… sieht bis in die Silvretta!silexanalysen im bahnhofsbuffet olten…
Source: das auge des experten
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!)
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
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!
Follow this link to a map with a timeline which shows the dramatic retreat of the Untere Grindelwald gletscher.
Whereas the #skiarchaeology I wrote about last, dealt with a site that can be seen from the slopes of the Crans-Montana ski resort, you pretty much ski over this collection of sites. The sites are located throughout the area that in winter is the Meiringen-Hasliberg ski-resort. And while the finds from the Schnidejoch are mostly prehistoric, the structures found here, at the Mägisalp, are most likely to date to the Middle Ages and (Early) post medieval times. Spread across this area, partly in the clouds on this photo, are the two highest Alps in the three-part “Alpwirtschaft”, or animal husbandry system, which is still in use here. How far back it dates, is difficult to say, but the earliest historical record dates to 1372 AD.
In summer cows enjoy the herb-rich mountian pastures here, moving up with the vegetation during the summer months. Some of the buildings still in use might have a history of many centuries. But there are also the ruined remains of their predecessors now, in winter, hidden by snow. Sadly, it is often difficult to date such sites, but they still provide us fascinating insights into the cultural history of the region and the Alps in general.
The buildings and ruins have been studied by Brigitte Andres as part of PhD research at the University of Zürich. If you are interested in more, it is worth having a look at these publications:
Andres, B., 2011, Gadmen, Wendenboden. Eine alpine Siedlungswüstung im Oberhasli, Archäologie Bern 2011. Jahrbuch des Archäologischen Dienstes des Kantons Bern, 48–53.
Andres, B., 2012, Alpine summer farms – upland animal husbandry and land use strategies in the Bernese Alps (Switzerland). In: W. Bebermeier, R. Hebenstreit, E. Kaiser uad J. Krause (eds.), Landscape Archaeology. Proceedings of the International Conference held in Berlin, 6th – 8th June 2012. eTopoi. Journal for Ancient Studies Special Volume 3, 279–283.
Andres, B., 2012, Hanglage mit Gletscherblick. Alpine Wüstungen im Oberhasli. Archäologie Bern. Jahrbuch des Archäologischen Dienstes des Kantons Bern, 2012, 220–236
Andres, B. und Walser, Chr., 2013, Drohnen in der alpinen Archäologie. Luftbildaufnahmen von Alpwüstungen im Oberhasli. In Jahrbuch des Archäologischen Dienstes des Kantons Bern, 2013, 107-109
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
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.
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
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.
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!
Time to finally write a last “Traversar” post for this year. There are really two sides to our Passes of the Grison Project. Mostly we do inventory related work. We survey the study areas and record any archaeological sites we discover. There is of course a research element to this. The archaeology of many of the regions we study is not very well-known and anything we discover increases our knowledge of the (pre-)history of the region. We don’t excavate, though. We do make small test-trenches of up to ca. 30×30 cm or take auger cores at most sites we find. These allow us to evaluate the stratigraphy and if we are lucky we might find artefacts or, more likely, we can take charcoal samples for radiocarbon dating.
The sites we find become part of the cantonal database of archaeological sites. This again allows the archaeological service to react when sites become threatened by building plans, erosion, ploughing etc. Our work in the Oberalppass area is an example of this. You might not realise it, but mountain slopes get bulldozed quite properly these days before they become a ski-piste. Also, pylons for lifts, water pipes for artificial snow-installations, foundations for your favourite ski bar and artificial lakes to hold water for making artificial snow, they all need substantial holes in the ground. A major expansion of the Andermatt-Sedrun Ski Arena is planned. And the Disentis 3000 ski area plans to install a whole system of snow blowers to guarantee its guests a good snow cover. Such plans will become ever more common with increasing winter temperatures and should get appropriate archaeological attention throughout the Alps.
So on Wednesday, we surveyed the relevant parts of the Disentis 3000 ski resort. Rudolf Büchi kindly took the time to explain the current plans and let us use the ski lifts to save time. Up in the ski area we were surprised to find quite a few hitherto unknown archaeological sites as well as further archaeologically interesting areas. It will be very very interesting to have a more detailed look at the finds we made and see the dates we get from the charcoal samples we took. Other areas, however, have already been heavily disturbed by previous building activities.
