Category Archives: SWITZERLAND

Swiss archaeologists dig up the youngest Roman amphitheatre

Swiss archaeologists dig up youngest Roman amphitheatre

A construction project in Kaiseraugst, Switzerland has unearthed a lost ancient Roman amphitheatre that was once used for gladiator fights and animal hunts. Dating to the 300s CE, it’s about 50 meters (164ft) long and 40 meters (131ft) wide.

The amphitheatre was found in Augusta Raurica, located on the southern edge of the Rhine river. Once a Roman city, it is now an open museum and archaeological site. The reason for the construction was a new boathouse being put in for the Basel rowing club.

In December 2021, the construction team was accompanied by excavators with Aargau Cantonal Archaeology.

These archaeologists were quite surprised when they came across an ancient Roman construct.

Part of this surprise resulted from the fact that they were working in a spot thought only to be an abandoned Roman quarry.

Here are some details on how the amphitheatre was built:

It had three southern entrances. One large one stood in the middle of two smaller ones on either side of it. Another entrance was found on the western side of the amphitheatre.

Both of the entrance spots were made with sandstone that has been preserved to our present day. The inner walls were covered in plaster and the grandstands were made of wood.

It’s the third ancient Roman amphitheatre discovered in the Augusta Raurica, and also the youngest, dating to the 4th century CE.

It’s the eighth ancient Roman amphitheatre discovered in Switzerland.

Some of the others are known as: “Avenches (Aventicum), Martigny (Forum Claudii Vallensium), Nyon (Colonia Iulia Equestris) and on the Enge peninsula in Bern (Brenodurum)”.

The construction plans for the boathouse have been modified to accommodate the new discovery.

Here are some images of the ancient building as it is today:

Swiss archaeologists dig up youngest Roman amphitheatre
The water is the Rhine river. You can see here how close the amphitheatre was to the water.
The ancient sandstone
One of the walls

Melting Glaciers Reveal 10,000-Year-Old Artifacts Belonging to Mysterious People

Melting Glaciers Reveal 10,000-Year-Old Artifacts Belonging to Mysterious People

Climate changes are a major threat to humanity, but as it seems, there is one science that truly benefits from the terrible changes – archaeology.  When it comes to melting ice or, more specifically, melting glaciers around the world, it has created an incredible opportunity for archaeologists and scientists to dig out old and even ancient artefacts.

Recent Discoveries in Melting Alpine Glaciers

For years, archaeologists had theories that ancient hunters and gatherers collected rocks and crystals needed for tools from the mountains more than 9500 years ago in the Mesolithic era.

The continuous environmental changes and the melting glaciers in the Alps revealed another valuable archaeological site that confirmed these scientific suggestions. What they found was a crystal vein filled with rocks identical to those used millennia ago for ancient tools.

Although these climate changes are undoubtedly not in favour of Earth’s and our future, they laid the foundations of a brand new archaeology branch – glacier archaeology.

This recent excavation mission was conducted at an impressive altitude of 2,800 meters in eastern Switzerland.

How important is this discovery?

To be exact, any ancient artefact or archaeological discovery is significant since it puts another piece to the historical puzzle of our kind. When it comes to glacier archaeology and the discoveries from the past twenty or so years, they totally changed our prehistoric people’s perception.

For example, it was once believed that the prehistoric communities stayed away from the mountains since they were challenging to maneuver and gave few opportunities for settling down.

Opportunities for discoveries like those from the melting glacier ice changed this perception and showed that prehistoric individuals did climb the intimidating mountains in various instances.

Moreover, excavations from the recent decades unraveled evidence that the mountains were bustling with human activities from the earliest periods of human history.

The earliest discovery from melting glacier ice in the Alps occurred in 1991 when the fully-preserved body of a 5300-year-old warrior emerged from the melting ice.

The photographs are a tide intimidating, thus, I will not include them in the article, but you can see pictures of the ancient man by searching “Oetzi” online.

Laced shoes dated to at least 2,800 BC found in the melting glaciers of the Alps.

In 2003, a 3000-year-old birch bark quiver was found at an altitude of 2756 meters.

A few years later, excavations revealed leather clothes and shoes at an archaeological site dating to 4500 BC. In a normal scenario, these artefacts would have been destroyed by erosion and time, but they were perfectly preserved in the glacier ice, as can be seen in the photograph.

