Beyond lake villages: Studying Neolithic environmental changes and human impact at small lakes in Switzerland, Germany and Austria.

The prehistoric lake village sites of Switzerland, Germany and Austria have been known for more than 150 years. Over one hundred of them were accorded UNESCO World Cultural Heritage status in 2011.

Mainly dating to the Neolithic (including Copper Age) and Bronze Age, the zone of lacustrine settlement represents an early phase of sedentarization in the northern foothills of the Alps. Despite much significant research on material culture, settlement dynamics, economy and ecology, the focus has hitherto been almost exclusively on the classic sites situated on the larger pre-Alpine lakes. Our proposal focusses on small shallow lakes and their immediate setting, in order to obtain new high-resolution data on natural environment and human impact at a landscape level. Recent palaeoecological investigation suggests that small shallow lakes preserve undisturbed laminated annual sediments with potential for generating ultra-high-resolution diachronic data on vegetation, palaeoclimate   and human impact. Three micro regions containing suitable small lakes set within complex archaeological landscapes that themselves are currently understood at varying levels of resolution, provide the foci for the interlinked interdisciplinary research programmes proposed by the project partners. The overall aim is to integrate micro-regional, regional, and macro- regional studies so as to gain a better understanding of large-scale processes of adaptation and anthropogenic impact over time.

The main goals of the project are:

Significantly enhance the archaeological database of Holocene human activity in three research areas: Swiss Plateau (Burgäschisee), German Allgäu (Degersee/Schleinsee) and Austrian Salzkammergut (Mönichsee/Krottensee).

To analyse precisely chronologically resolved sedimentary records (e.g. pollen, spores, macrofossils) in annually laminated sediments and cross correlate them with occupation periods as dated by dendrochronology and AMS-radiocarbon chronology during periods of significant palaeoclimatic oscillations.

To expand research into the ‘hinterland’ of large pre-alpine lakes to examine an extended range of human land-use activities using a combination of archaeological and palaeoecological methods so as to identify and understand the nature of agricultural systems, fire management regimes, wildfires, and woodland cycles.

To gauge population mobility and establish patterns demographic change.

To identify agents of economic and cultural processes in relation to physical-geographical conditions and human economic adaptions at a time of significant climatic/environmental change.

Modelling possible scenarios across three similar cultural and natural environments in the northern pre-alpine zone as facilitated by a shared development of archaeological and palaeoecological methodologies between the partner institutions.

Through the integration of wetland archaeology and palaeoecology, we expect to generate new data and models relevant to understanding the variability of human impact on landscapes, especially the environmental interactions of Neolithic societies, with relevance to the entire peri-Alpine region.


Prof. Dr. Albert Hafner (University of Bern) 
Prof. Dr. Willy Tinner (University of Bern IPS)
Dr. Helmut Schlichtherle (Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Stuttgart)
Prof. Dr. Tim Taylor (University of Vienna)

Project members (Switzerland): 

Dr. Othmar Wey (IAW)
Fabian Rey MA (IPS)
M. Sc. Julian Laabs (IAW)




Swiss National Science Foundation, Interdisciplinary Project No CR20I1L_152862