The days after this we were lucky the weather got a bit better. We turned our attention to the upper part of the Val Maighels and the Val Strem. In both valleys we recorded a number of building remains, which may relate to transhumance activity of Medieval or post-Medieval date. One of these, near the Chrüzlipass in the Val Strem, might well be much older. Very exciting. Hunter-gatherers and shepherds remained rather elusive, as so often. However, both on the Passo Bornengo and the Chrüzlipass we were surprised to find substantial building remains. These are almost certainly military, probably part of the fortifications made during the WWI. Later 20th century military structures are often well recorded, but few records exist of these WWI fortifications. Although Switzerland was neutral during WWI, mobilisation did take place and many passes were fortified. The canton of Graubünden/Grison has started to record some of these, hopefully other cantons with strategic passes will follow this example soon.
The finds we made in these two valley reflect the situation we found the rest of the week as well. Despite the not ideal weather, we have been able to do almost everything we wanted. Also, our expectations based on our desk-based work have been fulfilled. So also methodologically, we seem to be on the right track. Concerning those elusive hunter-gatherers, perhaps they did not leave many traces, perhaps these can only be found with more intensive surveying and more test-trenching.
In the Swiss national newspaper NZZ, Urs Hafner wrote an eloquent short but critical review of the current Pile dwelling-exhibition in the Bernisches Historisches Museum titled `Historische Phantasie´ (in German). His criticism focuses on the little attention the Neolithisation process gets in the exhibition and the large panels showing scenes of daily live in Neolithic and Bronze Age Pile dwelling villages. (My review can be found here.)
First, it should be said that by the time of the oldest known Swiss pile dwellings (~4300 BC), the processes of Neolithisation in Switzerland and surrounding areas can be considered concluded (`Neolithic Revolution´ is by archaeologists today seen as an antiquated term). Already 1000 years before the first lake side villages sedentary farmers were living in regions north of the Alps, including Switzerland (e.g. at Gächlingen, Schaffhausen, Bottmingen/Bäumliackerstrasse, Basel and Herznach-Unterdorf, Aargau).
Hafner’s main criticism is the projection of our believes and subjective interpretations on aspects of the lives of past peoples. He wonders whether we know how houses were furnished and whether we actually know if people had chairs and tables in their houses or not. Actually, I believe it can be assumed we do know. As the exhibition shows the preservation at these sites is of such quality that if such items of furniture were common, we would have found them. We also know there were fireplaces in the houses, we know which artefacts were found where within a settlement, so also whether that was within houses or not. We can often tell how certain artefacts were used and what people ate. This amazing range of archaeological evidence allows us many unexpected insights into the daily lives of prehistoric people.
Lastly, archaeology is a science which studies the lives of past people through their material remains. And although we can never assume to be objective – we archaeologists are too much part of our own culture – we have a large and ever-increasing knowledge and understanding of prehistoric people, not in the least because of advances in other scientific subjects with which we cooperate, such as physical anthropology and palaeoenvironmental sciences. But yes, some of our interpretations are just that, interpretations. That is our job as archaeologists, to collect the archaeological evidence using up-to-date scientific methods, to subsequently interpret this evidence to our best ability and share our findings with the public. It goes without saying, we do this from our own position in the world. But doing so we also incorporate the current knowledge base of the discussed period as well as others, here in Switzerland and beyond. Moreover, this is a cumulative knowledge, gathered by scientists throughout the past few hundred years.
The panels in the exhibition show what we know about the people living on the lakes between 4300-800 BC resulting from the described scientific processes and the most likely interpretation of this knowledge. And that there is some fiction in them – as there is in the paintings by Anker albeit far, far more – should be clear to visitors. As archaeologists we use such visualisations to show what we know about (pre-)historic life. The medium dictates that this is impossible without including some fiction, in the same way a historical novel does, although less of course. So, should we make the general public read scientific reports instead? Stop making reconstruction visuals? Stop writing historical novels or cartoons and designing exhibitions? Or provide an accompanying books which are to be read before visiting the exhibition? I think not.
