Tag Archives: archaeology

Skiarchaeology III – Grindelwald



In the centre of this photo you might recognise the mighty Eigernordwand. The Untere Grindelwaldglacier used to spill onto the valley floor out of the cleft in the rock just to the left of it. This “Eismeer” was one of the main attractions for early tourists in the Jungfrau region in the 19th century. R. Gubler wrote about the archaeology of early tourism in the region for the Day of Archaeology 2014. Click on the picture to find out more!

Follow this link to a map with a timeline which shows the dramatic retreat of the Untere Grindelwald gletscher.

Glaciers, forests and prehistory between Andermatt and Hospental

«Gletscher, Wald und Steinzeitmenschen im Urschnertal»

English text below.

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

Publikationen: Siehe weiter unten


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

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

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

My Day of Archaeology 2015 – Reminiscing about archaeology and the Tour de France

July 24th 2015. It’s the Day of Archaeology again. A day for some mundane work and reminiscing. Go and have a look at the many fantastic insights archaeologists the world over give us into their work. And here you find my day of archaeology 2015.  It starts so:

You know what? My day of archaeology will be archaeology, but it will also be a very normal summer’s day. I am a Dutch archaeologist. I don’t live or work in the Netherlands, I’m in Switzerland, but there are certain things that I still enjoy doing the Dutch way. Let me explain. My day will consist of writing a few longer emails to colleagues who have asked for information. I will also be gathering and checking my use wear lab equipment for next week. Have I still have enough forms, are the photos and sketches that I need ready, where are my – plastic! – callipers? (Don’t ever let me see you use metal calipers on chipped stone artefacts!) Such things. Oh, and I promised my wife to get some ice-cream: There are ripe raspberries in the garden.

Nothing terribly exciting, but that’s okay because…


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

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

Jaunpass, Kilchmoos, Kt. Bern. @Swisstopo

Jaunpass, Kilchmoos, Kt. Bern. @Swisstopo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical fantasies or the inherent subjectivity of archaeology? Die Pfahlbauer in Bern.

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.)

Bauen und Wohnen (Neolithikum) Leucht-Wandbilder (270 x 1000 cm), Ausstellung Die Pfahlbauer - Am Wasser und über die Alpen, in Zusammenarbeit mit illustra.ch Bernisches Historisches Museum

Bauen und Wohnen (Neolithikum) Leucht-Wandbilder (270 x 1000 cm), Ausstellung Die Pfahlbauer – Am Wasser und über die Alpen. Atelier Bunter Hund, in Zusammenarbeit mit illustra.ch. Bernisches Historisches Museum

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.

Dominic Groebner Hans Reschreiter NHM Wien 2012

By D. Groebner – Hans Reschreiter – Naturhistorisches Museum Wien [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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

Blogging Archaeology – Join us!

Blogging Archaeology

It is already the last month of Doug’s Blogging Archaeology Carnival and although I have not been able to join in every month’s instalment, it has been great to see such a large part of the international archaeological blogging community come together and take part. However, it has been mostly bloggers from the English speaking world. And that is something I am a bit surprised about and I would really like to see changed. It would be fantastic to see more archaeologists from non-English speaking countries to start their own blogs and become more active on social media. So I would like to take the opportunity that Doug gave us by asking us where we are going with archaeological blogging or where we would like it to go and take stock of the archaeological social media and blogging situation in the country where I live and work: Switzerland.

Now, I am not sure I have not missed anything here or there, but as far I am aware there are at the moment, beside this blog, only two archaeological research blogs being actively maintained in Switzerland: kAltes Eis, the newest, and Silvretta Historica, which I helped set up in 2011. The Alpine Archaeology blog was part of a course I taught at the University of Zürich in 2011 and 2013. A facebookpage which resulted from that is still maintained by a few colleagues and me. The L’Arkeoblog is, as far as I know, the only other active personal partly archaeologically themed blog in Switzerland. Surprisingly, there no other personal research blogs by research students or other archaeologists that I know of, although I have noticed some MA-students and a few other archaeologists have started posting photos and other information about their research on facebook (e.g. MA dissertation). And the Universität Bern has a facebookpage for their training excavation in Buchs-Chammeren, canton Lucerne.

Quite some private archaeological and heritage firms and museums are present on social media, but most of their content is not research related and are limited to exhibition or event related items. To my amazement no Swiss archaeological university department or cantonal archaeological unit (who do most archaeological field and post-ex work) are present on social media, let alone maintain blogs. Especially the units are very active in public archaeology, but rely solely on the more traditional channels: the print media, TV and radio, as well as open days and guided tours. However, I have to say, when I worked for the Archaeological Service of the Canton of Berne, I was allowed to blog about my work with them here (see the posts here).

The reason for their absence on social media is, I believe, threefold: personal, resource related and the restrictive communication policies of the cantonal governments. To start with the personal, I have the impression that many Swiss archaeologists wrongly (!) do not consider themselves to be tech-savvy enough for using social media. Even the students I taught in two e-learning courses in the past 3 years had very little affinity with technology and social media, except for perhaps being on facebook. Most cantonal archaeological services, even in Switzerland, have limited resources and are struggling to do their core business and thus is an expansion of an, admittedly well-functioning, public archaeology strategy not a priority. Thirdly, the communication policies of the Cantons tends to be very restrictive and very much controlled by their communication departments. Hardly a written word leaves the offices without it having passed their scrutinising eyes. I even wonder if they would allow a blog or social media presence that is not maintained by them instead of the archaeologists themselves. But have a look at all the blogs that take part in this blogging carnival, people. There are so many things you can do with a blog and so many forms, aims, voices and audiences are to be had! Use it!