Melting Glaciers are an archaeological emergency

Unfortunately, it is estimated that more than 90% of all glaciers in the Alps could melt before the end of the current century. While this is an absolute climate disaster, it also creates an archaeological emergency since nobody knows how many important artefacts it could reveal and how many will be lost forever.

In other words, as I mentioned above, ice will preserve certain objects, but once it is gone, these objects will either be taken by normal people or be destroyed by erosion.

Archaeologists have already spoken about the issue that countless ancient artefacts could be laying in people’s homes after being found in the mountains.

Archaeologists do not have the funding or the capabilities to maintain consistent excavations on all melting glacier sites, which means that countless artefacts could be lost if we do not act quickly. All they have is a short window to extract all the useful historical data until it disappears forever.

They also mention that people in the Alpine regions need to be well informed of the possibility of finding an important item or artefact and, most importantly, then give it to the authorities instead of keeping it as a trophy on the wall.

2,000-Year-Old Battle Site Uncovered in Switzerland

2,000-Year-Old Battle Site Uncovered in Switzerland

The finds – including a dagger, well-preserved slingshot stones, coins, nails and part of a shield – are assumed to have been left on the battlefield after a clash between Romans and a local tribe at around 15BC.

2,000-Year-Old Battle Site Uncovered in Switzerland
A dagger is one of the hundreds of objects uncovered on the ancient battlefield.

Lucas Schmid, who volunteers for the local archaeological association, uncovered the remains using a metal detector at a remote southeast corner of Switzerland, near the Crap-Ses gorge between the towns of Tiefencastel and Cunter.

Other artefacts had previously been unearthed at the location, but the site was considered to have been picked clean by previous sweeps.

Schmid proved this was not the case after discovering a 2,000-year-old Roman dagger. 

This alerted an archaeology team from the University of Basel who has found several hundred other objects during an ongoing search of the 35,000 square metre site in September. These artefacts have now been made public.

How the battle unfolded

It is assumed that a battle took place between Roman forces and a local Raetian tribe near Cunter in what is now canton Graubünden

“It looks like the locals were holed up and were shot at by the Romans with slingshot and catapults,” Peter Schwarz, professor of Provincial Roman Archaeology at the University of Basel, told Swiss public broadcaster, SRFExternal link.

Schwarz believes that as many as 1,500 soldiers took part in the battle, making it a fairly minor skirmish compared to other Roman battlegrounds in Europe.

The coins and type of shoe nails found offer firm evidence of the time period of the battle. But the team is hoping to narrow down the date even further and hypothesize that it could be linked to a known decree from Roman Emperor Augustus to bring the area under Roman control in 15BC.

“This is the first time that remnants from a Roman battle site have been found in Switzerland,” Schwarz told SWI swissinfo.ch. “It seems that the Romans attacked their enemy on one side of the valley and them drove them over a river to the other side, before attacking again.”

Dig to continue next year

Excavations will continue in the region next year, organised by the University of Basel along with the cantonal and federal authorities. So far no grave sites have been discovered and it is not known how many people died in the battle.

READ ALSO: UNDERWATER STONEHENGE THAT PREDATES THE PYRAMIDS CONFIRMED IN SWITZERLAND

Raetian tribes occupied the eastern Alps at the time of the battle, including parts of modern-day Austria and Italy. The Romans conquered the region and named the area Raetia under Augustus.

The Swiss portion of Raetia eventually became the modern-day canton Graubünden.

Archaeological evidence of the Roman occupation of Switzerland is regularly unearthed. One of the most spectacular finds was a collection of mosaics in the western town of Orbe.

Underwater Stonehenge That Predates the Pyramids Confirmed in Switzerland

Underwater Stonehenge That Predates the Pyramids Confirmed in Switzerland

Archaeologists studying Switzerland’s Lake Lucerne have unearthed the remnants of a submerged Bronze Age village, suggesting people occupied the Lake Lucerne area 2,000 years earlier than previously thought.

As Swissinfo.ch reports, the new finds suggest that the area around the lake was settled 2,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Though researchers have long searched for proof of early habitation in the Lucerne region, a thick layer of mud had obscured traces of the village until recently.

As Per a statement from the local government, the construction of a pipeline at Lake Lucerne offered underwater archaeologists the chance to examine the lakebed up close.

The first dive took place in December 2019; between March 2020 and February 2021, reports Swissinfo.ch, the team recovered about 30 wooden poles and 5 ceramic fragments at depths of roughly 10 to 13 feet.

