Natural Disasters and Cultural Change

By Robin Torrence; John Grattan | Go to book overview

13

Climatic change, flooding and occupational hiatus in the lake-dwelling central European Bronze Age

FRANCESCO MENOTTI


INTRODUCTION

Although lacustrine settlements began to appear in the Alpine region towards the end of the fifth millennium BC, and lasted until the beginning of the Iron Age (seventh century BC), the lake-dwelling phenomenon is not regarded as continuous. One of the most intriguing gaps in the occupation of lake settlements occurred in the northern Alpine region during the Middle Bronze Age (MBA), which lasted from the fifteenth to the twelfth century BC, and has prompted research to determine whether this was caused by cultural or natural phenomena.

Lack of archaeological evidence around all the MBA lacustrine environments north of the Alps argues for an evident cultural change within the lake-dwelling communities. Lake villages disappeared from the MBA lake shores, and settlements started to appear inland in drier locations. After an initial controversy between scholars in the 1970s, who argued for the cultural cause and those in favour of the natural event explanation (climatic change), the results of various multidisciplinary studies led to the hypothesis that the changes were caused by a natural disaster. It is now certain that the climate in the northern Alpine region changed drastically towards the end of the sixteenth century BC, altered the hydrological balance of most of the lakes, and caused their level to rise and transgress on to surrounding shorelines. As a result, a number of lake dwellings became flooded, forcing the villagers to abandon their houses in search of a drier and safer environment.

Two of the most relevant sites, which clearly show this process of abandonment, are to be found on Lake Constance. One is the Early Bronze Age (EBA) site of Arbon-Bleiche 2 situated on the southern shore of the lake (in Switzerland), and the second is the EBA village of Bodman-Schachen 1, which lies on the northwestern edge of Lake Constance (in Germany) (also known in German as Lake Überlinger) (Fig. 13.1). Not only were these two sites occupied in the same period, had a similar chronology of occupation and shared a similar environment, but, most importantly, they were also abandoned in the same time span and apparently for the same reason. In fact, archaeological as well as other scientific

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