Lake Dwellings

 

Unteruhldingen in Germany, near Lake Constance, is home to an open-air museum (Pfahlbauern Museum) showing 20 reconstructed lake dwellings from the Stone and Bronze Ages (4000 - 858 BC). The museum, which opened in 1922, was one the first of its kind in Europe. Today it attracts about 300,000 visitors a year from all over the world. It gives an insight into how people lived thousands of years ago. The dwellings consisted of wooden huts built on piles in the water, mainly providing protection against marauders. The huts had beaten clay floors and some also housed sheep and cattle. Remains of various pile-dwelling settlements are found in many parts of the world. 

People lived in villages raised on stilts in water to protect against the rising and falling of the water levels throughout the seasons – the height of the houses marked just a little higher than the highest point to which the waters rose in flood season. It also protected them from vermin. Archaeologists believe pile dwellings were commonplace at the time – many similar dwellings have been excavated throughout Europe – and indeed they are still the norm in other areas of the world.

Because of the composition of the peaty earth in bogs and moors, many items from that time were well preserved enough for us to put together a good picture of how the Stone-age and Bronze-age dwellers of such villages went about their daily lives. From tools and remains of utensils and even furnishings found at sites like these, we have been able to deduce, for example, that they used razor-sharp flint to strike sparks from pyrite onto tinder polypore – also known as the firestarter mushroom – to make fire.

The remains of the dwellings show mostly one fire pit per building, suggesting that each dwelling was occupied by one family, although where this differs it is thought that the building was used for other purposes such as a meeting place or for rituals or storage. Preserved foodstuffs in excavated pots suggest that the people of the village ate cereal mush, simple bread products, peas, beans, lentils, linseeds, blackberries, rosehip, raspberries, apples and hazelnuts.

Beyond what we can glean from the evidence of remains such as these, it is very difficult to tell how the village-dwellers lived day to day. We rely on burial remains and found artefacts to piece together an idea – but we still do not know the meaning or significance of certain methods of burial or of symbols and talismans, because there were no written or pictoral records kept. But the team at Unteruhldingen have put together a very good representation, based on their findings, of what living was like there, and a hands-on experience during your visit will help bring history to life.

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