A piece of Poplar wood retrieved by the divers which may have been used as part of the construction or excavation of the rocks.

“These new finds from the Lucerne lake basin confirm that people settled here as early as 3,000 years ago,” says the statement, per Google Translate. “[W]ith this evidence, the city of Lucerne suddenly becomes around 2,000 years older than has been previously proven.”

Experts used radiocarbon analysis to date the artefacts to about 1000 B.C. when the lake level was more than 16 feet lower than it is today, writes Garry Shaw for the Art Newspaper.

According to the statement, these conditions “formed an ideal, easily accessible settlement area” around the lake basin.

The Archaeology Office of the Swiss Canton of Thurgau described the findings as ‘sensational’ after carrying out extensive excavations on the lake bed.

The team identified the wooden sticks found at the site as supports used in pile dwellings, or prehistoric coastal houses that stood on stilts. Dwellings of this kind were common in and around the Alps between 5000 and 500 B.C., notes Unesco, and can provide researchers with useful insights into Europe’s Neolithic period and Bronze Age.

A diver inspecting the underwater site

“The wood is very soft on the outside and hard on the inside,” archaeologist Andreas Mäder tells Swiss Radio and Television (SRF), per Google Translate. “Something like that is typical of prehistoric piles.”

For now, the scholars’ research is limited to the trench surrounding the underwater pipeline. Traces of other submerged settlements are likely hidden nearby, but the team will need additional funding to investigate the area further.

As Heritage Daily reports, Lake Lucerne is a 44-square-mile body of water that reaches depths of up to 1,424 feet. Per a second government statement, the city of Lucerne itself was established 800 years ago.

Written records indicate that humans had settled in the area by the eighth century A.D., but until now, archaeological evidence of earlier habitation was scant.

Lake Lucerne’s water level rose significantly in the millennia following the submerged village’s peak, with a weather-driven increase in rubble and debris buildup exacerbated by medieval residents’ construction of watermills and other buildings. The lake likely reached its current level during the 15th century, according to the statement.

The archaeologists’ announcement coincides with the tenth anniversary of Unesco adding “Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps” to its World Heritage List. In total, wrote Caroline Bishop for Local Switzerland in 2017, the listing includes 111 sites across Europe, including 56 in Switzerland.

See Also: MORE ARCHAEOLOGY NEWS

As Unesco noted in a 2011 statement, “The settlements are a unique group of exceptionally well-preserved and culturally rich archaeological sites, which constitute one of the most important sources for the study of early agrarian societies in the region.”

Roman Bath Discovered in Swiss Spa Town

Roman Bath Discovered in Swiss Spa Town

In the Swiss city of Baden, a Roman bath part of an ancient spa has been uncovered. It was dismantled at the new pipeline in Baden’s Kurplatz city center and in extremely good condition, completed with finely designed entry steps.

The Roman bath as uncovered at the building site in Baden

It dates back to the second half of the 1st or early 2nd century, according to archeologists. It was connected to a much later concrete conduit that piped the water from the thermal springs to the reservoir.

After finding a hot spring on the left bank of the Limmat river a few kilometers far off from the legionary settlement of the Vindonissa (modern day Windisch), Baden was founded by Romans as Aquae Helveticae about 20 A.D.

A civilian settlement grew around the mineral baths. It was burned by the legions during the upheavals of the Year of the Four Emperors (69 A.D.) but was quickly rebuilt in stone this time. The basin dates to the time of that reconstruction.

The highly mineralized waters always at a comfortable 47° C (117° F) combined with its riverbank location and a short distance from Zurich (less than 15 miles) made Aquae Helveticae a popular and easily accessible destination throughout the Roman period and beyond.

Even during times of decline, like when the troops left Vindonissa in the early 2nd century, the Roman baths were in continuous operation. In the 4th century, a defensive wall was built to protect the baths after the onslaught of Germanic incursions in the mid-3rd century.

While there is no surviving documentation of the use of the thermal baths after the collapse of the empire, but archaeological evidence does suggest at least some of the Roman facilities remained in operation through the 9th century.

By the 13th century, Aquae Helveticae had been rebuilt with new bathing facilities and a new name: Baden, the Middle German word for baths.

Most of the ancient Roman city and bath facilities lie under the modern spa town.

The remains of three bathing basins and few structures confirm that the medieval thermal baths and the modern ones were built over the Roman site and within its perimeters.

