Prehistoric Pile Dwellings
The Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps are the remains of prehistoric stilt houses at the edges of lakes and rivers. The site consists of 111 locations, spread out over 6 countries. They date from 5,000 to 500 BC, and represent the life of early agrarian communities in Europe.
Rising water levels since prehistory led to the abandonment of settlements which were then covered by lake and river sediments. About 30 different cultural groups were responsible for creating these pile dwellings.
Visit July 2011
The Pile Dwelling-nomination was headed by Switzerland, and the culture of the pile dwellers definitely is an important phase in the history of human occupation around its many lakes. Lake Neuchatel has 5 areas included in the WHS nomination where the remains of pile dwellings have been found. They are Saint-Aubin-Sauges (Port-Conty), Gorgier (Les Argilliez), Bevaix (L'Abbaye) and Auvernier (Les Graviers and partly in Colombier as well, La Saunerie).
While I was staying in Neuchatel, I looked into visiting one of them. But all are hidden below water or sand. To get a taste of it, I went to the Laténium museum. This is a grand archeological museum with both outdoor and indoor expositions. It shows some reconstructions of pile dwellings - they look like wooden houses on stilts that are still common in other parts of the world. The history of these people occupies only one room in the museum. Much of the exhibits are reconstructions too, like clothing. There's not enough "on show" to really get a feeling about what this WHS represents (and I will not count it as a visited site). It left me with a little surprise fact at the end though: the pile dwellers ate dogs!
|Paul Tanner (UK):|
In the early days of the Forum on this Web site we had some discussions on what constituted “seeing” or “visiting” a WHS. Our trip to one of the Prehistoric Pile Dwellings provided a “reductio ad absurdam” example of the very concept of a “WHS Visit”!
When planning our “grand tour” of Germany in Aug/Sep 2013 I checked the locations of Germany’s Pile Dwellings and discovered that one, titled “Blaustein-Ehrenstein”, was situated a few kms NW of Ulm. Our chosen direct route wasn’t far away and Ulm was, in any case, a German city I quite wanted to visit – so off we set! Now, in all honesty, we didn’t expect much – the excavations would certainly have been back-filled but a picture on the Blaustein town Web site appeared to show an open area http://www.blaustein.de/de/freizeit-tourismus/steinzeitdorf-ehrenstein.html
This was confirmed by the brochure about the site which contained other photos of digs from the 1960s
So hopefully we would gain a general view of the site and would surely find an explanatory board and a plaque indicating the site’s “world significance”!
At this point it is perhaps worth placing “Blaustein-Ehrenstein” in context within the overall inscription. The AB evaluation indicates that there are 937 known “pit dwelling” sites across Europe - 156 of these were nominated but ICOMOS asked whether this could be reduced and 111 were inscribed . This reduction must have happened quite late on as the Nomination file still contains the full 156. However the Map section on the UNESCO site shows only those for the inscribed 111 - so do NOT use the Nomination File to determine whether a site is inscribed!! The documentation indicates that there are 3 types of site – Lacustrian, Bog and River Flood Plains. Blaustein is described as the “most northerly inscribed example” and is of the latter type. Its area is 1.33 ha making it the 6th smallest among the German sites. Its code (DE-BW-21) indicated that it was Baden-Wurtenburg’s 21st and last site (There are also 3 in Bavaria including Ian Cade’s Roseinsel) but 6 of these were sacrificed during the inscription process . Other facts garnered from the nomination file were - “Ehrenstein is among the best preserved wetland settlements in SW Germany. It plays a key role in our understanding of the key developments of the Schussenried culture. The research historical (sic) site has a high potential for future research”… It is Neolithic from 4000-3500BC … It was discovered in 1952 and the last archaeological activity (a trial trench) took place in 1999. ….it was “Repeatedly rebuilt, houses stood gable-end on with a narrow alleyway” …and was ”important for limestone jewellery discs” …. “The site is the only one related to the Schussenried culture on the list and represents a rare example of a pile dwelling in a river valley The site has a thick cultural layer containing at least 5 construction horizons with complete houses, fireplaces, ovens following each other within one century”….It was “Situated on what is probably an ancient pass route over the Swabian Alp to the settlements of the Michelberg culture on the middle Neckar” . Interestingly the site at the type site of Schussenehied, which is also inscribed, doesn’t seem to provide a good example of a Schussenheid culture village but has been overlaid by later cultures – “Remains of the Pfyn-Altheim group occupation layers are present …. The Schussenhied culture village was probably similarly organized allowing conjectural mapping”. So, on the basis of the Nomination File, the site of Balustein-Ehrenstein had some special significance among all those nominated locations which presumably had justified it remaining among those which finally obtained WHS inscription!
