. 14-16

Digging a Late Mesolithic site in the central swiss Alps

Last Friday a team of archaeologists – amongst which I was lucky to count myself – finished the excavation of a Late Mesolithic site (at ~1475masl) on a future golf course near Andermatt, Canton Uri, Switzerland.

It wasn’t really planned like that, but this summer has seen me digging in the Alps quite a bit, and I will write a little something about that archaeology here, starting with the Andermatt dig:

Archaeologically supervising the construction of a golf resort

view of the site over Hospental and towards the Gotthardpass

The excavation, carried out by ProSpect gmbh and commissioned by the Canton Uri, was the result of a small – much too small for such a huge area, actually – survey project and building brief at the construction site of a golf resort on the valley floor of the Urseren Valley between Andermatt and Hospental. The Canton of Uri, sadly, has not got an archaeological unit, so that there is hardly any archaeological research, ot even rescue excavation done here and the authorities are not familiar with what it means to investigate archaeological sites. So, we got the work rather late and while the building had already started. Because of the nature of the work[i] and the small budget for such a large area, it was also not possible to investigate the whole of the construction site. It was one of the very first rescue archaeology projects carried out in the Canton Uri (Hess et al., 2010). But the canton is trying build up something and has just announced their cooperation with the Kantonsarchäologie Kanton Zug[ii] This announcement and the site got quite a bit of coverage in the local and national media [see links below].

Rescue excavation of a Late Mesolithic site
Continue reading

Open Day / Journées Portes Ouvertes et Découverte d’une fouille préhistorique – Site d’Arconciel/La Souche

From the excavators of Arconciel/La Souche (SAEF):

Dimanche 5 septembre 2010 – Entre 10 et 16 heures.Non loin de l’abbaye d’Hauterive, les falaises de la Sarine abritent un habitat du Mésolithique.

Sis sur le domaine de l’abbaye cistercienne d’Hauterive, l’abri naturel d’Arconciel/La Souche se trouve au cœur des magnifiques gorges de la Sarine, à six kilomètres en amont de la ville de Fribourg. Largement ouvert au sud-ouest, il offre protection, ensoleillement, surface habitable conséquente et accessibilité. A ce titre, il est considéré comme l’un des plus beaux exemples d’habitat de pied de falaise de notre région, un type de sites qui fut particulièrement apprécié par les derniers groupes de chasseurs-cueilleurs du Mésolithique (9700-5000 av. J.-C.).

Estimé dès sa découverte comme l’un des plus hauts lieux de la Préhistoire fribourgeoise du fait de son très bon état de conservation, de sa stratigraphie de plus de trois mètres et de la richesse du matériel mis au jour (près de 15 000 artefacts en roches siliceuses, éléments de parures et plus de 150 000 restes fauniques), mais menacé par l’érosion, l’abri d’Arconciel/La Souche fait l’objet depuis 2003 d’une fouille de sauvetage qui sert également de chantier-école à plusieurs Universités.
Continue reading

Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology in Switzerland – where we stand now

ResearchBlogging.org
As usual, the 2010 Jahrbuch Archäologie Schweiz vol. 93 includes a list of newly discovered and excavated sites. It is no surprise that the number of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites discovered or investigated in 2009 is relatively low in comparison to the number of sites from most later prehistoric, roman and medieval periods. The figure below comes from Siegmund’s 2008 publication in the Jahrbuch der Archäologie Schweiz 2008, vol. 91.

Siegmund08_9

Siegmund 2008 Abb. 9, p. 95. Do not be confused by the typos in the Roman and Medieval numbers: the correct ones are 1630 & 1288.

It clearly shows the chronological distribution of the newly recorded or excavated sites in Switzerland during the period 1987 – 2006. It is also noted by Siegmund, that especially concerning the Mesolithic, Germany and France show even worse records (although for the alpine areas this might not been true; see below). Also, about a third of the Mesolithic sites mentioned in the above table are recorded in only one Canton: Fribourg.

Below the numbers of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites, and as a comparison the Bronze Age sites, recorded in 2008 & 2009. It shows ten sites mentioned in 2008 of which five were new discoveries and nine sites mentioned in 2009 of which four were new discoveries, against seventeen and forty-three sites dating to the Bronze Age.

Continue reading

Radiolarite and spring in the Fribourger Prealps

A number of raw materials were used for the production of chipped stone artefacts at the site of Arconciel/La Souche, Kt. Fribourg, Switzerland. Some of you might already know that I am doing a use wear analysis of the finds from the Late and Final Mesolithic abri for my PhD.

Of course, I am curious to see these places and the sources of the raw material of the archaeological artefacts. And it is spring! Here on the Swiss plateau the snow is gone, and in the Alps much has already melted as well. So, with a trusted companion I set out on an expedition to go and find the radiolarite outcrops in the Fribourger Prealps on the Brendelspitz. As guides we had the article by Braillard etal 2003 and the great little book Geologischer Pfad Gastlosen by Braillard and Rebetez (2010) (thank you Luc!).  What these, sadly, did not tell us, was that we underestimated Lady Winter’s resilience and had to fight through leg-deep snow at times. And no, we did not bring snowshoes… By then, we were too foolhardy and just had to get up there!