Archaeology and visual representation have a long history together. This includes photography and drawing. Both are an integral part of the archaeological process, drawing arguably a bit more. Drawing is deeply integrated in the archaeological processes of recovery, understanding and interpretation. This already starts during the excavation and continues afterwards. Producing field plans, phase plans and finds drawings help the archaeologist understand the evidence from the past (Wickstead 2008). Scenic reconstructions are a further step in this process. When making a new scenic interpretation of the finds from the Iron Age archaeology at the salt mines of Hallstatt, Rescheiter et al (2013) have written a scientific text to accompany it and explain their decisions on what to show and why. (There exists an extensive literature on the visualisation of archaeology which cannot all be dealt with within the space of a blog post). This will be interesting for fellow scientists, perhaps less so for a general audience in an exhibition. Forster (2012) takes a different approach. She shows the making of a scenic reconstruction of the interpretation of a shepherd’s shelter and the find from it. It poignantly shows what the archaeological evidence is and what interpretation. I could, for example, also imagine documenting the process of the making of scenic panels such as those shown in Bern in film, which can be shown as part of the exhibition. It is now up to the exhibition makers in Bern whether they see it fit to provide more information concerning these panels or not. As an archaeologist I’d be interested in their opinion. Certainly it is in itself a success that the panels are being discussed at all.That does not take away that to not attempt to interpret would be a serious deficiency on the side of the archaeologists. So it is not that we archaeologists do not want to look upon the `Pfahlbauer´ objectively, or in Hafner’s words `ohne Projektionen´. But firstly these panels might be less subjective than might be expected (we do know, for example that the Lady of Spiez-Einigen was buried lying on a sheepskin) and secondly, we simply have no choice but to be – to some extend – subjective. And even if we could travel back in time, we could still not truly know what it was to be a farmer living on the Lake of Biel in 1800 BC.
Forster E. (2012). Vom archäoligischen Befund zum Lebensbild, Reitmaier, Th. [Hrsg.], Letzte Jäger, erste Hirten. Hochalpine Archäologie in der Silvretta, Archäologischer Dienst Graubünden, Chur, 67-69. DOI:
Reschreiter, H. , Pany-Kucera, D. & Gröbner, D. (2013). Kinderarbeit in 100m Tiefe? neue Lebensbilder zum prähistorischen Hallstätter Salzbergbau, Karl & R. Leskovar, J. [Hrsg.], Interpretierte Eisenzeiten. Fallstudien, Methoden, Theorie. Tagungsbeiträge der 5. Linzer Gespräche zur interpretativen Eisenzeitarchäologie. Studien zur Kulturgeschichte von Oberösterreich, 37 25-38.
Wickstead, H. (2008), Drawing archaeology, in Duff, L. & Sawdon, Ph. [eds.], Drawing: the purpose. Bristol, U.K., Intellect Books. 13-27
Autumn has arrived in the Alps. The grass is losing its green lustre, leaves are slowly turning brown, farmers have moved their life-stock from alpine summer pastures down into the valleys and snow is expected later this week. Time to have a first cautious look back on this summer’s archaeological activities in the Swiss Alps.
I already wrote once about a small project we, a select team of expert alpine archaeologists (of course), started with the aim to study the archaeological remains at a number of the most important passes in the Grisons. This summer we were mostly active in the San Bernardinopass region. We also surveyed some areas in the Upper Engadin Valley which are to be subject to development in the near future. (For this we were officially commissioned by the Archaeological Unit of the Canton of Graubünden.)
We were lucky with the weather and were able to do all we set out to. We had some interesting results and although dating is difficult at this stage, we expect our finds to be both of medieval/early modern as well as prehistoric dates. While we are cleaning up the documentation, analysing the results and waiting for the C14 dates, I thought I posts some photos giving an impression of the fieldwork.
And if you are interested in the archaeology of the Alps, why not have a look at the alpine archaeology blog? Students of the Alpine Archaeology: tools and techniques e-learning course at the Universität Zürich will be blogging here this semester (DE).
During the fieldwork we discussed archaeology and bandes dessinée. We talked about the book Le soleil des morts, by comic artist A. Houot and archaeologists A. Gallay. (I believe it is not in print anymore.) I would be very interested in hearing about other good examples (in any language), so do get in touch!
So often it is the superlatives, the oldest, the biggest, the first that make it into the media. That is what happened with the site of Attinghausen-Geissrüggen in the Canton Uri, “the oldest Alp Hut in Switzerland”, or at least Central Switzerland. (See hyperlinks in the text.) Regular visitors to Hazelnut Relations will know that in 2010 I was involved in compiling the archaeological site inventory of the Canton Uri and during that same summer was part of the team surveying and excavating the area between Andermatt and Hospental ahead of the building of a golf course. Some weeks ago now, I helped some colleagues dig an alpine site in Canton Uri for a few days. And I actually got to wield my mighty trowel! Even though I thought I would not really get to dig at all this summer.
