Tag Archives: Schweiz

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.


Skiarchaeology II – Oberhasli, Mägisalp

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.

Oberhasli - Mägisalp, Switzerland. A relatively archaeologically well-studied "Alp", probably dating back to Medieval or Early post-medieval times.

Oberhasli – Mägisalp, Switzerland. A relatively archaeologically well-studied “Alp”, probably dating back to Medieval or Early post-medieval times.

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


Skiarchaeology I – Schnidejoch

Although one is not always aware of it, even when on skis or snowboard you are often surrounded by interesting historical or archaeological places. Some of the archaeological finds from the ice-patch on the Schnidejoch (on the border between the cantons of Berne and Valais), for example, are the oldest ice finds from the Alps. Fragments of a wooden bowl, goatskin trouser legs and a birchbark arrow quiver date back between 6500 and 4000 years. Although there are finds from later periods, most date to the Neolithic and Bronze Age. But there is one question that remains: “Where are the Mesolithic ice finds from the Alps?”


On horizon in the center is the Schnidehorn, with to the left the Schnidejoch. Photo Jan. 2016 from near Bella-Lui, Crans-Montana.

More ski archaeology on twitter: #skiarchaeology and Schnidejoch publication: here.

Hafting microliths II – North and south of the Alps

Some things change, some things stay the same. The latter is true for archaeologists as well. And so, for us microliths are still the superstars of the Mesolithic; the fascination they hold as arrowheads of the intrepid Mesolithic hunter, and their use to archaeologists as a finds group that can help them (relatively) date sites or occupational phases of sites. Archaeologists do this by comparing their form and how they are made with those found on sites with known absolute dates, often obtained through radiocarbon dating. Some time ago, it became apparent to me that I knew only of very few microliths from the Alps with evidence of how they were used. They are typically seen as arrowheads, but is that really true? Don’t you agree they, for example, also resemble the blades of Stanley/Japanese/utility knives?

Since then, I have learned about of a group of microliths from the Gaban rock-shelter in the Adige valley, northern Italy. And I have been able to study the microliths from Arconciel/La Souche, Switzerland as well. The artefacts from both sites tell us a lot about how these enigmatic microliths were used all those thousands of years ago. The tools from the Gaban rock-shelter were already studied some years ago by E. Cristiani and colleagues (2009) using two main methods, both involving microscopy. First, they were able to use macroscopic and microscopic traces of wear caused by the tools’ use to determine that the majority of the microliths at Gaban, these are so called trapezes, were used as projectile points. Secondly, the researchers recognised residues on them and they interpreted these as elements of the mastics used to fix the flint tools in the arrow shafts. Two kinds of residues were recognised. A brown residue turned out to be a mixture of bitumen, probably birch tar, and beeswax. The other, red residue turned out to be ochre. The location of theses residues on the tools seems to show how the tools are fixed into the arrow shafts (Cristiani et al, 2009).


Residue distribution and reconstructions of the use of the trapezes. A) Trapeze position as an element of a composite arrowhead. B) Use of the trapeze on a single distal point. From Cristiani et al., 2009 Fig. 8 and 10.

The work on the microliths from Arconciel/La Souche is not yet completely finished, but it is already clear that both strands of evidence for the use of the artefacts from the Riparo Gaban are also present at microliths from Arconciel. Arconciel/La Souche lies at the foot of the Prealps, north of the Alps. Not exactly near the Dolomites. Their date is similar, though, and we know similar looking microliths were produced in much of Europe during the end of the Mesolithic. It is thus interesting to compare the findings of the research into the use of the microliths from Gaban and Arconciel. And indeed a number, but not all of the microliths from Arconciel/la Souche have been used as arrowheads as well, but apparently not in exactly the same way as the arrowheads from Gaban in Northern Italy. The way they were fixed in arrow shafts also differs.

But many questions about the exact use and function of this type of tools are still open. What did people in the Mesolithic hunt with these arrows? And how? And why do some of the microliths show they were used for other tasks, even though they seem to look exactly the same as those used as arrowheads? And why does it differ so much between sites? And if they are used differently, can we still use these tools to date sites? I guess, our growing knowledge of the role microliths played in the lives of hunter-fisher-gatherers living in central Europe eight thousand years ago will probably only increase our fascination with them!

Cristiani, E., Pedrotti, A., & Gialanella, S. (2009). Tradition and innovation between the Mesolithic and early Neolithic in the Adige Valley (northeast Italy). New data from a functional analysis of trapezes from the Gaban rock-shelter Documenta Praehistorica, 36 DOI: 10.4312/dp.36.12

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…


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.