Radiolarite Braillard etal2003 web

various types of radiolarite, from Braillard etal 2003

The main raw materials used at the site during the Mesolithic are “Ölquartzite”, radiolarite and flint (Braillard, Menoud et al. 2003; Mauvilly 2005; Mauvilly, McCullough et al. 2008). Most of these raw materials are to be found at a not too great distance from the site of Arconciel/La Souche. The closest source would have been the Sarine riverbed. Radiolarite, “Ölquartzite” and some types of flint can be found there. In the Jura Mountains further flint sources are known. Sources of “Olquatzite” and radiolarite are known in the Fribourger Prealps, the range of middle high Alpine mountains in the southern parts of the canton, and in the neighbouring areas of the Bernese Oberland[1]. But I will focuss only on the radiolarite in this post. Continue reading

Groupe de Travail sur le Mésolithique

Michel Mauvilly of the SAEF has initiated the formation of a «Groupe de Travail» for researches in the Mesolithic in Switzerland and surrounding regions. A first meeting is planned for the end of March or April.

Below the announcement in French and German.

Création d’un Groupe de Travail concernant les recherches sur le Mésolithique en Suisse et les régions limitrophes

Afin de promouvoir le Mésolithique en Suisse et de créer une meilleure synergie entre les différents acteurs de la recherche travaillant sur cette période et de la stimuler, nous proposons de fonder un groupe de travail. En effet, ces dernières  années, plusieurs fouilles importantes, réalisées dans plusieurs cantons, ont confirmé le très grand potentiel de notre territoire dans ce domaine.

Le groupe de travail est ouvert à toutes les personnes, professionnelles de l’archéologie ou non, qui sont intéressées par les recherches concernant cette période.

Nous proposons donc d’organiser une première séance visant à définir le cadre, les modalités et les attentes des différents acteurs potentiels.

Plusieurs dates sont d’ores et déjà sélectionnées pour cette séance entre mi mars et  mi avril 2010 que nous proposons d’organiser à Fribourg.

Bildung einer Arbeitsgruppe zur Erforschung des Mesolithikums in der Schweiz und in den angrenzenden Regionen

Um die Erforschung des Mesolithikums in der Schweiz voranzutreiben und die Zusammenarbeit von verschiedenen, in dieser Periode tätigen Forschern zu fördern, möchten wir gerne eine Arbeitsgruppe ins Leben rufen. Gerade in den letzten Jahren haben mehrere bedeutende Ausgrabungen in verschiedenen Kantonen das enorme Potential in diesem Forschungsgebiet aufgezeigt.

Die Arbeitsgruppe steht allen an dieser Periode interessierten Personen offen, seien es professionelle Archäologen oder nicht.

Um den Rahmen und die Modalitäten dieser Arbeitsgruppe zu definieren und die Erwartungen der potentiellen Mitglieder zu sondieren, möchten wir eine erste Sitzung einberufen.

Für diese Sitzung können wir mehrere Daten zwischen Mitte März und Mitte April 2010 vorschlagen.

Interested? Get in touch with the M. Mauvilly at the SAEF (saef[at]fr.ch) or leave a comment and I’ll get back to you with further details.

E. Nielsen & Wauwillermoos @ Berner Zirkel für Ur- und Frühgeschichte

The Season starts again for the Berner Zirkel für Ur- und Frühgeschichte. And it starts well! Ebbe Nielsen (Cantonal Archaeological Unit Luzern, CH), who is undoubtedly one of the Doyen of the Swiss Palaeo-Meso-scene, will inform us on recent work in the Wauwiller Moos. This dried-up lake in central Switzerland is well known for its – partly waterlogged – Neolithic sites. The Egolzwil-sites will be the most famous.

However, also the Mesolithic (e.g. Schötz 7), the Late Upper Palaeolithic (or the ‘Spätpaläolithikum’, as it is also known in German; e.g. Wauwill Sandmat 16 & 25) and even the Magdalenian (e.g. near by at Kottwil) are represented. The region is one of the few Swiss regions of which the Mesolithic and Late Upper Palaeolithic archaeology is quite well studied and known. This is mainly due to many years of the work by Nielsen and a group of amateur archaeologists.

Interesting is also Nielsen’s corporation with archaeobotanists such as W. Tinner (University of Bern). One of the interesting aspects of this is that it ties in well with the current debate about the occurrence of archaeobotanical evidence for domesticated cereals in central Europe.

It promises to be an interesting evening, so pop-by if you’re around!

