Lake Dwelling Museum lake of constance




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The 16 questions most frequently asked by our visitors


Questions asked by our visitors who tour the Lake Dwellings, are often very similar. We have answered those that we thought are important in order to gain a more thorough understanding.

What was the actual location of the original Lake Dwellings?
When and by whom where the reproductions constructed?
How much of the reconstruction is invention?
How much of the reconstruction is based on substantiating evidence?
Why did they build on poles or piles?
How large were the villages?
How many inhabitants did they have?
How long did it take to build a house?
How long did the houses last?
What kind of people lived here?
Was there one family living in each house?
Did they have a village chief?
What were his responsibilities and duties?
What is known about their rituals and religion?
What did these people eat?
Who is responsible for the financing and maintenance of the Museum?
What about the houses not included in the guided tour?
Where and by whom are excavations conducted currently?
What is the Lake Dwelling controversy about?

 
What was the actual location of the original Lake Dwellings?
 
Lake dwellings, known as pole or pile dwellings, have been in existence at the shores of all large lakes in the Prealps, Switzerland, Italy, France, and Germany. Lake dwellings have also been discovered at some lakes in Italy, Austria, Latvia, Lithuania, Spain, at the Laibacher Moor, and the Federsee Moor in Upper Swabia. According to the latest data, this era constitutes the life form of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age between approximately 4300 BC and 800 BC. Just at Lake Constance (Bodensee) alone, about 100 settlements with about 400 previous settlements are known. Areas at geographical crossings of trade routes that offered good farmland and fresh water accessibility were the preferred sites. This is one of the reasons why the largest concentration of prehistoric settlements where located at Konstanz, Bodman-Ludwigshafen, and Unteruhldingen. Between Unteruhldingen and the Island Mainau, the crossing site with a 2.3 km distance, is the shortest crossing from the northern to the southern shore as a part of a historical route from the Danube to Upper Swabing across Lake Constance through Switzerland to Italy.

The reconstructions at the Open Air Museum (1922-2007) evidencing excavation results from Riedschachen at Bad Schussenried (Houses dated back to 1922), Bad Buchau, Unteruhldingen, and Konstanz (Bronze Age Village 1931) as well as Sipplingen, Riedschachen, and Aichbühl at Bad Schussenried (Stone Age Village 1939/40) serve as a scientific foundation. (Illustration). The newest houses (in the East and North) of the facility are modeled after the archaeological findings and research of Hornstaad (Building 1996 and 2007), Arbon (Building1998), and Unteruhldingen (Building 1998-2005) at Lake Constance.
   
 
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When and by whom where the reproductions constructed??
 
The first reconstructions in Unteruhldingen were undertaken in 1922 and 1940. The oldest Stone Age houses (1922) were built under the scientific expert consultation of the Urgeschichtlichen Forschungsinstitutes Tübingen, Dr. H. Reinerth, Prof. Dr. R. R. Schmidt (Prehistoric Research Institute Tübingen).

The technical building construction was entrusted to the Lake Dwelling Society Unteruhldingen (P. Fritz, G. Sulger). The Bronze Age Village (1923-1931), and the Stone Age Village (1937-1940), were reconstructed according to the design of H. Reinerth. Construction manager at the site was Chr. Murr, Director of the Model Workshop of the German Reichsbund of Prehistory (formerly Model Workshop Prehistoric Research Institute Tübingen).

The construction of the houses built last (1996, 1998, 2002, 2007), are based on actual excavations, and are being constructed by the Museum and it’s Research Institute in cooperation with the respective relevant technical authorities (Illustrations).
    Rekonstruktionen Pfahlbauten

Prof. Dr. R. R. Schmidt Dr. H. Reinerth Georg Sulger
 
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How much of the reconstruction is invention?
How much of the reconstruction is based on substantiating evidence?

