Tag Archives: Fieldwork

impressionen 2007-2012

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!

Rückwege Blog

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Ski piste archaeology, elusive hunter-gatherers and WWI – Traversar VIII

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.

Recording probably 20th century military structures near the Passo Bornengo.

Recording probably 20th century military structures near the Passo Bornengo.

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.

Passo Bornengo. Probable military structures (20th C).

Passo Bornengo. Probable military structures; terracing & building remains (20th C).

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.

Val Maighels, near Passo Bornengo.

Val Maighels, near Passo Bornengo.

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.

Blogging Archaeology – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly at Hazelnut Relations and beyond

Blogging Archaeology
Finally, I get around to writing my second instalment for Doug’s archaeological blogging carnival and the first post of 2014. Happy New Year everyone! The december question he asked us was about the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of archaeological blogging. My blogging experience has been predominately good. I have enjoyed writing here so far, I believe blogging has helped me improve my writing skills and it has led me to ‘get to know’ many other archaeological bloggers and it is a joy to read about their work and their interests and (archaeological) lives.
However, some of the best experiences I have had through having started this blog, is my involvement with two other blogs. In 2010/2011 and 2013 I have taught an e-learning course on the techniques and methodology of alpine archaeology at my department at the Universität Zürich. The Alpine Archaeology Blog has been an integral part of this course and was quite a success. Not only in terms of readers, but esp. in 2010/2011 when the course and blog were part of an alpine themed semester, it engaged staff and students beyond the course. I believe it also enriched the studying experience and the students wrote some very good articles as part of the course. For me, as tutor, it was equally enriching and I think a blog can, under the right circumstances and as part of the right course, be an interesting addition to regular teaching methods.

Summer 2010 & 2011 I was part of the field equipe of the Rückwege Project in the Swiss-Austrian Alps. In 2011 we decided to try blogging from the field (go and have a look, there are some great articles and photos, but do go all the way back to the beginning for the posts from the field!) This was not always easy, as we often camped for days on end in the high Alps at 2400 masl, far beyond any internet or mobile phone reception. Still, it worked! The blog was set up by project leader Th. Reitmaier and me, but we encouraged the students and other team members to contribute. We even managed to convince some of the specialists who visited us in the field for a few days to write for the blog. Many people in various countries learned about the ongoing fieldwork and our objectives and the many aspects of a modern, multi-disciplinary archaeological research project through the blog. We were, largely because of the blog, able to reach even more people, by attracting quite a lot of attention from regional, national and even international media.

Alltag auf der Grabung “Eisenzeitliche Hütte” im Fimbatal. From the Rückwege Blog (01.09.2011)

Alltag auf der Grabung “Eisenzeitliche Hütte” im Fimbatal. From the Rückwege Blog (01.09.2011)

Fieldwork is a very good theme for a blog, it seems. My own research is – and this brings us to the Bad of archaeological blogging – in my experience, well, I am not so sure yet if it is. The initial idea behind this blog was to write mainly about my PhD research, but so far this might have proven to be the most difficult to write about. It seems all these other things you do, the little side projects, the fieldwork that are easy to write about. Maybe it is also, because for so long I have been predominantly a field archaeologists and I feel so at home there. In any case, it is a challenge I hope to address this year as my research reaches another stage and I should be able go get more specific results from the lab. So, considering this a challenge, even this is not that bad.

Now onto the Ugly: Other than repeating what I mentioned in the answer to the first blogging carnival question (that it would be appreciated if there would be some sort of support from my department, faculty or university for blogging and science communication in generall) I am lucky to have very little ugly to say about blogging archaeology so far. So, what have you got in store for us for January, Doug?

Traversar III – a photographic record

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!

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Traversar II – a first glimps

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Looking down on the northern side of the San Bernardino pass

We have had a very good week in the field so far. Weather, food and company have been great. The archaeology has not been bad either. As soon as I have internet again, there will be more news!

Traversar – Surveying the passes of Graubünden

Outtake from the IVS-GIS. © http://map.geo.admin.ch

Outtake from the IVS-GIS. © http://map.geo.admin.ch

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!