Tag Archives: alpine archaeology

Prehistoric rock crystal extraction in the Alps

I have written about the most famous rock crystal find from the Swiss Alps, the Planggenstock Treasure and the use of rock crystal through the millennia before. We know where the Planggenstock Treasure and other recent finds were originally found. Indeed, often we can show historic mining to have taken place in various clefts, there might even be historical written sources.

Prehistoric rock crystal mining sites in the Alps are rare, though. That is mainly because they were also exploited in historic times and this more recent activity has destroyed evidence of earlier, prehistoric mining. At the Riepenkar cleft, situated at 2800masl in the Zillertaler Alps, in Tirol, Austria Leitner and Bachnetzter are able to separate prehistoric artefacts from younger mining debris through painstaking sieving and selecting. They date these artefacts typologically to the Mesolithic and Neolithic (Leitner, 2013; Leitner and Bachnetzer, 2011). Although I realise the work is continuing, I would have liked a bit more detail about how they come to this date. In Switzerland such extraction sites with evidence of prehistoric mining are, as far as I know, unknown. Rock crystal artefacts, however, are far from seldom in Switzerland Continue reading

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.

For those poor archaeologists that work in the Alps: T.E.A., Taiwanese landscape painting and a bit of facebook

Perhaps October and November are the most difficult months for archaeologists working in the Alps. The summer is over, the first snow already covers the landscape above 1500/1800 masl, so fieldwork is done for the year. To fill this emptiness inside the alpine archaeologist might go skiing, or snowshoe hiking, or ice climbing. However, in all but a few ski resorts, pistes are not open yet. And there is usually to little snow for off-piste skiing and waterfalls are not yet frozen. So, what to do with yourself during these months? Well, you clean your boots, oil your trowel, wait for the results of the radiocarbon samples you have sent to come back, wax your skis. But it just is not enough, is it?
Well, if you are lucky enough – as I am – to live in Berne, Switzerland you might, going about your daily business, come across some of the electrical control cabinets with wonderful mountains scenes painted on them. You can stare at these for a while.

These cabinets were painted in 2013 by Taiwanese artist Jui-Chin Chiu, or Master Chiu. He is one of the advertisement poster painters the Taiwanese Electricity provider Taipower commissions to decorate electrical control cabinets in Taipei and other cities. In 2013 the Alpines Museum invited Master Chiu to come and brighten up the city of Bern a little.


If you do not live in Bern or if this just is not archaeological enough, there is another remedy. Since last summer I act as Alpine Archaeological Correspondent for the The European Archaeologist, the digital newsletter of the European Archaeological Society (pdf). The TEA is send out to EAA-members four times per year. However, it is also accessible for everyone else on the web. There are five regional correspondents who provide archaeological news from the region they work in. Do go and have a look for the latest from European Alpine Archaeology, from the Benelux, Finland, France or Iberia. The news is very varied. It ranges from new publications, exhibitions, portraits of archaeological personalities, conferences and ongoing projects.

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We need your help, though! If there are any publications, projects, exhibitions or anything else you would like your European colleagues and the rest of the world to know about, do get in touch with me or the other correspondents! Language should not really be a problem. You find contact details for all of us on our reports. You can also find me here. I and the other correspondents are always happy to hear from you!
Oh, and if that is not enough Alpine Archaeology to get you through these months: follow the Alpine Archaeology Facebook-page!

Kirchenfeldbrücke, Bern. Nov. 2014. Biwak#05: City Mountains. Made in Taipei, Taiwan (Alpines Museum). Artist: Jui-Chin Chiu

Kirchenfeldbrücke, Bern. Nov. 2014. Biwak#05: City Mountains. Made in Taipei, Taiwan (Alpines Museum). Artist: Jui-Chin Chiu

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

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Traversar V – Gauliglacier Dakota

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Glacial archaeology of the 20th C AD. Propeller of the Dakota DC-3 (Grimseltor, Innertkirchen) that crashed on the Gauliglacier, November 1946.

On the road to the Vorderrheinvalley we stopped at the Grimseltor, Innertkirchen. In November 1946 a US Dakota DC-3 crashed in bad weather on the Gauliglacier. Parts of the plane reappeared in 2012. These parts had moved 3350m with the ice in that time. The remains found then were recovered and documented by the Swiss Army and the Archaeological Service, Canton Berne.  Tomorrow we truely start with our survey in the Oberalppass area.

Preparing for fieldwork – Traversar IV

Het is stil in Nederland.

