UNESCO World Heritage Candidature “Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps”


The lakeside settlements in the Alpine region count among the most important archaeological cultural assets in Europe. The nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage site will further increase the awareness of this extraordinary cultural heritage among the wider public. In addition, the international exchange of knowledge and experience with regard to the protection and presentation of pile dwelling sites will be promoted in the context of the candidature.

The international candidature is being staged under the auspices of the Swiss committee. All Alpine countries – Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Italy and France are involved. The Association «Palafittes» was established specifically for the coordination of the tasks in hand.

Over the past decades, pile dwelling research has made a significant contribution to the establishment of a true-to-life picture of the past. Our knowledge of early settlement history in Switzerland and the alpine region is largely based on scientific results obtained from pile dwelling sites. The finds from pile dwellings display considerable cultural variety and span the period from 4300-800 BC. Scholars today can identify more than 30 different cultural groups associated with the pile dwelling sites. Therefore, the interactions – even across the Alps – between Central and Southeastern European, Western European and Mediterranean cultural traditions can thus be studied and illustrated.

The finds include not only the imperishable pottery sherds, stone axes and animal bones, but submerged in lakes or in permanently wet bog soils, organic objects can also last a long time. Without oxygen, the micro-organisms that cause decay do not stand a chance. This leads to extraordinarily good preservation conditions in the pile dwelling sites. Therefore, the pile dwellings are famous for containing the earliest textiles in Europe. Wooden vessels, fishing nets and completely preserved tools provide a varied and surprisingly vivid insight into everyday life in the distant past. Pile dwellings have brought to light wooden flutes and curiosities such as Stone Age chewing gum. The oldest preserved loaf of bread worldwide also came from a pile dwelling site.

The archaeological sites located in lakes and bogs are excellent archives for natural scientific studies, in particular for biosciences, palaeolimnology (the study of inland waters and ecosystems) and climate research. Also of great importance is the possibility of attributing the annual growth ring sequences of the constructional timbers found to a particular period of time (dendrochronology). Not only does this allow us to reconstruct the building history of the villages to the year but it also means that the finds can be dated with an accuracy that is unique worldwide. With over 100 000 wood samples analysed, the pile dwellings are the best-dated archaeological sites in the world.

More information about the candidature: www.palafittes.ch

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