The site my colleagues were excavating is one of over 500 alpine ruins documented during survey work by Marion Sauter and Walter Imhof since 2009. Together with a small team around Urs Leuzinger, they spend a good week excavating the remains of a building, tentatively dated to the 7th – 5th C. BC. More charcoal samples for radiocarbon dating from good contexts will provide more secure dating. Sadly, but not uncommon for such alpine sites, no finds were made within the building’s outline. A structure in Val Fenga, in the Silvretta (in the excavation of which I was also involved), was dated by associated finds and radiocarbon dating to the 6 – 7th C. BC. So, whichever one turns out to be older, it is interesting to see that the evidence for the prehistoric use of the Swiss Alps is increasing.
The Attinghausen structure is situated on the present day route to the Surenenpass. Its function remains unknown, but the media (tv item) has endorsed it as (one of two?) the oldest Alp hut of Switzerland. No evidence for prehistoric alpine transhumance economies in Switzerland was known until the investigation of the structures in Attinghausen and the Val Fenga, but with the investigation of these and further sites, esp. in the Silvretta, we are gaining a much better understanding of the prehistory of trancehumance in Switzerland. First results from pollen cores, taken in moors near Geissrüggen also seem to point in this direction. However, some function related to traffic across the Surenenpass, as is known from historic periods, would also be a possible interpretation. One old and three new surface finds show the pass was used during late prehistoric and Roman times. Interestingly, to this day a chapel stands near where some of these were found.
As the Canton of Uri still has no archaeological service and archaeology still lives a quiet and largely undiscovered and unloved life there, the almost exaggerated media attention can only be seen as a good thing. And that the people of Uri are interested in their archaeological heritage is clearly shown by 150-200 people that visited the excavation over the weekend. Considering that they had to walk up 500 height meters, I’d say that that is a good show up. Thanks to all those visitors and to M. Sauter and W. Imhof for their survey work!
It is hoped to continue the fieldwork 2014. The results of the 2013 excavation will probably be published in the Jahrbuch Archäologie Schweiz 2014.
On November 6th 2013 (18:15), the excavators will talk about thier work at the Abt. UFG at the Universität Zürich. The talk is open to everyone.
Thankfully, I am allowed outside again next week. With a small international and select group of crack archaeologists – most of us old comrades in arms – we will be starting a three year survey project of some of the main passes in the Canton of Graubünden. The work is commissioned by the Archaeological Service of the Canton of Graubünden. A second leg of the project is the documentation of remains of WWI fortifications. Switzerland remained neutral, but guarded its borders intensely. So far the archaeological community in Switzerland has paid little attention to 20th C archaeology, but it seems right to start studying these now and make the wider public aware of the cultural historical value of these remains and that we should not leave them to private collectors.
Our group, will be focussing on prehistoric sites, though. We are starting with the region of the San Bernardino pass, the Julier pass and an area on the northern slopes of the Upper Engadin valley. Finds are known from both near / on the Julier and San Bernardino passes, but there are uninvestigated areas around both, and e.g. on the Julier archaeological focus so far has been almost solely on the Roman Period. If we have the possibility (internet access), we will try to keep you posted on the fieldwork here, so stop by once every while. We are very excited about getting started!
Spurrell, Vayson, Flinders Petrie and Curwen. Those are perhaps not the first names that come to mind, when thinking of the beginnings of lithic use wear analysis. That would probably be Semenov and Keeley.
As the continuing winter weather is not ideal for working on the experimental work for my PhD, I decided to intensify my research on the history of use wear analysis and its methodology as well as to work on a databank. So while it is snowing outside and the garden where I am to do the experiments is still the domain of a few hardy birds and some brave crocuses, I have time to write about the earliest attempts archaeologists made at determining the use of chipped stone artefacts.