With so little material to go by, the question of whether the Roman bathing infrastructure was in continuous use after the Fall is still an open one.

The newly-discovered basin is a key clue, especially with the conduit pointing to it having been used after the late medieval reconstruction of Baden.

The basin is thought to be part of Baden’s legendary open-air St Verena Baths that were used from the Middle Ages well into the 19th century. But the find was probably only used early on, and at some point during its history, the St Verena Baths were made smaller and the Roman bath was forgotten, archaeologists believe.

But it remains important for the town’s spa history because it may provide a clue to whether there was continuous use of the baths between Roman and Medieval times, which has not yet been proven.

“We are very happy that we have further evidence of a 2,000-year-old bathing history [in Baden],” added [Andrea] Schaer, who is leading the archaeological project.

Also found was the structure that captured the spring water, which was built in the Middle Ages, but directly on the original Roman structure.

Farmer discovers a huge hoard of more than 4,000 ancient Roman coins in Switzerland

Farmer discovers a huge hoard of more than 4,000 ancient Roman coins in Switzerland

One of the largest treasures of that type found in Switzerland was a hoard with over 4,000 bronze and silver coins dating back to ancient Rome, unearthed in the orchard by a fruit and vegetable farmer.

Some of the Roman coins found in Ueken, Aargau canton, which experts say were buried 1,700 years ago.

Several months ago, a Swiss farmer found the old coins in Ueken, a town in northwest Switzerland. He mistakenly planted them when his cherry trees were examined.

He then contacted local archaeological experts, who confirmed the presence of a collection of more than 4,000 bronze and silver Roman coins.

Large troves of Roman coins are often found in Britain. In 2009, a collection of nearly 60,000 rust-worn coins, known as the Frome Hoard, was found in a field in Somerset in 2009.

This Swiss collection is also one of the largest ever found outside of the UK, which makes it very special.

The discovery also coincides with a renewed global interest in Rome and Roman history, prompted by the discovery of an intact tomb at the archaeological site of Pompeii in October.

Archaeologists explain that the reason why Roman coins are typically found buried in large quantities maybe because they were offered as a ritual gift to the Roman gods.

This was the case for the Frome Hoard, but although the majority of the Swiss coins have been excavated, no definite answers for their original purpose have yet been hypothesized.

Archaeologists have determined that their owner systematically buried them between 270 and 294 AD, and never came back to recover them.

The coins were taken out of circulation shortly after they were issued, but the archaeologists estimate that they have been worth between one to two years’ wages at the time. The coins, made of bronze and silver components, have been remarkably well-preserved in the soil.

Near-mint: bronze coins dating back to Roman times

“The owner must have deliberately chosen these coins in order to hoard them,” Swiss coin expert Hugo Doppler explained to the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. “Their silver content would have guaranteed certain value conservation in a time of economic uncertainty.”

Swiss archaeologist Georg Matter was thrilled by the discovery.

“As an archaeologist, one hardly experiences something like this more than once in one’s career,” he told Spiegel Online.

As exciting as the discovery is, though, the Swiss farmer who first discovered the coins won’t be able to keep his find.

The couple got missing in 1942 found in Melting Swiss Glacier

The couple got missing in 1942 found in Melting Swiss Glacier

The bodies of a couple missing for 78 years have been disclosed by a melting Swiss glacier thawed by rising temperatures. It’s not exactly a happy ending for their relatives, but at least it’s an ending, after many decades of uncertainty.

The rural residents who lived near the Diablerets mountains, Marcelin and Francine Dumoulin went out to tend to their cows on 15 August 1942 and never returned. Now DNA matching has confirmed the recovered bodies are the missing couple.

Marceline Udry-Dumoulin, one of her daughters was 4 years old at the time of disappearance and now has 79 years old. She told Le Matin, Sarah Zeines, that she was three times climbing the glacier in the hope of finding traces of her parents

Francine and Marcelin Dumoulin disappeared in 1942.

“We spent our whole lives looking for them,” says Udry-Dumoulin. “I can say that after 78 years of waiting for this news gives me a deep sense of calm.”

The couple’s remains were uncovered on the Tsanfleuron glacier above the Les Diablerets ski resort by a ski lift worker, reports the BBC, at a height of 2,615 meters (8,579 feet). According to the director of the ski lift firm, it’s likely the pair fell into a crevasse.

