Tag Archives: Mesolithikum

The “Gestures of Transition” circus is still touring: This week at the Berner Zirkel!

About two weeks ago Laure Bassin and I presented our PhD research at the Universität Zürich. And that’s not it yet. We are very excited to annouce that this Thursday, December 8th, we will be talking (in German) about the “Gestures of Transitions” project at the Berner Zirkel für Ur- und Frühgeschichte. Samichlaus will be off again by then, but it will be a bag full of Mesoltihic goodies for everyone! Artefact biographies, use wear, chaînes opératoires, all based on our research on the lithic material from Arconciel/La Souche and Lutter/St-Joseph. In short the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Switzerland from a different point of view. The Berner Zirkel talks are aimed at the general public. Do look in if you are nearby. We would live to see you there!

Donnerstag 8.12.2016 18:30  –  Universität Bern, Hörsaal 114

Steingeschichten. Das Endmesolithikum zwischen Voralpen und Jura, geschrieben von den letzten Jäger- und Sammler/innen

Mit ihrer für das schweizerische Mittelland einzigartigen Stratigraphie ermöglicht es die Fundstelle Arconciel/La Souche (Kt. Freiburg) 2000 Jahre des Mesolithikums zu erforschen. Die ebenfalls vor wenigen Jahren untersuchte Fundstelle Lutter/St. Joseph (Elsass, FR) dient dabei als Vergleich. Im Nationalfonds-Projekt «Gestures of Transitions» wird mit neuen methodologischen Ansätzen das Ende des Mesolithikums im peri-alpinen Europa untersucht. Im Zentrum stehen Artefaktbiographien und die Kombination von technischen Untersuchungen und Gebrauchsspurenanalysen.

Wie wiederspiegeln sich die tiefgreifenden sozialen und wirtschaftlichen Veränderungen am Übergang zum Neolithikum in der Herstellung und im Gebrauch der Artefakte? Und erlauben sie es die Geschichten, welche sich an den zwei Orten abspielten, zu rekonstruieren?


Experimentally cutting wild boar bone with hafted lithic tools. Photo: M. Cornelissen

The Berner Zirkel is also on Facebook with all sorts of new about archaeology in the canton of Berne and the region.

Holidays in a rock-shelter. Early Mesolithic occupation of the Berglibalm in the Bisistal (Muotathal, canton Schwyz).

Last summer part of my holidays was spend with friends in a rock-shelter in the pitoresque Bisistal in central Switzerland. A badger had dug his/her sett in the abri and, doing so, brought up a few bones and charcoal. These were discovered by Walter Imhof, a speleogist, who has discovered and surveyed many sites and caves over the past decades. A small test-trench resulted in some stratified charcoal which was dated to the ninth millenium BC. After more bones and a rock crystal flake were found, it was decided to start a small excavation, organised by Walter Imhof and Urs Leuzinger. We dug a two by two meter trench where the archaeology was most threatened to be disturbed by further digging by our friend the badger, as well as a few more test-trenches to see if there were more areas of occupation.


Abri Berglibalm, Bisistal (Muotathal, Switzerland) during excavation, August 2015.

The results were fantastic! Worked bone finds from caves dating to the Early Mesolithic had been known from caves in the region, but now we found a decent collection of lithic artefacts (total 285, incl. 10 microliths) and faunal remains in a well-stratified, charcoal rich layer (probably the replaced remains of a fire-place). This greatly improves our knowledge of the Mesolithic in the alpine regions of Central Switzerland. Also, it was a fab week with friends and colleagues and a great break from the work on the PhD. Nothing better to clear your mind then listening to yodelling (as well as, sadly, quite a bit of german schlager music of a lesser quality) and friends snorring for a week, drinking mediocre beer, stomping up a hill every morning through a field consisting entirely of cow pads, breaking your back sieving, breakfasting with amazing cheeses and excavating great archaeology!

Mostly due to the fantastic engagement of Urs Leuzinger and the rest of the team, the site has already been comprehensively published in the Annuaire d’Archéologie Suisse (Leuzinger et al, 2016). It includes lithic analysis, ltihic raw-material provencing, charcoal-, palaeobotanical- and faunal analyses. It’s well worth a look!