In 1889-90 M. Flinders Petrie finds “a sickle having a compound armature” in Kahun, Egypt (Flinders Petrie 1891, Spurrell 1891, 1892). These denticulated flint blades had been known for a few decades from various sites and were assumed to be saws. However, Flinders Petrie’s finds included an almost complete wooden sickle in which such a blade was still hafted, using a cement consisting of “black Nile mud and gum” (Spurrell 1892). Further blades were found in the immediate vicinity of the sickle and would have formed the remainder of the tool. These artefacts were to leave a 40 year long trace of debate amongst archaeologists. To a certain extend it even continues to this day. It started when Flinders Petrie passed the artefacts on to Flaxman Charles John Spurrell.
What struck me most is that Spurrell uses many of the major analytical methods and evidence applied by use-wear and lithic specialists today. He studies the artefact’s morphology and compares the Kahun sickle as well as the individual blades to those from other prehistoric sites across the Near East and Europe. Amongst these are sickles found by Jakob Heierli at Vinelz, a lakeside village on the Lake Biel/Bienne, here in Switzerland. Interesting is also his discussion of the Egyptian pictorial evidence of the use of these sickles.
Besides the morphology it is, of course, the polish visible along the edge of the blades, that gets Spurrell’s attention. Similar polish was already known from artefacts from other Near Eastern and European sites. However, the origin of this polish is unknown at the time. One archaeologist, for example, suggests it is a patina which builds after excavation in the museums where they are stored. Like many of his European contemporaries, Spurrell decides to do imitative experiments. He notices the adequate angle of the sickle handle, the effectiveness of the tools and his experiments confirm the prehistoric depictions of sickle use. But his experiments are mostly concerned with the polish. To be able to recreate the polish he tries sawing bone, wet and dry wood and horn, but without results. Cutting ripe straw, however, does produce the polish. Furthermore, the polish distribution suggests the working of a relatively soft and pliable material. He concludes that it is the organic silica in grasses or cereal stems causing the polish, thus confirming the direct archaeological evidence. However, the archaeological community of the time was not yet ready to accept Spurrell’s results.
Spurrell does not write about using a microscope as part of his analyses and it seems that not even during the nineteen thirties, when E. C. Curwen enters in a debate with Francoise Vayson, microscopic use wear studies are applied. The study of the use of lithic artefacts does get raised to another level, though. If the weather stays like this I will be writing about that here soon.
Spurrell, F. C. J., 1892, Notes on early sickles, in The archaeological journal 49, p.53-69
Spurrell, F. C. J., 1891, The stone implements of Kahun, in Flinders Petrie, Illahun, Kahun and Gurob. 1889-1890, London, David Nutt, pp. 51-56
Flinders Petrie, W. M. 1891, Illahun, Kahun and Gurob. 1889-1890, London, David Nutt
Outside the rain splashes up from the slate and the rocks. We are in a mountain hut near a pass in the Berneroberland and are repacking the first finds. The three of us are here for the Archaeological Service of the Canton Berne. We received a call from a hiker (by chance a fieldtechnician from another canton) who had found a wooden artefact. He joined us to show us the find location.
These new finds are not all that surprising. Throughout the years various artefacts dating to the Roman period, the Late Middle Ages, but also the Bronze Age have been found near the pass. They show the pass’ continued importance.
The weather was good again this morning and we used the occasion to survey some more of the pass region. We have already found a few more artefacts, some of which undoubtedly are of prehistoric date.
Then it is time for stage two, in Graubünden.
So, if you are ever on a hike or bike ride in the Alps and find something, best leave it in place and please contact the people at local mountain hut/hotel or the cantonal archaeological service.
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.
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.
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.)
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
Ah, archaeological book covers: often as stylish as the clothing worn by the people writing them. However, writing up a small excavation of a multi-period site in the Upper Engadine Valley in the southern central Alps, I came upon this gem:
Long before the likes of Pluciennik (1998) and Thomas (2003) were re-packaging and deconstructing the Neolithic, Biagi in 1990 had already tidily wrapped it up: The Neolithic Package in a single, simple diagram.
PLUCIENNIK, M. 1998. Deconstructing `the Neolithic´ in the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition. In: EDMONDS, M. & RICHARDS, C. (eds.) Understanding the Neolithic of North-West Europe. Glasgow: Cruithne Press, 61-83
THOMAS, J. 2003. Thoughts on the `repacked´ Neolithic Revolution. Antiquity, 77, 67-74.
