The Deposition of Bronzes at Swiss Lakeshore Settlements: New Investigations
Fischer, Viktoria, Antiquity
Since 1854, prehistoric pile dwellings in Switzerland have generated very rich collections of artefacts, currently distributed in various Swiss and European museums (Van Muyden & Colomb 1896). Thousands of bronze objects have been found on the lakeshores within the perimeter of settlements of pile dwellings, challenging the earliest archaeologists and subsequently giving rise to a number of different interpretations (Rychner 1979). The bronze artefacts are seen as a direct testimony of the society that produced and used them, indicating not only an economic value as recyclable metal, but a social value, defining the role of the individual and the community by representing their activities and beliefs (Bradley 1990; Gauthier 2005).
The research reported here aimed to discover the role played by the lake-side villages and the rationale behind the deposition of the bronze objects. To this end, it addressed the questions of whether the objects chosen were specially selected, whether they were deliberately immersed and whether they had been laid out in patterns. The results could then be compared with assemblages from other types of archaeological sites, such as dryland deposits and river finds. The research was based on the study of a representative sample of more than 17 000 bronze objects, consisting of ten archaeological collections coming from the pile dwellings of western Switzerland.
These collections were recovered from sites on the shores of Lake Geneva and the three adjacent lakes of Lake Neuchatel, Lake Biel and Lake Murten (Les Trois-Lacs, henceforth Three-Lakes: Figure 1). The recent resumption of archaeological excavations on the shores of Lake Neuchatel (western Switzerland) in the second half of the twentieth century has revived interest in the older collections, in spite of the poverty of their contextual data (Arnold 1986; Rychner 1987; Rychner-Faraggi 1993). Three of the collections are assemblages retrieved from these recent excavations: Auvernier/Nord, Cortaillod/Est and Hauterive/Champreveyres, which in turn have provided a framework for the study of the older ones, gathered during the nineteenth century. These include Auvernier, Chenssur-Leman/Tougues (Upper Savoy, France), Geneva/Eaux-Vives, Grandson/Corcelettes-Les Violes, Morigen/Bronzestation, Morges/Grande-Cite and Muntelier/Steinberg (Figure 2). The results from the recent excavations, where the bronzes were recorded accurately in situ, have given an indication of how metalwork might have originally been distributed on the sites from which artefacts were collected in the earlier, less programmed operations.
All the settlements studied here can be dated to the end of the Late Bronze Age or Hallstatt B phase according to the Central European chronology, spanning from the second half of the eleventh to the ninth century BC. Dendrochronological dating on the timbers of recently excavated settlements allowed the identification of accurate periods of occupation, while the metal assemblages could only be dated by typology (Figure 3). A few hundred objects were identified as originating earlier than the Hallstatt B settlements, i.e. the Early, Middle and beginning of the Late Bronze Age. The old collection from Morigen/Bronzestation appears as an outlier, dating to a short period in the late HaB3 phase according to typology.
The artefacts were classified by provenance, form, date, weight and the quantities in each collection. Assemblages recorded in situ were compared with those recovered from wetland and dryland deposits away from the lakeshore. The overall practices on Lake Geneva were contrasted with those from the Three-Lakes area. Thus the context and character of the lakeshore Late Bronze Age assemblages could be compared with material deposited on other types of site and in the preceding periods.
The study endorsed the proposition that the deposition of bronzes was deliberate, selective and meaningful. …