Microscopic Views of Swiss Lake Villages

Article excerpt

Neolithic and Bronze Age lake villages have captured the public imagination since their recognition in the 19th century. Commonly thought of as `Swiss' although similar types of sites are found throughout Europe and beyond, these villages are renowned for unusually well preserved organic finds and the romantic image of being raised above water. Today it is held that both raised and ground-level dwellings existed, and that each site must be interpreted on an individual basis .

Current research analyses sedimentary sequences from three Neolithic lakeside villages on the northern rim of the European Alps using micromorphology, or the study of thin-sectioned in situ sediments from and around archaeological sites (FIGURE 1). This research is the first time sediment from lakeside villages was treated as material culture, with the specific purpose of detailing human use of the landscape through the identification of archaeological features (FIGURE 2). Features on lakeside villages are often distorted by wave action, sediment loading and/or erosional episodes.


Analysis of well-established features from lakeside villages around the regressing Federsee in Germany showed that some microscopic characteristics were common for both raised and ground-level dwellings. Also, experimental samples showed that trampling of the lake marl substrate compacted the sediment, ordered fine clastic material and sometimes produced sub-horizontal cracks.

A theoretical framework was developed in which data that would otherwise be difficult to interpret could be situated. Much of the data was described as resulting from passive accumulation, where people went about their daily lives unaware of the fact that remains were accruing on the substrate. In this scenario, people were unintentionally contributing to the sedimentary record, and the surface on which the remains were deposited is today an inferential one. This can be contrasted with active accumulation, where features were intentionally constructed, leaving a primary surface which today can be identified. …