Western and Central Europe





Switzerland , 4500 to 1700 BCE

In Northwestern Europe, including the area of modern Switzerland, the appearance of animal husbandry and agriculture in the archaeological record date to around 4500 BCE. Almost all of Bryn Mawr’s Collections from Switzerland are derived from the sub-alpine Swiss lake Dwellings, excavated by Ferdinand Keller in 1953-54.

Five Thousand Year Old Apples

Organic materials are rare finds in the archaeological record. Often, the materials that are preserved are blackened and appear to have been burned by fire, when actually a variety of environmental circumstances can cause chemical reactions that leave organic materials on display here were not blacked by a chemical reaction, but were, in fact, preserved by charring, possibly as the result of a house fire. The materials fell from the house floors into the airless, alkaline-rich peat beds around the lakes., which preserved the charred material.

We know that these items were charred because they were excavated in the peat beds alongside fruits and textiles that were not blackened – that had simply been preserved by the anaerobic conditions of the Swiss lake environment. Because of these uncharred materials, we can reasonably gather that the blackened fruits were charred and not blackened by another process. Unfortunately there are no uncharred comparative materials present in Bryn Mawr’s collection.

Burial practices

Part of Bryn Mawr’s Neolithic European Collections include large, seemingly unworked antlers. While small bone tools made of antler are common, the intended use for these whole antlers is less clear. Comparison with burials found in Denmark, Lithuania, and Central Europe suggest that these antlers were used as grave goods, used as ‘head-rests’ in burials. In cultures where every part of the remains of hunted animals were used for some practical purpose, as the Swiss Lake culture seems to have been, these antlers may have functioned as prestige goods.