Les Diablerets, Switzerland

Alongside their bodies were backpacks, a watch, tin bowls, a glass bottle, and male and female shoes still encased in ice. The bodies were found lying next to each other.

After the original disappearance, villagers spent two-and-a-half months searching for the Dumoulin’s, but eventually, their seven children were resettled with other families.

Marcelin and Francine, who were 40 and 37 respectively at the time of their disappearance, are far from the only missing people to be slowly revealed as the ice recedes.

Local police report that bodies hidden for decades are often uncovered,  and they have a list of 280 missing people stretching back to 1925.

Warmer temperatures have caused maximum snow depths in the Swiss Alps to drop by 25 percent since 1970, while the ski season has shrunk by 37 days at the same time – an indication of shifting snow levels.

Experts are crediting climate change for revealing other remains, like the two Japanese climbers discovered in the Swiss Alps in 2015, and the New Zealand climber whose body was found at the foot of the country’s Tasman glacier in the same year.

Back in 2014 the Italian Alps even gave up bodies of soldiers who died in World War I.

A steady trickle of frozen artifacts has been discovered in the same region since the 1990s, including a well-preserved love letter to someone named Maria.

As for the Dumoulin’s, they can now be given a proper funeral, although their daughter Marceline isn’t going to go for the usual black clothing.

“I think that white would be more appropriate. It represents hope, which I never lost,” she says.

Scientists Examine Iceman’s Neolithic Hunting Kit

Scientists identify 5,300-year-old sinew bowstring used by Otzi the Iceman

Swiss researchers are astounded to have identified Ötzi’s bowstring. Even though the Iceman had still been working on his bow, he carried a finished twisted string in his quiver which was made of animal fibers and not of plant fibers. It is elastic, extremely resilient, and is therefore ideal as a bowstring.

A length of cord found alongside the body of Ötzi the Iceman, the Neolithic hunter who was discovered entombed in ice high in the Dolomites, has been identified as a string for his wooden bow.

An extensive research project was carried out by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) which examined materials of Neolithic bows and arrows in detail for the first time. These were then compared to Ötzi’s equipment.

The cord, which was found tucked into a quiver used by the 5,300-year-old Iceman for keeping his arrows, is made of animal sinew – ideal material for producing a strong, powerful bow.

It is two meters long, almost exactly the same length as the bow that was found beside the mummified body of the hunter when he was discovered by a pair of hikers on the Schnalstal glacier in 1991.

“We had long hoped (for this) and now it has finally been confirmed by science: the cord in Ötzi’s quiver is indeed a bowstring and it fits his bow perfectly,” the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology, where the mummified body of the Neolithic tribesman is kept in a climate-controlled chamber, said in a statement.

The preserved remains of Ötzi the Iceman

It was previously thought the cord was made of plant material, but plant fibers “would not have withstood the tension of the bow and as such wouldn’t have been suitable for a bowstring,” said experts from the museum in Bolzano, in the German-speaking north of Italy.

The bowstring has been declared the oldest known and best preserved in the world.

The scientists from the Swiss National Science Foundation also discovered that the Copper Age hunter’s bow had been freshly-cut from a yew tree. It was not yet finished – they found marks left by a hatchet which would have been used to whittle and shape the wood.

A length of cord has been identified as a string for his wooden bow

“While arrows and arrowheads are relatively common finds worldwide, complete sets of hunting equipment consisting of bows, arrows, and sometimes even quivers are extremely rare and are only known from glacier finds of the Alpine arc,” the scientific team said.

“Prehistoric bowstrings are among the rarest of all finds in archaeological excavations. “The cord contained in Ötzi’s quiver may be the oldest preserved bowstring in the world,” said the experts, who published their research in the Journal of Neolithic Archeology.

They found that the hunter’s quiver was stitched from the skin of a chamois. A flap of leather protected the interior of the quiver, which held 14 arrows when Ötzi died.

“If required, it could be opened very quickly and an arrow could be pulled out with a single motion of the arm,” the scientists said. The discovery of Ötzi, in a 3,210m high mountain pass on the border of Austria and Italy, caused a sensation.

Intensive analysis of his weapons, clothes, and body – older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids – have added immeasurably to the understanding of the Neolithic age.  

Ötzi died after being struck in the back by an arrow, sparking a long-running mystery as to who may have wanted to kill him and why – the ultimate cold case.

His body and belongings were superbly preserved by the snow and ice of the mountains. He is thought to have been about 45 when he was murdered – a good age for the era.