On the trail of the piling boom

In the Neolithic era, famous settlements on stilts stood on the many shores of lakes in the Alps. A study now provides clues as to where construction spread in the area. According to this, an ancient settlement on a small island in Lake Varese in northern Italy would have formed an important core: 7,000-year-old crop remains indicate connections to the oldest Swiss settlements that lived in a mound located in the northern part of the island. Alpine region.

Stack dwellings became especially popular with the reconstruction in the Open Air Museum in Unteruhldingen on Lake Constance. However, at first, there were finds on Lake Zurich in the middle of the 19th century – then traces of settlements with an amazing building style were discovered in many places in the Alps. According to dating, people lived in such settlements from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age. Examples are also known from other regions of Europe – but no other region has as much to offer as the Alps: 111 concrete dwelling sites from the six Alpine countries of Switzerland, Austria, Germany, France and Slovenia are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. At some sites, relics have been preserved that provide interesting insights into the living environment of prehistoric people. However, there are still some unanswered questions – including how the piling boom began in the Alpine region.

Also view the island of northern Italy

The focus of the current study was now Lake Varese, which is located near Lake Maggiore in northern Italy. It is known from previous finds that there was a mound settlement on the island of “Isola Virginia”, which is only 9,200 square meters, in the Neolithic period. Researchers led by Ferran Antolin of the University of Basel have now dedicated themselves to further investigation of this archaeological site. The team took sediment core samples from a prehistoric settlement area and used the radiocarbon method to date the remains of cultivated plants and analyze their characteristics.

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Their findings showed that the history of settlement on the small island included several stages and that the oldest dates back to about 7,000 years. It was therefore present earlier than other ancient evidence of piling in the Alpine region: the earliest known settlements in Switzerland date back to around 4300 BC. Then archaeological investigations of plant material about 7,000 years old from the first settlement stage provided more intriguing information: researchers identified naked wheat, barley, opium poppy, and flax.

There is an effect in the results

The special thing about it is that these crops were not typical for the region at the time, because wheat like emmer was naturally grown there. On the other hand, the crops around Lake Varese tend to be grown in the western Mediterranean. With this in mind, the research team concluded that the settlement in Isolino Virginia may have been established by special groups that originated from or were closely related to the western Mediterranean through trade.

According to the researchers, the indication of the possible importance of settlers from Lake Varese in the spread of mound dwellings in the Alps results from earlier discoveries that came from the oldest Swiss mound dwelling settlements in Zurich and in Egolsweil in Lucerne: it seems that people also built there unusual crops, as he did Settlers from across the Alps before them. Researchers see this as an indication of a connection. Specifically, that could be around 4700 BC. BC, when an abandoned settlement of Lake Varese was found, people migrated north. They could then establish settlements there, which in turn increased the spread of construction in the area. “These groups may have played a major role in the spread of the concrete dwelling phenomenon north of the Alps,” says Antolin.

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However, as he and his colleagues emphasize, this is just a pathway that needs further follow-up. In conclusion, the scientists wrote: “Further investigation of the links between the Varese Lake settlement and other piling sites may help to confirm, refute or disprove our interpretations.”

Source: University of Basel, specialized article: Journal of Archeology: Reports, doi: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2022.103375

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