Die Fundstelle Berglibalm befindet sich in der Gemeinde Muotathal im Bisistal auf 1140 m ü.M. In der 4 m2 grossen Grabungsfläche von 2015 konnte eine frühmesolithische Schicht aus der Zeit um 8100 v.Chr. dokumentiert werden. Die vorhandene Holzkohle belegt Hasel und Ahorn als bevorzugtes Brennmaterial. Daneben kamen viele gut erhaltene Faunenreste, wenige botanische Makroreste sowie ein lithisches Inventar mit 285 Artefakten, darunter 10 Mikrolithen, zum Vorschein. Der Abri diente als Lagerplatz für mittelsteinzeitliche Jäger, die im hinteren Bisistal Jagd auf Steinbock, Gämse, Hirsch und Wildschwein machten.

La Berglibalm est un abri sous roche mésolithique situé dans la vallée du Bisistal (commune de Muotathal), à 1140 m d’altitude. La surface fouillée en 2015, couvrant 4 m2, a livré une couche du Mésolithique ancien datée d’environ 8100 av. J.-C. On y recense des concentrations de charbons de bois – le noisetier et l’érable comme combustibles principaux. Le site a livré de nombreux restes de faune bien conservés, quelques macrorestes botaniques, ainsi qu’une industrie lithique comprenant 285 artefacts, dont 10 microlithes. L’abri servait de campement à des chasseurs mésolithiques à la quête aux bouquetins, chamois, cerfs et sangliers des régions d’altitude du haut de la vallée du Bisistal.


Full publication:

Leuzinger, U., Affolter, J., Beck, C., Benguerel, S., Cornelissen, M., Gubler, R., Haas, J. N., Hajdas, I., Imhof, W., Jagher, R., Leuzinger, C., Leuzinger, C., Leuzinger, P., Müller, W., Pümpin, C., Scandella, S., Scandella, T., Schoch, W. & Warburton, M., 2015, Der Frühmesolithische Abri Berglibalm im Bisistal, Gemeinde Muotathal (SZ), in Jahrbuch Archäologie Schweiz, Vol. 99, 7-26

Popular short text about the site:

Leuzinger, U. 2016, Dachs entdeckt Steinzeitfunde, in Archäologie in Deutschland, Nr. 1.

A short summary (EN) of the first preliminary results can also be found here:

Cornelissen, M. and Reitmaier, Th., In press, Filling the gap. Recent Mesolithic discoveries in the central and south-eastern Swiss Alps, in Quaternary International (to be published 2016; Click here for more infos / a PDF of corrected proof.

Gampelen/Rundi, Mesolithic sites on a sand dune in the Swiss `Seeland´.

View over the Rundi dune, Gampelen during the test-trenching campaign for the AD Bern. September 2015.

View over the Rundi dune, Gampelen during the test-trenching campaign for the AD Bern. September 2015.

Sand. Like the sand in a sand box. No stones, no clay nor silt, just beautiful yellow sand. My very first dig was in the southern Netherlands and the soil consisted solely of sand. And it was great! I then spend a number of years digging in sand and I guess, it became my first archaeological “home-soil”. I have since dug in many countries and even more soil types and let me tell you, digging is never faster as in sand. I am not saying there are no challenges in understanding the stratigraphy and archaeology, but it truly is very handy. So when I got a phone call if I wanted to do some test-trenching in a sandy area in Switzerland I was quite keen. When I heard it was in Gampelen, where a number of Mesolithic surface concentrations have been long known and one – Jänet 3 – has been excavated, I was sold!

Two chipped stone tools from Gampele, Jänet 3 (surface finds), found by H. Stucki. From Cornelissen, in Archäologie Bern, 2015.

Two chipped stone tools from Gampelen, Jänet 3 (surface finds), found by H. Stucki. From Cornelissen, in Archäologie Bern, 2015. Drawings: Chr. Rungger (AD Bern).

