Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps

From the World Heritage inscription:

The series of 111 out of the 937 known archaeological pile-dwelling sites in six countries around the Alpine and sub-alpine regions of Europe is composed of the remains of prehistoric settlements dating from 5,000 to 500 BC which are situated under water, on lake shores, along rivers or in wetlands. The exceptional conservation conditions for organic materials provided by the waterlogged sites, combined with extensive under-water archaeological investigations and research in many fields of natural science, such as archaeobotany and archaeozoology, over the past decades, has combined to present an outstanding detailed perception of the world of early agrarian societies in Europe. The precise information on their agriculture, animal husbandry, development of metallurgy, over a period of more than four millennia, coincides with one of the most important phases of recent human history: the dawn of modern societies.

In view of the possibilities for the exact dating of wooden architectural elements by dendrochronology, the sites have provided exceptional archaeological sources that allow an understanding of entire prehistoric villages and their detailed construction techniques and spatial development over very long time periods. They also reveal details of trade routes for flint, shells, gold, amber, and pottery across the Alps and within the plains, transport evidence from dugout canoes and wooden wheels, some complete with axles for two-wheeled carts dating from around 3,400BC, some of the earliest preserved in the world, and the oldest textiles in Europe dating to 3,000 BC. This cumulative evidence has provided a unique insight into the domestic lives and settlements of some thirty different cultural groups in the Alpine lacustrine landscape that allowed the pile dwellings to flourish.

Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps

This is a massive, serial world heritage site with 111 locations scattered across six different countries. The site I visited was the Federsee location in the town of Bad Buchau.

As with all archeology sites, you have to temper your expectations for what you are going to see. This world heritage site is devoted to bronze age people around the Alps. Needless to say, there isn’t a whole lot remaining from their time. Almost everything made out of organic matter (cloth and wood for example) have long since disappeared.

The Federsee museum has a surprisingly good collection of artifacts found from the area, including pottery and metal items. Because the Federsee was a bog, many things which fell into the waters were preserved by the lack of oxygen.

In addition to the museum, there is also a small reconstructed village which gives you an idea of what life was like there 5,000 years ago.

The Federsee Museum in Bad Buchau is one of the better locations to visit this site just because there is a museum and interpretative center available. From the reports I’ve read from other travelers, some of the other locations consist of nothing more than a sign with little or nothing available to see.

As I travel through other countries in the region, I’m going to keep my eyes open to visit more of the locations listed under this world heritage site.


Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps

The Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps form the transnational property recognized as a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a series of prehistoric pile-dwelling or stilt houses that were built around 5000 to 500 BC. Most of these settlements are located in or around the Alps area. There are 111 sites in total that make up this UNESCO site. These sites are distributed among numerous countries as follows:

These sites are recognized as a whole as the Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps and were added by UNESCO in 2011. Most of these houses are located near bodies of water such as rivers, lakes, and wetlands. This site was the first UNESCO site for Slovenia.

About the Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps

Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps

The Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps that are spread throughout 6 countries in Europe depict the early agrarian communities in Europe. Hence, it was considered culturally significant by UNESCO. Aside from the ability to provide a glimpse into the way of life during this time period, the excellent state of preservation for these settlements also reflects the resilience of the method of building for these houses. There were also several organic remains found at the site and near these houses such as wood, bonese, plant remains and textiles.

Not all of these sites were subject to archaeological excavations. However, for those sites that were excavated, the researchers and archaeologists have been able to gather important evidence that would provide insight into the way of life during prehistoric times. Specifically, the archaeologists are looking at the Bronze and Neolithic Age based on the evidence gathered at the Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps. Aside from the way of survival and how the houses were built, the evidence of the remains at the site showcases how the people that lived in this area interacted with their environment.

Despite previous claims, the Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps were not built on water. However, they were built near bodies of water such as along the banks of rivers or lakes. The unique feature of these houses is that they were set on a pile. This was an ancient method used for constructing homes to protect from occasional flooding. As the lakes grew over time, many of these piles have been underwater. Hence, visitors to the sites now wrongly assume that this is how the houses have been since prehistoric times.

Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps

The rising water level is also part of the reason why these settlements were abandoned. According to archaeologists, there were about 30 cultural groups that lived in these settlements and formed these pile dwellings.

Visiting the Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps is difficult. Most of the sites are now buried underwater or covered by layers of sediments on dry land. However, there are various exhibits and archaeological parks set up near any of the 111 sites to showcase the history and development of these prehistoric settlements. At the same time, some sites provide reconstructions of these settlements to convey the unique way of life during that time period.

Gary Arndt
Gary Arndt

Gary began traveling the world in 2007. His travels have taken him to over 200 countries and territories and 400 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

He is a 3x Lowell Thomas Award winner and a 3x North American Travel Photographer of the Year.

2 thoughts on “Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps”

  1. Question: is that a preserved house? Or did they set it up to look a certain way (Maybe I missed it in your post). It just seems so immaculate.

  2. Question: is that a preserved house? Or did they set it up to look a certain way (Maybe I missed it in your post). It just seems so immaculate.

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