The enemy of archeology everywhere is salt. It destroys buildings, disassembles art works, and can turn ancient pottery into piles of dust.
How salt lays waste to these artifacts is well known, but scientists in Switzerland have monitored the process in a laboratory. Their observations could help preserve the buildings, art, and treasured relics of humanity.
The salts in question are not just sodium chloride, the salt on your dining room table or in the sea, but substances such as fluorides, sulfates, and acetates — substances formed when acids and bases interact. It can affect sites in the desert or along the coast, or anywhere with high humidity, said Robert Flatt, professor of building materials at ETH Zurich, an engineering institute in Switzerland. Even the Sistine Chapel can be affected. Read more.
Children’s skulls found at the edges of Bronze Age settlements may have been a gruesome gift for the local lake gods.
The children’s skulls were discovered encircling the perimeter of ancient villages around lakes in Switzerland and Germany. Some had suffered ax blows and other head traumas.
Though the children probably weren’t human sacrifices killed to appease the gods, they may have been offered after death as gifts to ward off flooding, said study co-author Benjamin Jennings, an archaeologist at Basel University in Switzerland. Read more.
A sensational archaeological discovery has been made in the region of Bern, Switzerland, consisting of a communal dolmen grave dating back to over 5,000 years, containing 30 bodies and Neolithic artefacts. It represents the first intact burial chamber to be found north of the Alps.
In October 2011, specialists from the Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern began investigation of the large granite slab weighing in at 7 tonnes. The glacial erratic measured 3 metres long, 2 metres wide and was nearly 1 metre thick – what they did not realise at first was that it still covered a grave belonging to a Neolithic community. Read more.
Archaeology in Switzerland has been held up as a shining example in other countries, but its future is threatened by a lack of coordination and legislation defining how it should be funded.
Chevenez in canton Jura: it’s here that a well-known watchmaker is building a new factory on a tight schedule. It’s also here that the initial spadework revealed what could be a major archeological site.
The local authorities had to scramble to save what they could find in a few short weeks, after the firm building the factory agreed to put construction on hold. The archaeologists were able to collect around 5,000 artifacts from different periods, but had little time to study them within their context. Read more.
Archaeologists have reopened a grave in Switzerland to see if DNA testing can confirm it contains the body of 17th century Swiss hero - and killer - Jürg Jenatsch.
Jenatsch is believed to be buried under the flagstones of Chur Cathedral in eastern Switzerland. A body purporting to be his was already exhumed in 1959 by the anthropologist Erik Hug, who identified him on the basis of the clothing and the large blow to the skull.
Now the archaeologists have dug him out again, with a view to identifying him once and for all with new techniques. They are also studying his skull with the aid of a scanner at the local hospital, hoping to reconstruct his face and compare it with contemporary portraits of the notorious Jenatsch.
Who was this man? In the Thirty Years’ War, Graubünden, today a Swiss canton, was an independent republic, and a cockpit for Catholic and Protestant powers seeking to dominate Europe. Read more.
A current exhibition in Neuchatel, Switzerland features the most outrageous frauds from the world of archeology, from fake skulls to dragons made from the remains of sting rays. It also reveals that people have been making fake artifacts for thousands of years.
In 1563, the servants of Anton Waldbott von Bassenheim, a German imperial knight, went into his lavish vineyards to cultivate the vines. Suddenly one of the workers stumbled across a Roman grave site. It contained coins and a black urn filled with bones. The urn itself wasn’t enough for the nobleman, who had it embellished with a silver rim. Afterwards, he boasted that the urn was real.
Which it no longer was.
The urn is now part of an exhibition in the Swiss city of Neuchatel that features astonishing forgeries from various periods of history. The show at the Laténium archeology museum includes busts of pharaohs produced in the winding alleys of Cairo, imitation Etruscan vases and gilded druid sickles, all made with the intention to deceive.
"L’âge du Faux" ("The Age of Forgeries") brings one into a shadowy world of criminal artists, dealers in stolen goods and scientists so filled with ambition that they quickly allowed themselves to be fooled. Read more.