Mobilities, entanglements and transformations in Neolithic societies on the Swiss Plateau (3900-3500 BC)

A large number of later Neolithic sites (3900 – 3500BC) in Switzerland and Southern Germany offer precisely dated material from cultural layers. The wide use of dendrochronology allows placing settlement remains and artifact assemblages into a precise and fixed chronological frame that is unique in prehistoric archaeology. The same period is characterised by fundamental cultural transformations. We argue that the former notions of culturally homogenous entities (Neolithic cultures) linked with ethnic identity should be critically revised and shifting the focus on material culture and the flows of things and ideas between local wetland sites on the Swiss plateau to more and less far places. Here we present a research plan to study Neolithic societies, their cultural entanglements, social relationships and mobility. Due to the lack of burials and written record this can only be done through the study of the material culture remains of settlements. On-site fabricated objects like pottery built with local raw materials reflect best local cultural aspects. Moreover on the basis of pottery styles and raw materials impacts coming from outside can be identified. We question whether the encounter with these new and maybe foreign ideas and things triggered changes in the local material culture. Furthermore due to the perfect dating of the Swiss–Southern German wetland sites by dendrochronology tracing back these impacts can deliver important chronological information for neighbouring regions without precise dating. The chosen mixed methods research (MMR)-project would be the first attempt in Switzerland in this direction.

Its specific aims are:
Building up a theoretical approach based on Pierre Bourdieu’s reflexive sociology and further concepts from material culture studies to address entanglements, mobilities and transformations through selected significant artefacts (pottery and stone tools).
Developing a methodology, which mixes qualitative and quantitative methods from archaeology (humanities), and archaeometry (science) and combines them with multivariate statistics.
Analysing pottery and stone tools from selected key sites of Western and North-Eastern Switzerland using the elaborated methodology to identify different phenomena of mobilities, social relationships and cultural entanglements as well as triggered cultural appropriations and transformations or rejections
Involving other artefact categories (e.g. flint stone, copper artifacts, deer antler artifacts, archaeozoology) to crosscheck findings about the entanglements and to discuss the results in the research group.
The precise chronology and outstanding archaeological conservation of wetland sites on the Swiss Plateau and the chosen MMR-procedure enables us to concentrate on fundamental questions in actual Neolithic research: how can we explore mobilities and entanglements between Neolithic groups and approach cultural transformations? We approach these phenomena by multi-sited archaeology and the interconnection of scholars from European Universities and Cultural Heritage Departments.


Prof. Dr. Albert Hafner (University of Bern)
Prof. Dr. Vincent Serneels (University of Fribourg)

Project members: 

Caroline Heitz (Region Zürich- und Bodensee)
Regine Stapfer (Region Zentral- und Westschweiz)
Jehanne Affolter (Geologie)
Lea Emmenegger (Archäometrie)
Martin Hinz (Statistik, Datenbank)




Swiss National Science Fund, Project No 100011_156205