 
Archaeological reconstructions depend on the state of preservation of the actual finds, and the quality of the investigation methods. Houses that collapsed or deteriorated 6000 or 3000 years ago can only be evidenced fragmentary. However, in the bogs, moors, and lakes where preservation conditions are excellent for organic materials, stumps of poles and piles, part of floors, hearths, walls, and remains of furnishings are found in good condition; although, a house that is still intact from the floor to the ridge pole has not yet been discovered. The best-case scenario are finds that evidence houses with a wall height up to 30 cm. This makes it difficult to calculate the actual height of the walls and the roof pitch, which can only be concluded from well preserved house remains. The roof pitch, depending on the roof angle and/or purpose, consisted of grass, wooden shingles, twigs, bark, and reeds.

Each archeological reconstruction of a building in the Lake Dwelling Museum is a carefully reconstructed model, and attempts to represent a logical replication based on findings and scientific comparisons in archeology and ethnology. Some compromises are necessary to clearly exemplify building techniques of the past, and to thereby provide the desired level of understanding for the museum visitor. Inventiveness remains where excavations have not yet brought about univocal results. With science progressing, the basis for authentic reconstructions is improving, and reconstructions will most likely soon be witnesses based solely on substantiating evidence.
    Rekonstruktionen Pfahlbauten

Pfahlbauten Zeichnung
 
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Why did they build on poles or piles?
 
At the lakes of the Prealps, water level deviations depend of the yearly water inflow. The average deviation of the Lake Constance water level can measure about two to three meters yearly. The effect of inflowing melt-water starting in March is especially strong during the Spring. Melt-water can cause the lake water level to rise for about three meters in only three months. Considering the distribution pattern of dwellings during the Stone and Bronze Age, it can be assumed that the water level of Lake Constance also depended on the amount of melt-water flowing into the lake during the spring. The shoreline and the ground changed continuously under the natural conditions in an interaction between sedimentation and erosion. For people living at the shore, it was therefore advisable to always build on poles or to take other precautionary measures that ensured a dry and secure dwelling site.

When considering other advantages of a shore dwelling such as house construction, simple waste disposal, communication, transportation, trade, and fishing, then this kind of dwelling is easily understandable also for people of our modern age. The factor of protection against the enemy, as described in past historical writings, could not have been the only reason for the need to live in pile or pole dwellings. That pile or pole dwellings, at least those along the lakeshores, did exist. This has meanwhile been proven by a great number of excavations. It has also been ascertained, that these dwellings were conveniently constructed in ideal positions along remote European trade routes.
   
 
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How large were the villages?
How many inhabitants did they have?

 
During the Neolithic and Bronze Age, small and larger settlements of lake dwellers existed at the Lake Constance and Federsee regions. A village could possibly have five to eighty houses. Accordingly, the sites ranged between 0.1 and 2 Hectares. The average number of houses forming a village during the Neolithic Age is believed to be about twenty, during the Bronze Age about thirty dwellings. In larger villages with houses set closely together, 3000 years ago, about 500 people lived in a community.      
 
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How long did it take to build a house?
 
Because of missing written or oral traditions, no exact information is available. Observations of presently still inhabited lake dwellings in other countries, together with building data ascertained from prehistorically lake dwellings, give us good estimations. It may be assumed that the construction of a house in cooperation of numerous villagers progressed rapidly, once the building material was gathered. Ethnological comparisons show that the building of a shell construction was concluded within a few days, and that the completion of the outer and inner interior is possible within one or two months (Illustration).

Based on the experiences at the building of experimental houses in „Hornstaad“, the actual building time for a house, without the gathering and preparing of building materials and with the manpower of three to four workers, is about 20 days. The preparation, however, takes about two months.
     
 
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How long did these houses last?
 
