Popular Science Monthly/Volume 24/January 1884/Early Colonists of the Swiss Lakes

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THE depression of the waters of the Lakes of Neufchâtel, Morat, and Bienne, which the Swiss Confederation has been having executed during the last ten years, has been a most fortunate event for archaeologists; and with pick in hand, and on a relatively new ground, they have been able to recover hosts of treasures from the buried ruins of the lake-villages. The few scattered relics which they had succeeded in fishing up out of the water with tongs and drags have been multiplied into immense proportions since the hunters have been able to work upon the solid land that has been reclaimed from the edges of the favored lakes. By thousands and thousands the relics of human industry have been heaped up in the archaeological collections, and the knowledge of the curious civilization of the early inhabitants of Switzerland has made, by the aid of these facts, very interesting progress. We need only cite, in proof of this, the very important memoir which Professor Théophile Studer has recently published in the "Bulletin" of the Society of Naturalists of Bern. Taking up, after M. L. Rütimeyer, of Basel, the study of the bones found in the archæological deposit of the palafittes (a term designating a wooden construction built on piles), and making use of the immense material collected from the stations of the Lake of Bienne, he has drawn from them most interesting details respecting the variations of the animal population during the different periods of these prehistorical ages, and respecting the progress of the domestication of the races useful to man. A comprehensive account of the present condition of our knowledge of human industry in the lake epoch is furnished in the book just published by Dr. Victor Gross on "The Proto-Helvetians, or the Earlier Colonists of the Borders of the Lakes of Bienne and Neufchâtel"

Fig. 1.—Restoration of a Dwelling of the Primitive Lake-villages of Switzerland. (After Dr. Victor Gross.)

("Les Protohelvètes, ou les premiers colons des bords des lacs de Bienne et de Neuchatel"). The author, a practicing physician at La Neuveville, on the shore of the Lake of Bienne, has had the good fortune to become possessed of products of all the special excavations made upon that lake, and of a good part of the finds of the Lake of Neufchâtel, so that he has been able to form a collection unequaled in its richness, in the number of the specimens, and in the rarity of the pieces, frequently unique, that he has accumulated.

Wishing to give the scientific world a share in the enjoyment of these treasures, he has published in a beautiful quarto volume descriptions of the principal results of his researches, illustrated by photographic plates, in thirty-three of which are represented more than nine hundred and fifty of the more important pieces. I do not hesitate to style Dr. Gross's the finest known collection in prehistoric archæology, for while the series in some large museums may be more numerous than those of Dr. Gross, the latter have the superiority over all the others of relating to a single civilization, in different ages of its development, and to the same people in all the details of its intimate life with an incomparable luxury of illustration. The ruins of each one of our lake-villages may be compared to a Pompeii on a small scale. Let us suppose fifty Pompeiis, the destruction of which took place, one after another, during the ages from the primitive times of Roman history to the end of the decline of the empire, and we may be able to calculate what treasures of documents we might find in them wherewith to restore the history of industry, of art, and of civilization in ancient Italy.

The study of the larger collections of Swiss antiquities gives us a very clear impression of the wealth of the lacustrine populations, especially of the period known as the fine bronze age. We see in them universally evidences of abundant resources, and in no case of poverty. The inhabitants of the palafittes had at their disposal mechanical means, probably simple, but sufficient to fix in the ground the thousands and tens of thousands of piles on which they built their villages Having an agriculture, and raising cattle, they were only exceptionally obliged to have recourse for food-supplies to the more primitive art of the chase. An extensive commerce brought them metals, amber, glass beads, and worked objects of foreign origin. A pure taste raised their artisans to the dignity of real artists. The reader who observes in Dr. Gross's plates the remarkable elegance of the designs of arms, of tools and ornaments of bronze, and of potter's work, like those represented in Fig. 2 (Nos. 1, 3, 4, and 10), can not deny that the civilization of the Swiss lake-dwellers was rich and flourishing.

The mass of metal they possessed was considerable; and, having regard to the innumerable pices of bronze found at some of the stations, I believe it will not be wrong to assert that in proportion to the population they had a weight of bronze at their disposal nearly equal to the weight of iron, aside from the heavy castings of the large agricultural machines, to be found in any of the most prosperous existing villages of the country. A figure will give an idea of this abundance and richness. M. Gross has made an account of the bronze pieces

Fig. 2.—Articles from the Prehistoric Collection of Dr. Victor Gross.

