Lives (Archaeology of People) Part 2

Shorthouse settings

The wealth of evidence from the settlements of the Alpine foreland has been known since the mid-nineteenth century. Here there is no problem, as with the LBK, with non-existent house floors or occupation surfaces, though little survives absolutely intact or undamaged by various post-depositional processes. The wealth of timbers has allowed the development of detailed dendrochronologies, and sophisticated analyses of plant and animal remains have been noted in earlier topics. Curiously, however, and almost in inverse proportion to the quantities of good data, the region does not figure large in broader discussions about the beginning of the Neolithic in its wider central and western European context, and certainly not so far in debates about identity and agency. In this section I want to explore some of the possibilities not only for a rich archaeology of daily routine but also for another set of beginnings, orientations and identities. While the term ‘longhouse’ is ubiquitous, its foil ‘shorthouse’ is rarely used. It is as though the evidence of this area, because of its preservation and abundance, has persuaded us of its typicality and normality. The shorthouse setting should emerge, however, not only as a contrast to that of the longhouse but as distinctive in its own right.

As with the LBK, but in different ways, beginnings and memory were important. Though at its geographical heart, this is the neglected Mesolithic—Neolithic transition of Europe. Much general attention has rightly been given to the striking delay between the arrival in the mid-sixth millennium BC of the LBK on the fringes of the north European plain and the eventual transitions in the Erteb0lle culture which led to the rapid emergence of the south Scandinavian Neolithic at the very end of the fifth millennium BC. An almost comparable timelag in the Alpine foreland has not attracted similar comment. It seems legitimate to argue that the same sorts of process may have been at work: a strong sense of indigenous regional identity, and a satisfactory system of indigenous resource exploitation. This could have been coupled with awareness of developments on the outside and a willingness to experiment with some of them, as suggested by the apparently sixth millennium BC phase of cereal cultivation in the area of Lake Zurich and possible experimentation with sheep and goats in sites further west (Erny-Rodmann et al. 1997; Chaix 1997; Gronenborn 1999). It is possible that the orientation of people in the Alpine foreland at this time was as much to the west and south as to the north.

As in south Scandinavia, there is no convincing external factor which ‘explains’ the shift to new practices towards the end of the fifth millennium BC, though no doubt some would regard climatic variations around the Alpine foreland in the same way as suggested changes in the salinity of the Baltic at this time. If indigenous communities in the Alpine foreland had in some sense resisted full adoption of new practices earlier on, despite their ready and close availability, why did they choose to adopt them now? Was this simply the point at which convergence became more complete? Was there a broader awareness of things that were going on elsewhere, such that it is no accident that so much change is concentrated in the latter part of the fifth millennium BC in western Europe as a whole? If such a link were to be sought, it might have something to do with the end of longhouse existence. The chronologies suggest a beginning for the Alpine foreland Neolithic around 4300 BC; the last Rossen longhouses probably date a little before that. A changed character of existence in the area of primary Neolithic settlement — simply less different with the demise of the longhouse — might more easily have encouraged or enabled the adoption of new practices. The scale of change may not have been here as immediately profound as often imagined. There were additions rather than replacements. To patterns of residential and logistical mobility were added more durable structures, and to patterns of plant collection and large game hunting were added small-scale cultivations and varied herdings. As we have seen in earlier topics, the subsistence patterns in the earlier centuries of the Alpine foreland Neolithic were far from fixed or stable. If there were difficulties with climatic deterioration around the thirty- seventh and thirty-sixth centuries BC, it was perhaps rather more a case of accentuating a still active tradition of use of wild resources, than a dramatic reversion to ways of doing things long abandoned. While this need not reflect the situation everywhere within the varied settings of the Alpine foreland, I find the evidence from the Wauwilermoos to be notable. Here there are both Mesolithic and Neolithic sites. Both sets tend to be arranged along short lengths of the lake- or marsh-edge. In particular, the layout of the Mesolithic site of Schotz 7 is strikingly similar to those of Egolzwil 3 and 5: both in terms of extent, and of the distribution, density and treatment of the animal remains and flint residues which are to be found in both (compare Wyss 1979, Faltplan 2 and 4 with Stampfli 1976, Faltplan 1). What really distinguishes the two situations is the presence of light timber buildings in Egolzwil 3 and 5, neither of which need have been long-lasting or indeed permanent occupations (Figure 6.2).