After almost a long year in the office, it is finally time for fieldwork again. This week will see the start of the Silvretta Campaign 2011. The “Rückwege Projekt” is an international and interdisciplinary project of the University of Zürich. It will lead us across some considerable distance, geographically and chronologically. Although in kilometres not that far, excavating the Silvretta Mountains on the borders of Switzerland and Austria does take you into a completely different world. Besides, the journey to our campsite is really quite long.
Chronologically we will be back to where we dug last summer, for some of us it will be the fifth year already. It looks to be the last field season, though. But we will also find ourselves going much further back in time. Mesolithic and Neolithic abris as well as Bronze Age sites and an Iron Age animal pen (incl. occupational evidence) and an Iron Age Alphut in the Fimbertal are awaiting us.
The first four weeks we’ll be in the Val Urschai and on the Plan da Mattun. First a small number of archaeologists will be accompanying geodetic metrologers and geodesy engineers of the Technical State University Zürich (ETH-ZH). They will carry out some fancy survey work. After that there will be two weeks of proper excavation. As every year, we will be visited by quite an army of scholars from different disciplines, geologists, micro-morphologists, palaeo-botanists, geographers and many more. They will do their own research related to the natural and human history of the occupation of the high alpine region.
As last year’s campaign was so successful, we are very curious to see hat this field season will bring. And we are very excited to be able to let you follow our work `live´ on our blog this year, so head over to it now and subscribe!
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. 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.
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
 Thanks to a friendly donation by an architectural practice in St. Moritz!
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
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
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
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!
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. But I will focuss only on the radiolarite in this post. Continue reading
Archaeology has always had its own visual vocabulary. We show our research results to our colleagues and to the wider public. This can, at the danger of simplification, often be divided into two categories: 1.) the dokumentation of the research results (plans, finds, tables etc.); and 2.) those visualisations that convey our interpretations (e.g. reconstruction drawings).
If we take the accurate visual representation of lithics (chipped stone tools) research, Martingell and Saville (Martingell and Saville 1988; Saville 2009) for example, argue we should that we should attempt to include as much factual information, mainly on technology, in drawings. Saville (2009, p.750) also includes, rightly I believe, use wear results in this.
However, like with most visualisations, it is, e.g. difficult to use this style of illustration to represent the dynamic, non-linear character of technology. Riede (Riede 2006, fig. 6, p62) tries to represent an evolutionary chaîne opératoire – artefactontogenies and phylogenies – and as such also the dynamic nature of technology in a figure. Although it is not a bad attempt, it is still rather linear. I fear that most people, including archaeologists, who are not in detail familiar with these ideas, see little more then another representation of the classic reduction sequences he tries so hard to avoid. This is especially the case as I expect that for many researchers the idea of an evolutionary chaîne opératoire is rather counter intuitive.
I have not seen any really satisfying examples of illustrations showing the dynamic nature of technology or an evolutionary chaîne opératoire. Continue reading
I’d like to point out and invite you to two more talks in December that might interest readers in Switzerland. First, Bill Finlayson (CBRL, Jordan and University of Reading, UK) will give a lecture at the University of Zürich. He’ll speak on recent work in Jordan. Renate Ebersbach (Archäologische Dienst, Kt. Bern, CH) will talk on survey work in the Berner Oberland (Alpine regions of Canton Berne, CH) at the Berner Zirkel für Ur- und Frühgeschichte.
Bill Finlayson worked in Scotland, a. o. on a number of Mesolithic sites, and for the past decade or so has been director of the CBRL in Amman, Jordan. He is active in various Neolithic projects in the Levant. For example, as co-director of the excavations at the PPNA site Wadi Faynan 16. He also excavated the PPNA site of Dhra’ with Ian Kuijt and is involved in the Water-Life-Civilisation Project.
Date and location: Wednesday dec. 9th 2009, 18:00, Universität Zürich Room K02-F-153.
The Archaeological Unit of Canton Bern, CH, has been quite active with survey work in the Alpine regions of the Canton. The finds of the Schnidejoch, for example, have received quite some media attention. There has been a new surge of research in the Alpine regions of the country. The University of Zürich, the Unit of Canton Fribourg, Canton Schwyz, the Unit of Canton Bern, for example, are all active in different regions, mainly staging survey projects. Renate Ebersbach has executed a survey project in the region of Meiringen. She will also show a short film.
Date and location: Thursday dec. 17th 2009, 18:30, main building Universität Bern.
So come along, if you’re around! It would be good to see you there.