Category Archives: Switzerland

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.

Image

Autumn writing

We have spend a few amazing autumn days on a lake in the Swiss Alps. My amazing, supportive wife has now left me alone at the lake to spend a week to try and finish a section of my PhD thesis in splendid solitude.

Well that, and to eat the last ripe figs of the tree!

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

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

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

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

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

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

berglibalm_regenbogen_haz_rel

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

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

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

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

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

Bibliography

Full publication:

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

Popular short text about the site:

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

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

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

Transforming prehistoric gestures into present day objects. Turning your (PhD-)research into postcards.

Like many archaeologists, I spend my days in a lab or at a desk. I study microscopic traces of use on Late Mesolithic and very early Neolithic stone artefacts to try to find out what these tools were actually used for all those thousands of years ago. By understanding the use of various types of tools we hope to understand the lives and activities on the sites they were found (Arconciel/La Souche and Lutter/St. Joseph) and in Switzerland/Western France at the time of the last hunter-gatherers and the first farmers here. This period, roughly 6500 to 4800 BC, is a fascinating period, during which many things, not least the economy, changes. That is the story I wanted to tell and I wanted to do this in a light-hearted and accessible way. At the same time I wanted to avoid the typical channels of public outreach. But I did want to show the beauty of the process of doing archaeology. This fascination for the archaeology of hunter-fisher-gatherer societies and the transition from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic of the early Holocene together with the wonder of seeing the activities and lives of people who lived such different lives from us in these small stone artefacts were the main reason behind the decision to do something with all the photos I am taking at the microscope.

We archaeologists often tell stories about the sites and objects we study after we have finished excavating and have done with all our analyses. Often the stories we tell are presented as complete and certain, while actually they are often complex and full of ambiguity and are seldom truly finished. We also show reconstructions or we invite the public to visit our excavations, the archetypical activity of archaeologists, and tell stories about and show photos from our digs in more or less exotic localities. But we rarely show the processes and the work we spend most of our time on: Our work in labs, in offices in dark basements of archaeological institutes, hot dighouses or even cold office containers on excavation sites. I hope to show some of these processes of making sense of the archaeological remains and knowledge creation through these postcards. Our, my daily work and the beautiful and fascinating things and objects this work creates and which are seldom seen by anyone.

Most visual depictions by archaeologists either try to show realistic or natural representations of archaeological remains, objects or archaeological deposits or they try to tell a story by creating visual reconstructions. Others are more picturesque and depict the archaeology in the context of the other, the exotic. A fourth category of archaeological visualisations are ethnographic in nature. Especially the first three types of images are usually published in scientific archaeological publications and reports. If the process of doing archaeology is recorded, it is often in the form of the ethnography of archaeology. With these postcards I hope to document the process of archaeology in a differing way. Furthermore, by publishing them on postcards, these photos are able to leave the elitist and restricted realm of scientific publication and other environments in which archaeology can usual be found, be it museums or public monuments or websites. The postcards feature microscopic photos of use wear traces and thus transform the gestures of people in the distant past into material haptic objects in the everyday lives of people in the twenty-first century.

Further inspirations for this little postcards project are the latent undercurrent of and recent call for more alternative and punk-ethos in certain circles in the archaeological community and the stones of the Murgtal Steingarten-project and Mail Art activities of concept artist H.R. Fricker. They stimulated me in the first place to produce something relatively inexpensive and easy to produce (of course, this would not have been possible without the great Ben Peyer of Version1!), common objects, but also something that could feature in everyday life and does not require huge effort on the part of the beholder. Postcards fitted the bill. On the one hand they are collectable objects, on the other they are mundane, everyday objects.

The postcards me and Ben made certainly don’t follow the visual vocabulary of the punk-tradition, but using such mundane objects for publicising my PhD-research and injecting them into everyday life, they might refer to some extend to the punk-ethos. Not unlike the visual output of punk culture, Mail-Artists in the second half of the 20th century made a lot of use of collage and montage techniques as well as stamps and other media and also had a strong d-i-y tradition. Furthermore, I hope the postcards also refer in a tongue-in-cheek manner to the Mail-Art movement and the way scientists in the past – before scientific journals became so common – spread and discussed their scientific findings by correspondence and letters.

Both the punk and the Mail Art movements were also about creating and maintaining communities at various scales. Lately, a lot of exchange between archaeologists and scientists in general takes place in the digital world, via email, social media, blogs, podcasts and platform such as researchgate. With these postcards I would like to extend these lively conversations into the physical world while at the same time, using digital channels to spread them. And last, I still think it is great to receive a postcard in the post and love sending them.

So, if you want to know how to receive a postcards, have a look here. It would be great to hear from you!

I decided not to use references in this text, but the following publications have inspired the production of the postcards and this text:
• Barthes, R., 1980, La chambre claire, Paris
• Edwards, E., 2002, Material beings: objecthood and ethnographic photographs, in Visual Studies, Vol. 17, 1
• H.R. Fricker > work in general more specifically the Steingarten Murgtal project
• Hamilakis, Y., Anagnostopoulos, A. and Ifantidis, F. (2009) Postcards from the edge of time: archaeology, photography, archaeological ethnography, in Public Archaeology, 8, (2-3), 283-309
Punk Archaeology
• Shanks, M. 1997, Photography and Archaeology, in Brian Molyneaux, B. (ed), The Cultural Life of Images: Visual representation in Archaeology
• Those two great blogs by Colleen Morgan – Middle Savagery and Bill Caraher – The archaeology of the mediterranean world

 

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!