So I committed all this background detail and the Nomination File’s very detailed map of site to my iPod. In the middle of the map was a “confidence-building” green line surrounded by a red one representing the core and buffer zones respectively, situated just to the north of the B28 local road which I could find on my German road map! However, when we reached Blaustein, an immediate problem was that the area looked nothing like the photos or the map!! Indeed the Google satellite view as of Sept 2013 still shows a new road/bridge being built which wasn’t on the Nomination file map. Having allowed for this new road and using rivers and railway lines for guidance we eventually tracked down the site to a location just behind a “RAN Tankstelle” which faced the now completed new road! The open ground shown on the photos had beome heavily forested with new-growth trees and a berm had been raised around a part of the site – the rest of the area facing the road was fenced with a locked gate. Of signage or any acknowledgement that this piece of land was “UNESCO inscribed” there was nothing! I climbed the berm and made my way through the forest to arrive inside the fenced zone. Sure enough, as shown on my map, the river Blau cut its way diagonally across the site so I was definitely in the middle of the Core Area!! But all that could be seen were some piles of logs and a “road works” sign (photo) whilst, somewhere beneath my feet, lay the remains of a c6000 year old village!
So, have we “visited” the Pile Dwellings site? Would my visit have been more “complete” if we had actually seen some bits of rotten wood? Would I understand more about the dwellings if I had seen the stumps in the water seen by Hubert Schnargel? Would the presence of a “reconstructed dwelling” have made the difference between having “seen” or having “not seen” the site? Would I be a “better”, more “complete” and knowledgeable person if I had seen any of this? Deconstruct the word “visit”!
But let’s look at the positives! We successfully achieved the objective of tracking down DE-BW-21 to a nondescript copse in a nondescript valley in S Germany and entered the inscribed area – in effect “geocaching” it (without GPS!). We now know that there was never a lake where this village had been – indeed that a lake isn’t an essential aspect of these villages. Indeed it appears that, despite the inscribed title, it isn’t even necessary for there to have been “piles” for the dwellings. The Nomination file states “In the southern group of the Schussenried culture which followed (3955-3916BC) 2 house types are present. Real pile dwellings as found at Bad Buchau-bachweisen and a ground level house whose floor is made up of criss-crossing layers under a top of screed as for example at Ehrenstein”. Of course there is much more to “see” and learn about the Pile Dwellings than we achieved as a result of our “visit” to Ehrenstein – but merely to have seen a lake and some rotting wood would not alter that fact. The reality is that the Pile Dwellings site isn’t really a site for “visiting” in the normal meaning of that word but I am happy that I extracted some value from the trip and have a greater understanding of the inscription via “feet on the ground” and the investigation related to that visit both before and after.
| Date posted: September 2013|
|Ian Cade (England):|
Part 1 of my visit to these pile Dwellings was a pleasant boat trip to Rosen Insel on Lake Starnberg.
From the station at Possenhoffen it is a quiet 40 minute walk along the forested lake shore which to my surprise reacquainted me with a familiar friend from a few years back: The Pilgrimage Route to Santiago. I arrived at the pontoon just as another couple rang a bell which summoned over the boat from Rosen Insel. The short crossing gave the driver just enough time to tell us a little about the island and say the key words “UNESCO-Welterbe”. A quick lap of the rose gardens led me to the vantage point where I stared intently at the water trying to spot the merest hint of some buried rotten wood. I think I may have seen some in the right place, but to be honest it may have just been any old bit of rotten wood.
After a short look around the one room museum showing some finds I marched back to the pontoon, studiously avoiding the Royal Casino that everyone else was on the island to tour around and happy that I didn’t have to explain I had taken 3 hour trip by train, boat and on foot just to not see some rotten wood.
I walked back to the station, stopping off to have a glass of wine before catching a train to meet up with my friend to continue the next part of our Pile Dwelling adventure.
[Site 0: Experience 5]
| Date posted: September 2013|
|john booth (New Zealand):|
I knew that finding the locations of the WHS pile dwellings in a featureless wilderness like the Ljubljana Marsh would be difficult on my own. As anticipated there was no signed directions. I was fortunate to meet a local naturalist who knew the marshland well, and who took me to Ig to visit two sites.
I agree with Hubert that this site, like the German 'Limes' requires some imagination.
I also managed to find two locations in Italy, one by Lake Costa near Monselice, and another by Lake Frassino near Pescheria del Garda.
| Date posted: December 2012|
|Hubert Scharnagl (Austria):|
During a trip to the Dolomites, I took the opportunity to visit Molina di Ledro and Fiave. These sites are two of the rare places where original remains of the pile dwellings can be seen. In Molina di Ledro, at the shore of Lake Ledro, is a small museum and the reconstruction of a pile dwelling. From a footbridge you can see some piles in a small area near the shoreline. In Fiave, 35 km north of the Lake Ledro, is a small wetland with about 80-100 piles (photo). The site is one kilometre before Fiave on the left (coming from Lake Ledro). There is only a small signpost that can easily be overlooked. Both sites are located in a beautiful mountain landscape, but the remains themselves are not very impressive and do not tell much about what this WHS represents.
At least, I have seen my first pile dwellings and have an idea how the original remains look like. To learn more about it, one has to rely on museums and replications. In this respect, it reminds me of my experience with the Limes, the German part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire, where also only a few original remains are visible.
Certainly, the pile dwellings are the oddest WHS that I've visited so far. I will not count the WHS as visited and I'm uncertain when I can tick it off. But my first visit made me curious to learn more about it.
| Date posted: August 2011|
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