Travelling objects: changing values : trade, exchange, and cultural influences for the decline of the lake-dwelling tradition in the northern Circum-Alpine region during the Late Bronze Age

Jennings, Benjamin. Travelling objects: changing values : trade, exchange, and cultural influences for the decline of the lake-dwelling tradition in the northern Circum-Alpine region during the Late Bronze Age. 2013, Doctoral Thesis, University of Basel, Faculty of Science.


Official URL: http://edoc.unibas.ch/diss/DissB_10508

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Between the Neolithic and the Late Bronze Age (LBA) a long lasting tradition, with temporary interruptions, of lake-dwelling occupation is well recorded in the northern Circum-Alpine region (Switzerland, southern Germany, eastern France; nCA). Traditional interpretations for the intermittent or permanent decline of this tradition have focussed on the role of climatic change influencing lake water levels, and thereby directly affecting the settlers through inundation of settlements and agricultural land. Such monocausalistic explanations would result in the movement of settlements to higher or lower altitudes depending on the prevailing contemporary lake-level. Such factors may have influenced the temporary abandonment of the lakeshore, e.g. during the Middle Bronze Age. The final decline of the lake-dwelling tradition at the end of the LBA and beginning of the early Iron Age (eIA), around 800 BC, breaks this pattern, suggesting other cultural factors may be involved. The material culture record from across central Europe broadly suggests that trade and communication routes linking northern and southern Europe were changing during this period. Could these networks have influenced cultural changes in the nCA lake-dwelling communities, and contributed to the decline of the lake-dwelling tradition?
A combination of robust theoretical background and thorough review of specific types of LBA and eIA material culture provides insights to communication routes flowing through the nCA, and changing social attitudes towards objects within the nCA between the two periods. Four theoretical principles were adopted and developed to provide a solid basis for interpretation:
1) Relational Theory: emphasising that the links between communities, objects, people, and social structures are mutually constructive. A proposed relational model suggests that the material culture and social expression of communities (and societies) is influenced by the involvement in exchange and communication relationships with other groups.
2) Biography of Objects: details how objects accumulate biographies throughout their use depending on the relationships in which they were used. The archaeological contexts in which objects are found also provide indications of their social value.
3) Cultural Memory: recognises that the interpretation of ancient remains may have formed significant guiding factors in the cultural landscape of past communities.
4) Object Translation: it is well accepted that objects do not have an inherent value, but that any value is socially ascribed. This ascription of value occurs as objects are ‘translated’ from one cultural setting to another.
The principle of Object Biographies can be applied to immovable material culture (i.e. settlements) in addition to traditional forms of material culture (objects). A proposed theoretical biography of northern Alpine lake-settlements links various social factors to the establishment and decline of settlements. For example, the role of cultural memory in the interpretation of ancient settlement remains visible in the landscape may be considered as one of the factors directing communities to found new settlements. The well documented remains from Ürschhausen-Horn suggest that some buildings were deliberately abandoned in a planned event rather than evacuated in a catastrophic flooding or fire. Social factors were of great significance to the rhythm of settlement construction. A comparative study of lake-settlements from the nCA and Baltic regions suggests that there is no apparent link between the two lake-dwelling traditions of these regions – this is also reflected in the distribution of objects.
Many forms of material culture show that the nCA lake-dwellings, particularly around Lake Neuchâtel and the Zurich Bay, formed nodal points on the long-distance exchange network between northern Europe and the Mediterranean. Strong links to Frattesina (Italy), and around Mainz and Frankfurt are demonstrated, for example by ring jewellery and Pfahlbau beads. During the eIA the material culture used in the nCA is predominantly local in distribution, but a change of in the social valuation of objects social value is evident, with items predominantly deposited in burials.
Combining the evidence of settlements, burial practices, and material culture use, it is clear that the nCA region was largely removed from long-distance inter-regional exchange network during the eIA, while, at the same time, burial practices became more pronounced in society. The loss of these trade connections may have reduced the materials and practices available to social elites to legitimize their position, which was replaced by increased focus on the burial practices and the role of hilltop settlements as visible social indicators. These changes to legitimization practices and social structures rendered the former lake-dwelling way of living no longer suitable to communities of the early Iron Age and beyond.
Advisors:Menotti, Francesco
Committee Members:Leuzinger, Urs
Faculties and Departments:05 Faculty of Science > Departement Umweltwissenschaften > Ehemalige Einheiten Umweltwissenschaften > Wetland Archaeology (Menotti)
UniBasel Contributors:Menotti, Francesco
Item Type:Thesis
Thesis Subtype:Doctoral Thesis
Thesis no:10508
Thesis status:Complete
Number of Pages:2 Bde.
Identification Number:
edoc DOI:
Last Modified:22 Jan 2018 15:51
Deposited On:23 Oct 2013 13:09

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