Archaeologists Find Ancient Evidence Of Human Activity In The Alps
September 25, 2013

Archaeologists Find Ancient Evidence Of Human Activity In The Alps

Brett Smith for – Your Universe Online

New archeological evidence collected high in the French Alps is painting a very different view of ancient humans living 8000 years ago, according to a report published on Saturday in the journal Quaternary International.

The new findings are the result of a 14-year, high altitude study conducted in the Southern Alps. The work revealed a series of stone animal enclosures and human dwellings considered to be among the most complex high altitude Bronze Age structures in the Alps.

“High altitude landscapes of (6600 feet) and above are considered remote and marginal,” explained study author Kevin Walsh, a landscape archaeologist at the University of York. “Many researchers had assumed that early societies showed little interest in these areas. This research shows that people, as well as climate, did have a role in shaping the Alpine landscape from as early as the Mesolithic period.”

“It has radically altered our understanding of activity in the sub-alpine and alpine zones,” he added. “It is also of profound relevance for the broader understanding of human-environment interactions in ecologically sensitive environments.”

The archeological team found that human activity shaped the local Alpine landscape through the Bronze, Iron, Roman and Medieval ages as communities progressed from hunting to agricultural systems and the herding of livestock across seasonal alpine pastures, referred to as transhumant-pastoralism.

“The most interesting period is the Chalcolithic/Bronze Age when human activity, particularly to support pastoralism, really begins to dominate the landscape,” Walsh said. “The Bronze Age buildings we studied revealed the clear development of seasonal pastoralism that appears to have been sustained over many centuries with new enclosures added and evidence of tree clearing to create new grazing land.”

“The evidence suggests the landscape was occupied over many centuries marking the start of a more sustained management of the alpine landscape and the development of the pastoral agricultural systems we see in the Alps today,” Walsh added.

The researchers also found evidence of Stone Age hunting settlements in often harsh conditions in the upper regions of the Alpine tree line at 6600 feet and above. The team also discovered a Neolithic flint arrowhead at 8100 feet, believed to be the highest arrowhead discovery ever made in the Alps.

Conducted by British and French archaeologists, the study covered over 300 sites across a number of valleys. In addition to finding human artifacts, the researchers also examined carbonized wood remains and pollen from cores pulled from peat areas and lakes.

The project began in 1998 with some initial fieldwork and was followed by a series of fieldwork expeditions into some of the most remote areas of the entire region.

“The nature of these landscapes and the fact that no-one had ever carried out fieldwork in these areas meant that we had to carry out numerous phases of work involving long treks over difficult ground and sometimes in challenging weather,” Walsh said. “The result of this work is that only now do we have a clear understanding of how these remote, beautiful areas were exploited by people over the millennia.”