Category Archives: Uncategorized

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

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!

Archaeology e-learning and dissapearing knowledge

I have just posted two posts concerning the e-learning course “alpine archaeology: tools and techniques” on the alpinearchaeology-Blog.

One illustrates the content of the Oral History Film and shows a slideshow of the alp hut where the interviewee spend a number of summers 70 years ago – as a young boy – working as a shepherd and cheesemaker.

Sadly, this older generation is moving to nursering homes and dies and the agricultural practices in the Alps are changing dramatically. Much knowledge about alpine agricultural practices and crafts as it existed over the past centuries is literally dying out. Oral History is one of the best methods for trying to preserve some of these traditions and knowledge before it is too late.

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The alp huts in the slideshow are restored by volunteers as they were when given up ca. half a century ago. They give an intriguing look into the experience the shepherds and farmers must have had, living and working there in such a remote location for many a generation. Go over to the alpinearchaeology-blog and have a look at the post and many more photos. You find it here.

The other post shows a wordcloud. It shows the results of an assignment I gave the students. They listed the threats to potential archaeology in an alpine environment. It  is one example of how it can be tried to incorporate and make use of opensource software (in this case and wordclouds into teaching and especially e-learning. I hope soon more of such examples will appear there.

Alpine Archaeology-Blog, e-learning and archaeological methods and techniques

From today the Alpine Archaeology-Blog is up and running. The Department of Pre- and Protohistory of the University of Zürich, Switzerland has got a long history in teaching and researching the archaeology of mountainous areas. There are e.g. the Leventina Project (Della Casa, in press, Hess et al., 2010) and the projects in the Andes by my collaegues M. Kolb-Godoy Allende and P. Fux (Fux, 2007) and colleagues. A current example is the “Rückwege” project in the Silvretta (Reitmaier, 2009, Reitmaier, 2010, Reitmaier and Walser, 2008).

During the 2010 autumn semester almost all taught courses will be solely devoted to Alpine Archaeology. As part of this alpine semester I will be teaching an e-learning course on the methods and techniques of archaeological research in alpine environments. To be able to enhance not only this course, but the learning and teaching experience throughout the department (for lecturers and students alike) we decided to start a blog. All students and teaching personal are encouraged to use this blog to exchange knowledge, document their work and have fun posting and reading the blog.

Both the blog and the e-learning course will be an experiment in how to integrate digital media into teaching. Of course, we are not the first to do this. Continue reading

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
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Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology in Switzerland – where we stand now
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.


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

Grabung Parkhaus Opéra, Zürich

In Zürich, Switzerland the excavation of the Phalbausiedlung, or lake side village, in front of the Opernhaus has started. It is right next to the excavation Mozart-Strasse, that some might know. Various waterlogged occupation layers dating to the Horgen period (late fourth millenium BC), the Early and Late Bronze Age can be expected.

The paper Tages Anzeiger publishes a weekly diary by fieldmanager Niels Bleicher. It also appears on the website of the city of Zürich.