1. Bronze sword-handle (station of Mŏrigen).
2. Ornamented ear-drops (Auvernier).
3. Cup in hammered bronze (Corcelettes).
4. Clay vase, with incrustations from lamellæ of tin.
5. Comb of yew-wood (Fenil).
6. Bronze ear-drops (Auvernier).
7. Mold in sandstone, forming one of the shells of a mold for two knives and twenty-seven rings (Mŏrigen);
8. Hair-pin (Estavayer).
9, 10. Bronze knives (Auvernier).
11, 12. Ear-drops of deer-horn.

taken from the Lakes of Bienne and Neufchâtel, and makes the number 19,600, more than 5,000 of which are in his own collection.

The wealth of the Proto-Helvetians, as Dr. Gross happily calls them, so manifest in the bronze age, was also as real, though less evident, in the stone age. I come to this conclusion from the presence in the ruins of that period of some classes of objects that could have reached the country only by means of a very extensive commerce. Amber was brought to them from the shores of the Baltic Sea, and rare stones of very precious qualities, from which they made their cutting-tools, came to them from still farther; nephrite, a handsome stone, clear, green, and semi-transparent, was brought to them from Turkistan, or Southern Siberia; gray jade-stone came from Burmah; and chloromélanite, a black stone with yellow streaks, also probably came from Asia, but from beds that are still unknown. The lake period was of long duration, and included the whole time in which man rose by successive steps from the primitive stages of civilization in which he was not yet acquainted with metals to the higher stages, when he became acquainted with bronze and then with iron. Whatever a certain German school may say about it, the existence of a bronze age intermediate between the stone age and the iron age is demonstrated. That such a progressive and continuous development took place is proved with strong evidence from the archaeological study of the products of human industry, and appears definitely in the study of the bones of animals gathered in the ruins of the lake-stations. In this respect, the conclusions of M. Studer are as affirmative and demonstrative as were twenty years ago those of M. Rütimeyer.

Dr. Gross distinguishes three successive periods in the stone age: A primitive, earlier period, making a poor showing of coarse potteries and imperfectly worked stones, with no nephrite or other stones of foreign origin. The station of Chavannes, near La Neuveville, is regarded by him as the type of that remote age. A second period exhibits the civilization of the stone age in all its glory. The stone instruments are finely cut, exotic stones are abundant, and the potter's art has reached an advanced degree of perfection. Locras and Latrigen represent this age on the Lake of Bienne. A third period bears evidence of the introduction of metals. The general character of the civilization remains the same as in the preceding age, with the same styles of pottery and the same abundance of stone implements. But the first tools of metal have been imported. At Finels, on the Lake of Bienne, we find copper worked in a manner still quite primitive; and at Mōrigen, in the station of Les Roseaux, we have bronze in the form of very simple hatchets. After this came the fine age of bronze, with its magnificent development of civilization; then, later, iron appeared.

Bronze, the metal chiefly in use in the finest age of the lake civilization, is not indigenous. Neither copper nor tin, the metals which alloyed with each other in proper proportions constitute this metal, is found in the Swiss plain nor in the Jura. It is true that copper minerals exist in some of the valleys of the Alps, but it is very probable that the ancient lake-dwellers received the metal from more distant countries where the mines were more easily worked. With respect to tin, it is at any rate certain that the nearest beds are in Saxony, in Cornwall, and in Spain. It has long been debated whether these metals, tin, copper, and bronze, were brought to Switzerland already worked, or were cast on the spot; whether there was a local, native industry, or the arms, instruments, and ornaments were brought, having been already wrought out in foreign lands. It is now possible to answer the question. Some of the articles were imported already manufactured, for they evidently exhibit types of foreign industry. A superb vase of cast bronze and a fibula from Corcelettes, on the Lake of Neufchâtel, are preserved in the Museum of Lausanne, the form and ornamentation of which are manifestly Scandinavian. Other pieces, more numerous, recall forms of the south of France or of Italy. On the other hand, ingots or pigs of unworked metal are very rare in our finds. There was, however, also a local industry; and the lake-dwellers knew how to cast and hammer bronze in their own villages. We have proof of this in a relatively considerable number of molds deposited in the Swiss museums, among others at Lausanne, at Geneva, and in Dr. Gross's collection. In the plates illustrating the last collection are figured no less than three bronze molds, two of which are double, eight clay valves or fragments of molds, and seventeen molds or fragments in molasse (Fig. 2, No. 7). Sometimes one of the stone molds served for the casting of several objects; and the seventeen molds of Dr. Gross contain the matrices for seventy-two different pieces. Besides these molds, castings of bronze hammers, anvils, shears, and punches, complete the outfit of the founder, and demonstrate that his industry was indeed practiced on the spot. Whether the founder was a native, and established where he worked, or whether, like the tinkers of our own days, he was a foreigner and a wanderer, is a question to which a definite answer can not be returned.—Translated for the Popular Science Monthly from La Nature.