Living on the Lake in Prehistoric Europe: 150 Years of Lake-Dwelling Research

Living on the Lake in Prehistoric Europe: 150 Years of Lake-Dwelling Research

Living on the Lake in Prehistoric Europe: 150 Years of Lake-Dwelling Research

Living on the Lake in Prehistoric Europe: 150 Years of Lake-Dwelling Research

Synopsis

The chance discovery in 1854 of a prehistoric lake village on Lake Zurich triggered what we now call the 'lake-dwelling phenomenon'. One hundred and fifty years of research and animated academic disputes have transformed the phenomenon into one of the most reliable sources of information in wetland archaeology.This definitive volume provides an overview of the development of lake village studies, explores the impact of a range of scientific techniques on the settlements and considers how the public can relate to this evocative and exciting branch of archaeology. It explains how the multidisciplinary research context has significantly improved our knowledge of prehistoric wetland communities, from an environmental as well as a cultural perspective.

Excerpt

How often it is that discoveries which change the course of a discipline come about as the result of chance. An unusually dry summer and the power of the mountain ice to trap what water there was meant that the communities living around Lake Zurich looked out on a much reduced lake level in the winter of 1853-4 - a phenomenon which the citizens of Ober-Meilen turned to good advantage by reclaiming areas of lake shore to create extensions to their vineyards. in digging out mud, used to raise the level of their new plots, timber piles were exposed among which the workers found a range of artefacts and bones. This, in itself, was not an unusual occurrence: similar finds had been made from time to time over the previous 30 years or so, but this time there was an inquisitive village schoolmaster on hand, Mr Aeppli, who reported the find to the local naturalist, Dr Ferdinand Keller President of the Antiquarian Association of Zurich. That meeting in the icy January of 1854 was to set in motion an enthusiasm for the study of 'pile villages' that swept through Europe in the late nineteenth century catching up in its wake not only antiquarians and scientists but also collectors and the general public.

The avid search for lake villages and the public engagement which accompanied it is easy to understand. Quite simply, with so much of the timberwork preserved, the sites were evocative. They were also rich in a great variety of artefacts including a wide range of organic goods of the kind seldom seen before. Given so much, the imagination could easily conjure up the people, and artists could offer to an eager public reconstructions of idyllic prehistoric lifestyles. For many people the Swiss lake villages made archaeology live for the first time - they could almost touch their ancestors whose lifestyles had been surprisingly similar to their own.

Keller's efforts to discover and excavate lakeside villages were tireless and his regular, detailed and beautifully illustrated reports soon made his discoveries widely known, not least through their English translations edited by J.E. Lee and published in 1866 as the Lake Dwellings of Switzerland and other parts of Europe. Such was the popularity of this work that a 'greatly enlarged' second edition appeared 12 years later. No doubt many of the purchasers were the travelling elite who flocked to Switzerland every year.

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