If there were notable links in the LBK to beginnings or to believed beginnings in the east, activated through longhouse orientations and the movement of axes and Spondylus shells, the lack of connection to the longhouse world is equally striking in the Alpine foreland. As noted earlier, it has been suggested that there is some echo of longhouse arrangements in the layout of functionally differentiated structures in east Jura lake sites (Petrequin 1989, 504), and the terraced plan of sites like Niederwil might also evoke the compartmentalised linearity of the longhouse, but mostly the layouts of sites suggest a radically different sort of orientation. The emphasis from the beginning is on juxtaposition, clustering or close parallel alignment, on lake- or marsh-edges. The evidence of Schotz 7 and Egolzwil 3 and 5 again immediately suggests local continuities and orientations. Perhaps because of a strong sense of regional identity and the lack of a sense of beginnings from the outside, there is no common, strong or long-lasting pattern in the movement of things from the outside. The axe movements detailed in an earlier topic (Petrequin 1993; Petrequin and Jeunesse 1995), for a while oriented to the north, for a while to the south, suggest other concerns: perhaps with shifting alliances conducted especially by men. Perhaps even, speculatively, there is some reflection here of differences in marriage residence rules. If the LBK system was sometimes or often patrilocal (Kolhoff 1999; Sommer 2001, 259), the converse might be true of the Alpine foreland.

This discussion, as of the LBK, has so far suggested a kind of unity across a broad area, but both the conditions of residence and the nature of the taskscape again highlight the probability of multiple identities. The overwhelming focus appears to be on quite small, close-knit social groupings. Houses are set cheek by jowl. Although normally built of stout timbers, it is doubtful whether any one structure would have afforded much privacy. There is no obvious evidence for separate or formalised sleeping arrangements; in winter at least one could envisage people sleeping close together near hearths. Patterns of deposition also suggest much more held in common than separate in terms of daily movements and consumption, as noted in earlier topics. It is simply unclear whether individual houses held discrete households, and even if they did, these appear to have been very intimately linked, in a manner not evident in the LBK.

Outline plans of the main features and finds distributions (animal bone and flint) at (top) the Mesolithic site of Schotz 7 and (below) the Neolithic site of Egoilzwil 5,Wauwilermoos, north-west Switzerland.

Figure 6.2 Outline plans of the main features and finds distributions (animal bone and flint) at (top) the Mesolithic site of Schotz 7 and (below) the Neolithic site of Egoilzwil 5,Wauwilermoos, north-west Switzerland.

People were attached to place, but again the detailed study of this, as with the LBK, has hardly begun. They were also accustomed to the finite duration of particular settlements, and group identity was regularly re-affirmed through building. In strong contrast to elsewhere, the dead are little visible in the archaeological record. There are some remains scattered in some settlements, and the occasional separate burial ground has been identified, such as Lenzburg (Wyss 1967) or a little further afield Sion-Petit Chasseur (Gallay 1990), but taking the evidence at face value, it is as though the dead themselves normally mattered little for a sense of continuity and descent. This is therefore much more reminiscent of the situation with males in the Koros culture than with the LBK (though no connection of course is implied). If this was a population whose forebears had inhabited the same land, it must have been known that occupation of lake- and marsh-edges would entail periodic floodings through fluctuations in water levels, and even an incoming population would have recognised this basic fact of their environment in less than a generation. People nonetheless built in the expectation of future disruption of this kind. Repeated shorthouse rebuildings, at intervals of ten to twenty years, were a fundamental renewal of more than just shelter and place of residence, more a tangible link with what had gone before, a performance of community, a drawing on human cooperation on the one hand and the resources of surrounding woodland on the other, and a linking with the natural surroundings (Figure 6.3). Cycles of building mirrored cycles of land-use. Not all buildings came to an end through water level rises. As elsewhere, some were burnt, such as at Hornstaad and Chalain 3 (Dieckmann et al. 1997; Petrequin 1997). It remains to be seen whether these were accidental fires or deliberate events initiated by the inhabitants themselves to close a period of house use. Nor can attacks by others be discounted.