I took a few months off from the big PhD and although we did not find much archaeology in the way of finds and structures, we did find some and we were also able to firmly establish the edge of the Lac de Neuchâtel here during the Mesolithic. Besides, it was very good to be able to take some distance from the PhD-work for a short while. The surface scatters in the vicinity of our test trenches we now know were, like Jänet 3, situated near small depressions on top of Aeolian sand dunes. In these depressions might have either stood open water or moors. From the stratigraphy it is now also clear that not all finds have been ploughed up yet and some of the archaeology might still be preserved in-situ. So, in a way it turned out to be more of a landscape archaeological project than your average Meso-dig. Since then dendro-archaeologist Matthias Bollinger and the WSL have also established that much of the sand of the Rundi dune must have been deposited in the 10th Millennium BC. Moreover, the wood samples we took during the test-trenching will help to extend the dendrochronological curve of the area a bit further towards the Late Glacial period. And all of that from that lovely sand in the Seeland!

Cover Archäologie Bern 2015

We even made it on the cover of “Archäologie Bern 2015”!

It was photographer Heini Stucki who originally discovered these sites and he has been field walking here the past 30 odd years. The full test-trenching report has now been published and also includes the surface finds from the past decade. A short summery of the results was also published as a “Fundbericht” in the Annuaire d’Archaéologie Suisse 98, 2015.

And when you’re finished looking up the Gampelen report, do have a look at Heini Stucki’s website and his beautiful photos as well!

(With many thanks to the mighty Rolf W.!)


Cornelissen, M., 2015, Gampelen, Rundi und Jänet. Eine mesolithische Dünenlandschaft am Neuenburgersee. In Archäologie Bern / Archéologie bernoise. Jahrbuch des Archäologischen Dienstes des Kantons Bern 2015 / Annuaire du Service archéologique du canton de Berne 2015. Bern, Arch. Dienst Kanton Bern. Pp. 64-67. ISBN 978-3-907663-48-6.    (Zu beziehen in Buchhandlungen oder bei Verlag RubMedia, Tel. 031 380 14 80.)

Cornelissen, M., 2015, Gampelen BE, Rundi. Annuaire d’Archéologie Suisse 98.  Pp. 176-7.

Nielsen, E., 1991, Gampelen – Jänet 3. Eine mesolithische siedlungsstelle im westlichen Seeland. Bern, Staatlicher Lehrmittelverlag.

Visualising lithic use wear traces – photo stacking

It is not always immediately apparent to non-specialists what we – use wear analysts – do and see and how we can be certain of our observations. This is partially due to the imagery many use wear analysts produce. In a recent paper A. van Gijn (2013) reflects on the current state of the field of lithic microwear or use-wear analysis and points out a number of aspects of our work in which improvements are possible or even necessary. These, in my opinion rightly, include an increase in sample sizes (e.g. by scanning tools with a stereomicroscope before moving on to higher magnifications); more incorporation of ethnographic data; a standardisation of practise and nomenclature; embedding the use wear traces in the cultural biographies of artefacts and providing better quality imagery.

The basal end of a Mesolithic scraper from Arconciel/La Souche, Switzerland (quartzit au grain fin/Ölquarzit). Left a normal photo. Right a composite photo of the same part of the artefact. Taken with a Keyence Digital Microscope.

The basal end of a Mesolithic scraper from Arconciel/La Souche, Switzerland (quartzit au grain fin/Ölquarzit). Left a normal photo. Right a composite photo of the same part of the artefact. Taken with a Keyence Digital Microscope.

The last point can be achieved by photo-stacking through the use of specialist software or microscopes, such as the digital microscope I use, which are able to make composite photos. The image above shows what photo stacking or composite photos allows you to do.

One major drawback of the microwear approach is the lack of convincing visual evidence. The pictures generally shown at meetings are fuzzy and lack depth of field. Usually only a small part of the photograph is sharp, namely the spot of polish we want to address. Although insiders may usually see and recognize what is being discussed, it is little wonder that the general audience has no idea what it has to look at and remains rather skeptical. There is much to gain from improving the visualization of the microwear traces. – A. L. van Gijn (2013 – p. 3)

Typically, it is difficult to make microscopic photos of larger parts of artefacts that are in focus. Photo stacking, however, allows exactly this: an increased depth of field with much larger parts of the artefact shown in focus. This way not only the traces, but also their contexts can be visualised. I find this technique does not work very well in all situations or for all raw-materials or for all traces. Nonetheless, it makes our work more effective and it will surely allow us to communicate our methodology and findings much better not only to fellow specialists, but also to non-use wear specialist archaeologists and the general public.