Lake dwellings are constructed on wooden poles. According to what archeologists at the Lake Dwelling Museum have learnt, their durability of building material – subject to continuous interaction between soil, air and/or water and air - determines the life span of a dwelling. Poles of oak, depending on annual ring density and thickness, remain intact 20 to 50 years, pine, or ash poles usually do not last more than fifteen years. Yearly water level deviations, ice in the winter, floods, and storms, additionally shortened the lifespan of the lake dwellings in the swampy shore areas at Lake Constance. According to dendrochronological findings (annual tree ring method), a house in the Stone and Bronze Age usually stood only about ten to fifteen years; rarely 30 years. So that houses could be inhabited for a long period, they underwent continuous repairs.      
 
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What kind of people lived here?
 
Even today, this question cannot be answered clearly. The carriers of the archeological cultures are still nameless to this day. They are tentatively named based on the shape of their pottery vessels (corded ware and Bell Beaker ceramics), their form of burials (grave mounds, urn graves) or their first eponymous site (Horgen, Pfyn, Hornstaad, Schussenried). Only for the 5th Century BC, the Celts are known as a people with a name, and by the 1st Century BC, the Teutonic people appear in written sources.      
 
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Was there one family living in each house?
 
Considering the size of the dwellings and their arrangement within the village, it would seem logical that just one family occupied a house. The family, as findings show, constitutes the smallest social unit within a village community. Supported by analyzed data and according to still currently inhabited lake dwellings in Africa and Asia, around 5 to 7 people dwelled in one household. However, the existence of more than one fire-pit in some dwellings could mean that possibly more than one family lived under one roof. It could also mean that some buildings were utilized for other activities, such as cultural rituals, community meetings, stables, or the storage of foodstuff.      
 
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Was there a village chief, and
if so, what were his duties?

 
Almost each village community has an internal hierarchical structure. At larger lake dwellings with remote trade relations and high organizational standards, the existents of privileged, chieftains or village elders who were assigned manifold tasks and responsibilities, such as maintaining the internal and external peace, is most certain. Sometimes these larger houses with important households can be clearly ascertained within a settlement. No later than in the Bronze Age, chieftains or important persons, women and men, can be recorded based on the rich grave goods or objects of high prestige value, lavishly decorated swords, and ornate imported artifacts. The role of these chiefs or elders during the Stone and Bronze Ages must still be researched. Only in the Iron Age, friezes on bronze vessels and rock carvings (petroglyphs) and pictographs display warriors, carriage races, fist and sword fights, as well as festivity scenes that allude to the lives of the privileged in the Alpine region.
   
 
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What is known about their rituals and religion?
 
The spiritual realm of the lake dwellers still remains a mystery, since there are no direct written or oral traditions. Pictures or ritual objects, which possibly could disclose a connection between religion and ritual, are rarely preserved. Some insight can be gained through the discovery of graves, votive finds in waters as well as unusual finds. In the Bronze Age Village 2, it was possible to reconstruct an illustration about a burial ritual and the little that is known about religion 3000 years ago.

Gravesites are expressions of religious beliefs. Unfortunately, only a few gravesites have been discovered along Lake Constance. The collective grave in a stone burial cist or chest of the Neolithic period offers a different understanding of the afterlife than the urn graves in the Late Bronze Age or the individual burial of a deceased on a carriage buried under a grave mount during the Iron Age. The evidenced efforts involved in a burial, and the custom to endow the deceased with grave goods such as weapons, tools, utensils, jewelry, and provisions for the journey, points toward the belief of an afterlife. The Stone Age custom, to sprinkle the deceased with hematite dust or to position the body or his view according to cardinal points, hints toward a still hidden spiritual world, that we see in connection with religion and cult. Weapons and jewelry are purposely bent, thrown into the water, or burnt at the funeral pyre along with the body. In the region of the Alps, Spring sanctuaries and burnt-offering sites are known.