“Mr. President,

We are here to discuss a tragedy: the downing of a commercial airliner and the death of 298 innocent people. Men, women and a staggering number of children lost their lives, on their way to their holiday destinations, their homes, loved ones, their jobs or international obligations. Since Thursday I’ve been thinking how horrible the final moments of their lives must have been, when they knew the plane was going down. Did they lock hands with their loved ones, did they hold their children close to their hearts, did they look each other in the eyes, one final time, in a wordless goodbye? We will never know.

The demise of almost 200 of my compatriots has left a hole in the heart of the Dutch nation, has caused grief, anger and despair. Grief for the loss of loved ones, anger for the outrage of the downing of a civilian airplane and despair after witnessing the excruciatingly slow process of securing the crash site and recovering the remains of the victims. …”

Speech to the UN Security Council by Frans Timmermans, Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Netherlands

It seems to me lately we are confronted again and again by waves of news of people suffering from violent conflicts they might have no active part in. News from Syria, Nigeria, Afganistan, Sudan, Irak, Palestine and many other places across the globe, like the Ukraine. And now the Netherlands – the country I was born and grew up in – mourns, is quiet.

Many of us are lucky. Our lives continue, almost as usual. And I have been feeling a little guilty about looking forwards to and preparing for our next fieldwork campaign of the Traversar Pässe Project. But perhaps we owe it to our loved ones, all those who do not have the possibility to do so and who have passed too young, to make the most of our lives, to enjoy it and make the best of it.

Remains of one of the many old incarnations of the road leading from the north over the San Bernardinopass.

Remains of one of the many old incarnations of the road leading from the north over the San Bernardinopass.

Last year a small team commissioned be the Archaeological Service of the canton of the Grison (ADG), started a survey project of the main passes of the Grison. We started with the San Bernardino region. This weekend we head into the field again. The Oberalp– and Lukmanierpasses are the main focus of this year’s campaign. This is all the more pressing as large construction works are planned for the near future, which should lead to the connection of the skiing areas of Andermatt and Sedrun.

Not much is known about the archaeology of the region yet. But with these important passes and the important Monastery in Disentis/Mustér the region has had a prominent role in more recent history of the Alps of Central Switzerland. Also the regions in the cantons of Uri and Ticino west of the Oberalppass and southwest of the Lukmanierpass have been studied during the past 2-3 decades by the Leventina (Hess et al 2010) and the Gottthard Projects of the University of Zürich (Primas et al 1992) and a rescue archaeological project in the Urserenvalley (Urner Historisches Neujahrsblatt 2013, e.g. Auf der Maur & Cornelissen 2013). We thus expect our study area to have much archaeological potential. The first deskbased work seems to confirm this.

Simultaneously, the documentation of remains of WWI fortifications near the Umbrailpass will continue. We will also host the kAltes Eis-Project whose team will undoubtely make us run up to many faraway ice patches high up the end of some valley to look for archaeological remains.

We will have limited internet access in the Vorderrheinvalley, but hope to report whenever possible of our progress. Most likely here or on twitter (hashtag #traversar). You might also want to keep an eye on the Alpine Archaeology facebookpage.

Heading to the Vorderrhein we will be gratefull that we are able to continue doing such fascinating archaeological work in a beautiful part of the world with great friends and colleagues and fab archaeologists.

 

AUF DER MAUR, C. & CORNELISSEN, M. 2013. Die spätmesolithische und bronzezeitliche Fundstelle Hospental-Moos. Ein Einblick in das urgeschichtliche Urserntal. Historisches Neujahrsblatt, 68, 37-84. (As well as furhter contributions in this volume).

HESS, T., REITMAIER, T., JOCHUM ZIMMERMANN, E., BALMER, A., DOBLER, I. & DELLA CASA, P. 2010. Leventina – prähistorische Siedlungslandschaft. Archäologischer Survey im alpinen Tessintal und entlang der Gotthardpassroute 2007/2008: kommentierter Katalog. Jahresbuch der Archäologie Schweiz, 93, 173-193.

PRIMAS, M., DELLA CASA, P. & SCHMID-SIKIMIC, B. 1992. Archäologie zwischen Vierwaldstättersee und Gotthard: Siedlungen und Funde der ur- und frühgeschichtlichen Epochen, Bonn, Habelt

 

Day of Archaeology 2014

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www.dayofarchaeology.com

Last Friday, the 11th of July, was the annual Day of Archaeology! It is when we archaeologists creep out of our offices, labs, archives and trenches and share with you what our day, a normal Friday in July, looks like. Want to know what archaeologists do all day? Go and have a look at the Day of Archaeology website, or follow the day of archaeology on twitter with hashtag #dayofarch.

Here you can read about my Day of Archaeology 2014. However, do check out the many other contributions as well, especially this contribution: the archaeology of early tourism in the Swiss Alps.