October 21, 2010

Archaeologists Unearth 5,000-year-old Door In Switzerland

Archaeologists have discovered a "fantastically preserved", 5,100-year-old door in Zurich, Switzerland.

The poplar wood door, which researchers believe was made in 3,063 BC, is "solid and elegant", and may be one of the oldest ever found in Europe, said chief archaeologist Niels Bleicher on Wednesday.

It had well-preserved hinges and was "remarkable because of the way the planks were held together," said Bleicher, who used tree rings to determine the age of the door.

It was likely built around the time that construction on Britain's renowned Stonehenge monument began, he told The Associated Press (AP).

The severe climate during that time meant people had to construct solid wood homes that could withstand the freezing winds blowing across Lake Zurich.

The door was part of a community of "stilt houses" that were frequently found near lakes in the pre-Alpine region.

"It's a clever design that even looks good," Bleicher said.

It resembled another door found in nearby Pfaeffikon. A third door unearthed in the 19th century, made from one solid piece of wood is thought to be even older, possibly dating back to 3,700 BC, Bleicher said.

The latest discovery was found at the dig for a new underground auto park for Zurich's opera house.  Archaeologists have unearthed remains of at least five Neolithic villages believed to have existed at the site between 3,700 and 2,500 years BC.  These include items such as a flint dagger from modern-day Italy and a sophisticated hunting bow.

German archaeologist Helmut Schlichtherle said finding an intact door was extremely rare.  Typically, only the foundations of stilt houses are well preserved, since they can be submerged in water for millennia.

Without air, the bacteria and fungi that usually destroy wood can't proliferate, making many lakes and moorlands throughout Europe archaeological treasure troves.

"Some might say it's only a door, but this is really a great find because it helps us better understand how people built their houses, and what technology they had," Schlichtherle, who was not involved in the Zurich discovery, told AP.

Over 200 stilt houses have been discovered in southern Germany alone, but to date no doors, he added.

The Zurich scientists plan to exhibit their latest discovery once the door has been carefully removed from the ground and treated with a special solution to prevent it from rotting.