Noteworthy are the houses with the white wall ornamentation, dots, triangles, and fir branch patterns as well as other not yet decoded motives, but also female busts of clay (Illustration 69). These houses are interpreted to have been cult houses. Vessels with similar signs and patterns have also been evidenced. Pierced bear teeth or deer grandel (canines) cannot without the magic of hunting and the rituals known to date, be explaned. Strange looking amulets made out of bone and wood, wheel pendants, bullhorns, and swallowtails out of bronze, are expressions of a belief in good and bad powers, which clearly related to the signs and figures (Illustration). These are not just adornments. For example, the moon and the sun as directional sky images were already familiar concepts in the life of the lake dwellers. The bull and the bird complete the symbolic that can be related to the farmers and fishermen at Lake Constance.

When referring to cult and rituals, the dance and body ornament played an important role in the regular daily and yearly routines. For example, „Ötzi“, the man of the Stone Age exhibits 30 tattooed places on his body. Tattoos were also found on deceased buried in the iced grave mounts of the Iron Age. With the well-known music instruments and later figurative representations, ritual celebrations develop before the mind's eye. Whether they sacrificed a certain God, as for instance the wooden cult figure from Bad Buchau or different deities, is unknown.
   

Fundstück
 
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What did people eat?
 
If today according to our main diet, we can be considered a „coffee and bread society“, then the people 3000 or 6000 years ago can be considered members of a „water and cereal mush society“. Countless examples of burnt remains of food in the excavated pots, illustrate that cereal mush, simple breads, vegetable such as peas, beans, lentils, oil seeds, especially opium poppy and linseed, formed the bases for their diet (Illustration). Additionally, blackberries, wild brier (rosehip), raspberries, elder, sloes, apples, or even hazelnuts were gathered. Milk, cheese, curd, bird eggs or fish, game, and domesticated cattle were not part of the daily menu.    
 
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Who is responsible for the financing and maintenance of the Museum?
 
Since its founding in 1922, the Museum is operated by the Society for Lake Dwellings and Local Ethnology Unteruhldingen, (Verein für Pfahlbau- und Heimatkunde e.V.). Persons who are interested in prehistoric studies may join the Society. For additional information, click here. Ongoing activities and maintenance of the Museum are financed through admission charges and donations.      
 
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What about the houses that are not included in the guided tour?
 
Those houses are used for lectures, presentations, and events. They are also utilized to store building material and artifacts used in projects. Additionally, they serve as storage area for the mandatory life-saving equipment.      
 
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Where and by whom are excavations conducted currently?
 
The responsibility and authorization to conduct excavations, is subject to the decisions of the German Federal States and/or Cantons of Switzerland, and public institutions that are engaged in historic preservation, regional archeology, or special assignments at various places within the Lake Constance region. Thus the State Office for the Conservation of Historic Monuments – the closest agency is located at Hemmenhofen at the Lower Lake Constance in Germany – as well as the Canton Thurgau with its Office for Archeology in Frauenfeld, Switzerland, currently conduct research in more than 100 lake dwelling settlements around Lake Constance. These excavations are often undertaken after a geophysical prospection of archaeological sites by aerial photography (aerial archeology). At the shore areas, they are carried out by diver and underwater/maritime archeologists.    
 
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What is the Lake Dwelling controversy about?
 
The controversy over whether or not lake, pile or pole dwellings existed, and if they existed, whether they had been constructed at the land shores or in the water, and how far above the ground they had been built, has, based on many new excavation results, been reduced to an absurdity. There were actual dwellings, both ashore and on embankments, that stood up to 5 meters above the ground or the water. This is clearly evidenced by new investigations. However, villages on a common platform in the midst of the waters, as were envisioned by the romantics of the 19. Century, so-called water pile dwellings, did, as far as can be judged today, not exist (Illustration). Lake dwellings were best constructed during times of receding water levels. With a lower water level, as excavations show, more dwellings were built into the waterlogged ground at the shores. However, it was important for the building masters to take the annual flood or possible floods resulting from the melting of the snow (May/June) into consideration when constructing the elevated ground floors. So far, at Lake Constance, authentic lake dwellings could be evidenced to have been existent between 4300 and 850 BC. Huts built directly on the ground are found at smaller lakes that were not affected by water level deviations during winter and spring.    
 
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