Prehistoric pile dwellings around the Alps

Archaeological excavation at Muntelier, Baie de Montilier (Canton Fribourg, Switzerland) © Service archéologique de l’Etat de Fribourg; Fribourg, Suisse
Archaeological excavation at Muntelier, Baie de Montilier (Canton Fribourg, Switzerland)
© Service archéologique de l’Etat de Fribourg; Fribourg, Suisse

This group of sites comprises 111 of 937 known sites, situated below water, on the banks of lakes and rivers or in areas of marshland, and distributed across six countries in the Alpine and sub-Alpine regions of Europe, where prehistoric remains of pile-dwelling settlements survive from the period between around 5000 BC and 500 BC.

The extremely favourable conditions for the preservation of organic materials in these waterlogged sites, together with intensive investigation and analysis carried out over recent decades by underwater archaeologists in specialist areas of research such as aquatic botany and aquatic zoology, have contributed to a comprehensive knowledge of Europe's earliest agrarian communities. Information about farming, animal husbandry and the development of metalworking over a time span of more than four thousand years has brought into sharper focus our picture of one of the most important epochs of relatively recent human history: the emergence of modern societies. Thanks to the ability to date the structural elements of wooden buildings precisely by means of dendrochronology, these sites have yielded source material from which the building plans of entire prehistoric villages, detailed information about building techniques, and the geographical area covered by the villages over very long periods can be deduced. The sites also provide information about trade routes for flint, sea shells, gold, amber and pottery and about means of transport, such as dugout canoes and wooden wheels. Some wheels have been preserved in their entirety, complete with axles for two-wheeled carts. These date from the period around 3400 BC. Finally, the oldest preserved European textiles from the period around 3000 BC have also been found. All these remains have provided detailed information about the housing and living conditions of around 30 different cultures in the Alpine wetlands.

The physical remains are well preserved and documented. The archaeological strata of the sites, whether in the ground or under water, have remained undisturbed, and their substance is authentic, no later or modern additions having been made to their material or structure. For organic remains, their state of preservation is astonishing, and this makes it easier to draw conclusions about the purpose and function of the sites. A long history of research cooperation and coordination is another reason why knowledge and documentation of the sites is particularly well-developed.

Each pile-dwelling site in the group is under the legal protection of its individual member country. All the relevant official bodies and levels of government of each country are integrated within the project management, including those of the local communities. The national systems are coordinated by an international committee and a shared action plan translates common visions and goals into international, national and regional/local projects.

Last modification 09.01.2014

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