Prehistoric alpine farming in the Bernese Oberland
The people in Switzerland were on the move in the High Alps and running alpine pastures 7,000 years ago and therefore much earlier than previously assumed. A study by the University of Bern that combines archaeological knowledge with findings from palaeoecology comes to this conclusion. Prehistoric finds from the Schnidejoch Pass played a crucial part in this.
|The ice field on the Schnidejoch Pass (2,756 metres above sea level) has melted dramatically in the last few decades. |
The picture shows the situation in 2005 [Credit: Kathrin Glauser]
Albert Hafner and Christoph Schwörer, environmental scientist and specialist in vegetation history at the Institute of Plant Sciences at University of Bern, have just provided the chain of evidence that supports this assumption in an article in the Quaternary International specialist journal. Both scientists are members of the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research at University of Bern "The combination of two approaches," explains Albert Hafner, "allowed us to collect better data and also interpret it with a new perspective. Neither archaeology nor palaeoecology would have come to these new findings on their own."
|These rings from the Early Bronze Age were made out of braided branches. They were most |
probably used by early pastoralists to fix fence posts [Credit: Badri Redha]
Sediment analysis and prehistoric finds
The two researchers support their theory on the one hand with prehistoric finds from the Schnidejoch situated above the Lenk and on the other hand by the analysis of sediment cores from Lake Iffig (Iffigensee) just a few kilometres away.
What is interesting though is that one tradition from this phase of prehistoric alpine farming in the Bernese Oberland was preserved over thousands of years: cattle farmers can be seen in a historic photo from the Thun region who are building a mobile fence using rings made out of plaited twigs – probably using the same method that their Valais ancestors applied around 5,000 BC. "This is obviously an extremely simple and convenient technique that could last long in traditional communities ," says Albert Hafner.
|Lake Iffig (Iffigensee) above Lenk in the Bernese Oberland. The analysis of sediment cores allowed|
for the local vegetation history to be reconstructed [Credit: Christoph Schwörer]
For example, nettles, among others, can be evidenced for the time after 5,000 BC. These nutrient-loving plants frequently appear in places where cattle were fenced in overnight. Spores from the Sporormiella, a fungus that thrives extremely well on cattle dung was also found in the sediment core.
When the glaciers advanced again during a colder climatic phase just under a thousand years after the oldest Schnidejoch finds, the route over the pass became impassable again. There is also no indication of the Valais shepherds and their sheep in the lake sediments from Lake Iffig during this time.
Source: University of Bern [April 06, 2017]