Thursday, 22-10-2009, 18:30, Hauptgebäude Universität Bern

Some Literature:

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

Erny-Rodman, C., Gross-Klee, E., Haas, J., Jacomet, S. & Zoller, H., 1997, Früher `human impact´ und Ackerbau im Übergansbereich Spätmesolithikum-Frühneolithikum im schweizerischen Mittelland, in JbSGUF 80, pp. 27-56

Nielsen, E., 1992, Paläolithische und mesolithische Fundstellen im zentralschweizerischen Wauwilermoos, in Archäologisches Korrespondenzblat 22, pp. 27-40

Nielsen, E., 2003, Das spätmesolithikum und die Neolithisierung in der Schweiz, in Archäologische Informationen 26 (2), pp.275-297

Nielsen, E. H., 2006, Central Switzerland in the central European Mesolithic, in Kind, C. J. (eds.), After the Ice Age, Stuttgart, Konrad Theiss, pp. 87-94

Nielsen, E., 2009, Paläolithikum und Mesolithikum in der Zentralschweiz. Mensch und Umwelt zwischen 17000 und 5500 v.Chr., Archäologische Schriften Luzern 13, Luzern

Tinner, W., Nielsen, E. & Lotter, A. F., 2007, Mesolithic agriculture in Switzerland? A critical review of the evidence, in Quaternary Science Review, Vol. 26; 9-10, pp. 1416-1431

AG Mesolithikum, Luzern, CH, 2009

From April 3rd to 5th, the ‘AG Mesolithikum’ 2009 took place in Lucerne, Switzerland. The AG Mesolithikum is really a  group of mostly German Meso-researchers who meet once a year to informally exchange ideas and present their recent work. This year it travelled beyond its German homeland and the meeting was organised by Ebbe Nielsen, of the Kantonsarchäologie Luzern, Switzerland (Cantonal Archaeological Unit of Lucerne).

The Saturday was started with a short but enlightening introduction into the organisation and work of the Swiss Cantonal Archaeological Units, with special emphasis on Lucerne, by Head of Unit Jürg Manser. Willy Tinner followed by discussing the arguments for and against off-site palynological evidence for early cereal cultivation in the Alpine region. Although what he presented was not hugely different from the publication of Tinner etal 2007, it was interesting to hear Willy put forward the arguments in person and to be able to discuss them with him. He made clear that the evidence he put forward was not conclusive, but there is a large chance that Pre-Neolithic populations opened up the forest, especially around lakes and moors, and that around 6500 cal BC an increase in the presence of cerealia type pollen and adventives and apophytes can be observed in many cores. It also once again showed how fantastic the preservation of palynological evidence is in the (circum) alpine lakes.

Jehanne Affolter told us about her methodology for interpreting data on flint raw-material distribution in the circum alpine region. It was brought to the point how limiting the small number of known sites (esp. those well dated and with raw-material data) still is.

Claus-Joachim Kind and Dorothée Drucker presented fragments of 2 reindeer metatarsus from the Holocene site of Siebenlinden II, sth. Germany. Comparative isotope research indicates it would have lived in the same wooded and temperate environment as the roe deer and red deer from the site. D. Drucker next presented how isotope 13C & 15N research could possibly be used to reconstruct the Mesolithic human diet and environment. It seems to me, though, that the few known Mesolithic skeletons from Europe don’t allow for a sufficiently fine resolution yet.

Birgit Gehlen (Blätterhöhle, Hagen, GER), Michael Baales & Ingrid Koch (Kreuztal-Buschhütten & Netphen, GER) and Harald Lübke (waterlogged sites on Rügen, GER) presented new fieldwork in Germany. And Thomas Doppler presented the methodologies used on site by the University of Basel at Lutter, Abri St. Joseph (FR) and Arconciel/La Souche (CH) for recovering organic remains.

Erik Brinch Petersen, the only Danish participant, talked with great enthusiasm about – and showed us many photos of – beautiful decorated amber hangers known from the Danish Mesolithic. On Sunday Michel Mauvilly summarised the surveying work he and his colleagues in Ct. Fribourg (CH) have done. They already located a large number of find-spots in many of the (pre-) Alpine parts of the Canton (e.g. in the Petit Mont, Grand Mont and Oeschels valleys) and their distribution maps show clearly that blank spots on the map are largely the result of research biases. Their search for flint and other stone sources show interesting results as well, esp. when integrated with their survey and on-site work. This also suggests that the lack of knowledge we have of the prehistory of other Alpine regions is largely due to research biases; an observation that is supported by a number of other recent survey projects in Switzerland. But I’ll have to write some more about that in the future.

Thomas Richter (presenting fieldwork at Germering-Nebel (Bayern, GER) and Ebbe Nielsen finished off this part of the conference. Ebbe briefly introduced a site at the shores of the Soppensee (CH), where Late Palaeolithic and Early Mesolithic finds have been made. The Sunday then continued with a tour of the Soppensee and the Wauwilermoos near Lucerne, with its many famous Late Palaeolithic, Mesolithic (e.g. Schötz 7) and Neolithic (e.g. Egolzwil) sites.

Thanks to the organisers at the Kantonsarchäologie Luzern and the participants and especially to Ebbe Nielsen for a few pleasant days in Lucerne.