Gijn, van A. (2013). Science and interpretation in microwear studies, Journal of Archaeological Science, DOI:

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.

Barley and hops

What are you going to do with it? Will you brew beer? Can you make bread with that? Friends and colleagues are quite fascinated with the barley I harvested in the garden a few days ago and with what to do with it. In fact, I do not really know what to do with it myself. It is a big bucket full of ears, a kilo or two, perhaps a bit more, but I have not weighed it yet.

I kept the experimental harvesting simple, while trying not to do anything Late Mesolithic people might not have done. I hafted two blades with birch tar in a simple, straight wooden haft. The blade’s morphology is comparable to some of the blades found at Late Mesolithic sites in Switzerland. I used retouched as well as unretouched blades. The unretouched blades were definitely sharper, but both worked very well and the harvesting was quite fast. Of course, we don’t know whether Late Mesolithic people in Central Europe grew and harvested cereals. The debate about this has come to a standstill and probably will only advance with more data. It is also possible they harvested other sicileous plant material, such as grasses and reeds, for thatching or matting, for example.

Experimental harvesting of barley (Hordeum vulgare) with hatfed radiolarite and `Ölquarzite´ blades.

Experimental harvesting of barley (Hordeum vulgare, imperial) with hatfed radiolarite and `Ölquarzite´ blades (Late Mesolithic type). August 2013.

The harvested barley needs to dry now and will need threshing, then we will see what to do with it. Surprisingly, though, the hop plant that has been quitely, and prettily, growing in our garden for 4 or 5 years now is actually flowering for the first time. Saint Arnold or Gambrinus or however must be sending me a message: “Dash that PhD! What are you, a fine young fellow, doing playing with old rocks, when the ingredients for a fine alcoholic beverage are growing right there in your own garden?” So, I’ll consider it while commuting to Fribourg for another microscope session.

Hops, growing and, for the first time, flowering in my garden.

Hops, growing and, for the first time, flowering in my garden.

Reader of Traces – archaeology is documentation

Leading excavations, especially on rescue excavations with a good amount of financial and time pressure, you become part of a machine that has an incredible energy. You are dealing with builders, people from the local authorities, specialists like archaeobotanists, as well as with your own team of diggers, drawers, photographers and the back office. A relentless, exhausting, but also very energising rhythmical sequence of digging, discovery and documentation drives you and becomes an integral part of the process of understanding and interpretation.

However, for the first time in 16 years, I think, I am not digging at all this summer. I am doing experiments for my PhD research . The animation in this post calls use wear analysts `Spurenleser´/`Tracéologue´, or Reader of Traces. The film also shows that experimental use of replica tools is part of many use wear studies.

Photo of an experimentally produced blade (radiolarite), made to act as a reminder to myself of the way it looked before I used it.

Photo of an experimentally produced retouched blade (radiolarite), made to act as a reminder to myself of the way it looked before I used it.

My experiments are specifically aimed at reproducing microscopic use wear traces on replica tools. These then become a reference collection for the actual use wear analysis of Late Mesolithic tools. I am finding the experiments quite time intensive, not so much the experiments themselves, but all the documentation that is part of the process. The experiments are documented in forms, photos, notes and descriptions and even film. Some of this documentation is part of the research process, at other times it is for future publication and some of it is just to remind myself later of exactly what I did and how, as is the case with the photo above. I seem to have underestimated these many steps of documentation somewhat, but routine is kicking in now and it is time I show my loyal readers a few photos of the experiments and its documentation.

An experimentally made scraper being used on hazel wood.

An experimentally made scraper being used to work hazel wood.

Whether in the field or in the lab: archaeology is documentation! But not next week. Archaeologists too need a vacation sometimes!

Microscopic photo of an experimentally produced scraper. 30x; made with a Keyence digital Microscope.

Microscopic (30x) photo of an experimentally produced and used scraper. Made with a Keyence digital Microscope.