Stone Age, Lake Dwellings

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History of Switzerland: Introduction / Sitemap A Short History of Switzerland History of Switzerland: Detailed Timeline  Early Swiss History
Prehistory: Lake-dwellings in Switzerland Swiss History: Celtic Helvetians Switzerland during the Age of Romans, Aventicum Aventicum, Swiss Capital in the Age of Romans Switzerland during the Middle Ages  Old Swiss History
The Old Swiss Confederacy (1291-1515) William Tell (Switzerland's National Hero) The Swiss Reformation (Calvin, Zwingli)  A Modern Constitution
Swiss Revolution and Helvetic Republic (1798) Switzerland's Federal Constitution (1848) History of Switzerland's Flag Switzerland's Political System The Long Way to Women's Right to Vote  Industrialisation
Industrialisation in Switzerland Johanna Spyri: Heidi, the girl from the alps - A bestseller about times of change  World War II
World War II: General Timeline Switzerland's Role in World War II Spiritual Defense against Nazism Switzerland's Economic Dependence and Rationing Jewish Refugees Looted Assets Switzerland's Neutrality Switzerland's National Public Radio Station Beromünster  Country & People
Basic information about Switzerland - country profile Switzerland's Population and Languages Important Swiss monuments: pictures and meaning  Links
Links: History Swiss Museums Links: Switzerland

Switzerland's Prehistory

Ice Age

Morteratsch glacier, eastern Switzerland  

About 600,000 years ago, temperatures sank and Europe was covered by glaciers almost completely. In Lucerne, central Switzerland, the thickness of the ice reached as much as about 1 km (3000 ft). Until about 30,000 years ago, several cold and warm periods followed each other, animals and men came to Europe and had to leave again. The focus of cultural development remained for thousands of years in the Middle East (Sumer, Babylon, Egypt), however.

Stone Age

A few traces of early hunters (weapons and tools made from stone splinters, bones of prey animals and human skeletons) dating back to a relatively warm period about 150,000 years ago have been found in several natural caves in eastern and western Switzerland at an altitude of some 1,000 to 1,500 m (3000 to 4,500 ft) above sea level. These people belonged to the species homo neanderthalensis that disappeared later in history. They hunted mainly big animals.

At about 40,000 B.C. modern man (homo sapiens) began to dominate and more sophisticated tools - still made from flintstone (silex), wood, animal bones and leather - were developed. In southern Europe (Altimira, Spain and Lascaux, France) paintings in caves have been found. The objects from this period found in Switzerland are less impressing - several pieces of reindeer antlers with engraved pictures of animals.

Middle Stone Age

From 15,000 B.C. on, the climate became milder and the glacier retreated definitely. Forests grew again, and smaller animals could be hunted while mammoth and reindeer retreated to northern Europe, followed by those people that wanted to stay with their traditional way of life.

The Neolithic Revolution

From 8,000 B.C. on technological progress became faster and faster: Rubbing stone with emery, new tools, cultivation of vegetables and livestock breeding and the invention of the wheel. This new know-how spread from the Middle East to Europe and reached Switzerland at about 5,000 B.C. - both via the Mediterranean Sea and Southern France (along river Rhone) and via the Black Sea, Hungary and Austria (along river Danube).

Megalithic Menhirs in Yverdon, Switzerland
Megalithic Menhirs in Yverdon, Switzerland

Lake Dwellings

From 4000 B.C. to 500 B.C. Lake-dwellers constructed wooden houses on posts at the shores of Switzerland's lakes. Floor and walls were based on plaited twigs and chinks were filled with clay. Most of these lake-dwellings were found at places where the water level changes with the seasons. Knowing that changes in climate and natural as well as man-made bypasses of inflow and outflow may dramatically influence water level makes it nearly impossible to determine whether these houses were erected over the water or just near the water.   Reconstructed Lake Dwellings
Reconstructed Lake-Dwellings

Bronze Age

Metals, first copper, then bronze (an alloy of copper and tin) were introduced in Europe around 2000 B.C. While copper was too pliable for tools, bronze could replace stones better. Bronze age tools and weapons were first just copies of the most advanced late stone age products. Later, new forms like sickles and barbed hooks appeared.

Iron Age

Iron was known in the Middle East as early as around 3000 B.C. but came to Europe relatively late. As advanced ovens are necessary to smelt the ore it took several centuries until iron tools and weapons could outperform those made of bronze. The early Iron Age period in Europe (800 - 450 B.C.) is named after Hallstatt, an Austrian village with rich deposits of ores. A second period (450 - 50 B.C.) bears the name of La Tène, an excavation site on the shores of Lake Neuchâtel (Switzerland).

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