A sense of closeness might have extended out into the taskscape and landscape. Some animals were stalled for some of the time, though others may have been excluded from settlements. The equal importance given in early centuries to deer and cattle may suggest that people did not make a rigid distinction between wild and domesticated; abundance, fertility, availability and movement may have been of greater importance. Rather than living a precarious existence of grinding hard work, easily threatened by climatic deterioration, I envisage people leading measured lives in patterns not greatly different from those of their forebears. The preservation of an abundance of artefacts suggests considerable skill in getting what was wanted from the surrounding landscape (cf. Ingold 2000, part III). There are, for example, organic containers, nets of diverse kinds, hafts and handles for large and small tools, points, and spoons. It is clear that the Ice Man, with his broad range of equipment, belonged to a long tradition of skill. One kind of artefact I find particularly intriguing: the wrapped weights at Clairvaux and sites in western Switzerland (Petrequin 1989, 363—7). These consist of small stones wrapped in birch bark (Figure 6.4). It is suggested that these are weights for fixed nets. They are beautifully if simply made, and the fact that they recur in more than one context shows that they were part of an established way of doing something. To the importance of place and shorthouse groupings for the sense of identity can therefore be added the dimension of work: skilful engagement in the taskscape.

Biography of a settlement. Dendrochronology for the birth and growth of the settlement of Lattrigen Riedstation on the Bielersee, north-west Switzerland.

Figure 6.3 Biography of a settlement. Dendrochronology for the birth and growth of the settlement of Lattrigen Riedstation on the Bielersee, north-west Switzerland.

From the evidence seen in earlier topics, it is likely that people ranged to varying extents through their landscapes. Having so far emphasised differences between the Alpine foreland and the LBK, here there may be strong similarities. As well as the place of residence, with its familiar huddle of structures and small plots nearby, there were animals to herd further afield, hunting trips, and forays to procure axes. Speculatively, a male identity may have resided partly in these activities; in the ‘dryland’ burial cists at Lenzburg in the northern Swiss district of Aargau, males were associated with arrowheads and knives (Wyss 1967). It seems most unlikely from this perspective that the Ice Man represents anything new in terms of social figure or role in the later fourth millennium BC (contrast Hodder 1999; 2000). One of the many distinctive features of this archaeology is the lack not only of burials,5 but also of other contexts of deposition or representation in which identities and roles could be symbolised or negotiated; despite their abundance elsewhere in the fourth millennium BC, there appear to be no enclosures in the Alpine foreland. So even if there were a separate male identity, created in part by activity out in the further reaches of the taskscape, to be remembered in stories and dreams when back in the settlement, it was subsumed in the moral community of the shorthouse, which literally embodied, in its placing, juxtapositions, layout, construction, biography and history, a long and perhaps closed tradition of ways of doing things.

Stones wrapped in birch bark, perhaps net weights, from settlements in the Alpine foreland of Switzerland and the French Jura. Clockwise from top left: Twann; Auvernier Port; La Motte-aux-Magnins; Saint-Aubin, Port-Conty; La Motte-aux-Magnins.

Figure 6.4 Stones wrapped in birch bark, perhaps net weights, from settlements in the Alpine foreland of Switzerland and the French Jura. Clockwise from top left: Twann; Auvernier Port; La Motte-aux-Magnins; Saint-Aubin, Port-Conty; La Motte-aux-Magnins.

The evidence suggests to me that the adoption of cultivation here did not cause a fundamental shift in the patterns and style of this way of life. It accentuated perhaps the importance of the home base, but it did not create it. Even when the evidence does suggest a more established agriculture, longer clearances and gradually longer-lasting and larger settlements from the Horgen culture onwards, from the late fourth millennium BC on (e.g. Gross et al. 1990; Schibler, Huster-Plogmann et al. 1997), the ideology of the shorthouse endured, lasting across the changes of the Late Neolithic until well into the middle Bronze Age.

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