In the countries around us there are a few blogs from German archaeologists and I know of one Austrian blog. In France there are a few and in Italy there seems to be quite an active archaeological community on social media, esp. of young archaeologists. As an example, historians in the German-speaking world are much more active when it comes to blogging.

I like the way so many museums and other heritage institutions have embraced the possibilities of social media and the web and believe these are an essential tool for them these days. However, I love the personal blogs and social media efforts of individual researchers even more and would like to see more of these from non-English speaking countries (even if they would decide to write in English, as I have done). I believe – and with this I return to my first contribution to the blogging carnival – this could be increased if employers, whether university departments or cantonal units, would start to see the value of this work and would support it.

So, if there are among you readers out there archaeologists who blog or are active on social media but I have not discovered yet, I would love to hear from you. And if you are an archaeologist, a student, academic or in a unit and you would like to join us by starting a blog, a twitter account, pinterest page or anything else, but don’t know where to start, get in touch with any of us. We’re a friendly bunch, really!

The last words here, though, should be dedicated to thanking Doug for organising this Blogging Carnival and congratulating him on the success of it!

Sickles? You’re still wondering about sickles?

This post is dedicated to all you blogging archaeologists out there going through the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of blogging. But especially to John Lowe (of whereinthehellamI fame), whose fantastic playlist helped me write this (and the part of my thesis this blog post is based on).

Imagine a settlement 14 000 years ago. Image a few round buildings. Imagine a group of people living there, a few families maybe, living by hunting gazelle and birds and gathering, amongst other plants wild legumes and wild barley (Edwards 2007; Colledge 2001). Imagine somebody going about his or her business, collecting and hunting in the vicinity of the settlement and carrying with them all they needed. Imagine this tool set, carefully held in a bag or basket, left lying near the wall of a building, a house probably. Imagine it containing a few pebbles, some with traces that show they have been used; containing a flint core from which very handy bladelets can be made; containing some more bits and pieces, a bone haft, some gazelle foot bones (phalanges) and half moon shaped flint implements, perhaps arrow- or spearheads. And a sickle.

Yes, a sickle. There are more places to find out about sickles than just the Swiss Late Neolithic. The settlement described above is a Natufian site called Wadi Hammeh 27 (Edwards 2007). It lies in the Jordan Valley. The excavators called the building Structure 1 and the finds are part of assemblage 9. It is to be expected that this assemblage of finds was once held in a bag or basket made of some organic material, which had perished by the time it was excavated. More sickle fragments and bladelets were found at Wadi Hammeh 27, as well as at other contemporary sites. Other complete or fragments of sickles have been found in Kebara cave, at El Wad, Erq el Ahmar, Oum ez-Zoueitina, Eynan (Ain Mallaha), Hayonim and Nahal Oren (Bar-Yosef 1987; Garrod, 1932). Adhesives on blades from various sites show they were hafted, as the Wadi Hammeh 27 sickle, in a straight haft or in a curved hafts (Bar-Yosef 1987). In both the experimental studies by Goodale et al (2010) and by myself straight hafts were used. Mostly, however, it is only through use wear studies that we know Natufian bladelets were used as sickles

Wadi Hammen 27.

Wadi Hammen 27. Artefact assemblage 9. From Edwards 2007, fig.2

The fact that palaeobotanical research has shown that wild legumes and wild barley were collected by the people at Wadi Hammeh 27 and used sickles makes it interesting for my use wear studies on Late Mesolithic sites in the alpine foreland of central Europe, where cerealia Type pollen is known from off-site locations, but nothing much more is known about the details of the adoption of agriculture in the region (Behre  2009; Tinner et al 2009).

Sickle haft fragments for Mugharet-El Wad. From Garrod 1932

Sickle haft fragments for Mugharet-El Wad. From Garrod 1932

There are a few fascinating aspects to be noted about the sickle itself. The haft is made of goat of sheep horn core. And in it two slots are made that are filled with two rows of 5 Helwan bladelets each. One row is made of pale brown flint (Munsell 10 YR 8/2, apparently) and on a grey flint (10YR 8/1).

I think it also fascinating that the maker or owner of the sickle thought it somehow important to make the sickle look good. In fact, it appears that more sickles of the period  were decorated. Below a sickle from Nadal Heimar, which is decorated with a zick zack pattern. In fact, Goodale et al (2010) have shown that sickles of the somewhat later PPNA sites of Dhra’, Jordan, were used for an extended period of time. Sickles were clearly important for people living through the economic and socialchanges of the end of the last Late Glacial and the early Holocene. Yes sickles!


BAR-YOSEF, O. 1987. Direct and Indirect evidence for hafting in the Epi-Palaeolithic and Neolithic of the Southern Levant. In: STORDEUR, D. (ed.) La Main et l’Outil. Manches et emmanchements préhistoriques. Table Ronde C.N.R.S. tenue à lyon du 26 au 29 novembre 1984. Lyon: Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée Jean Pouilloux.

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

COLLEDGE, S. 2001. Plant exploitation on Epipalaeolithic and early Neolithic sites in the Levant, Oxford.

Philip C. Edwards (2007). A 14 000 year-old hunter-gatherer’s toolkit Antiquity, 81 (314), 865-876

GARROD, D. A. E. 1932. A New Mesolithic Industry: The Natufian of Palestine. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 62, 257-269.

GOODALE, N., OTIS, H., ANDREFSKY, W., KUIJT, I., FINLAYSON, B. & BART, K. 2010. Sickle blade life-history and the transition to agriculture: an early Neolithic case study from Southwest Asia. Journal of Archaeological Science, 37, 1192-1201.

TINNER, W., NIELSEN, E. & LOTTER, A. F. 2007. Mesolithic agriculture in Switzerland? A critical review of the evidence. Quaternary Science Review, 26, 1416-1431.