Arbon-Bleiche 3

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The site Arbon-Bleiche 3 is on the Swiss side of Lake Constance, within the territory of the modern village of Arbon. The site of the Neolithic lake-dwelling settlement lies a few hundred meters back from the present-day lakeshore. In Neolithic times the village was situated in a bay, near small inlets. Three excavation campaigns between 1993 and 1995 saw nearly half of the Neolithic village recovered, including remains of twenty-five houses plus two small storehouses. The entire village must have comprised about fifty houses. If we calculate about six to ten persons for each house, the population of the village would have ranged between three hundred and five hundred.

Based on samples from the house posts, dendrochronology gives exact dates for the settlement and helps trace its construction history. The first building work in the village began in the year 3384 b.c., when a single dwelling was raised. In the following year, only two more houses were built. More houses were constructed over the next few years, until the entire village had been completed. This settlement history makes it clear that during the construction of Arbon-Bleiche 3, part of the village community must have lived elsewhere, in another village.

In the year 3370 b.c., catastrophe struck as the entire village burned. Arbon-Bleiche 3 had existed only fifteen years and was never rebuilt. Thus, archaeologists were presented with a single-layer settlement containing material deposited over a very short time, making it easy to reconstruct the village plan. All the houses had been constructed using posts of white fir and arranged in separate rows with their long sides facing the lake. There also seems to have been one broad lane running toward the lakeshore. Some evidence suggests that the house floors were raised slightly above the ground.

From this period not much evidence exists for lake-dwelling sites and cultural developments in Switzerland, probably the result of climatic conditions that led to erosion of the deposited archaeological layers. Arbon-Bleiche 3 was preserved fortuitously by the presence of a nearby small river. Flooding from the river covered the remains of the destroyed village with a protective layer of sand.

The Pfyn culture predominated in the region of Lake Constance before the thirty-fourth century b.c. Its material remains are characterized by, among other things, ceramic pots with S-profile walls. After this time Horgen culture finds dominate at Late Neolithic sites. These ceramics look like buckets with typically straight, thick walls. The ceramic vessels from Arbon-Bleiche 3 display forms and characteristics of both the Pfyn and Horgen cultures. Bone or antler tool types also display typological overlaps. The find material from Arbon-Bleiche 3, therefore, seems to mark a transition between these two cultures.

Among the ceramic vessels from Arbon-Bleiche 3 were a few pots decorated in a totally different style. Comparable forms and ornaments can be found on sites of the central European Boleráz group of the Baden culture in Bohemia, Moravia, and Hungary. Archaeologists first thought that these pots and vessels represented important evidence. Mineralogical analysis of the burned clay from these vessels has shown, however, that they were made of local clay. Craftspeople from Arbon must have copied this foreign form, examples of which perhaps originally were brought by a woman marrying into the village community or imported as traded ware.

Axe blades made of ground stone or red deer antler also were found everywhere in the village. These blades were fixed directly into ash-wood handles, as opposed to what appears at both older and later sites, where axe or adze blades were fixed into antler sleeves. There is evidence that during the previous two centuries, a series of climatically influenced economic crises took place. Red deer was hunted intensively and possibly became extinct in some regions. This may be why craftspeople had to forgo using antler sleeves as a shock-absorbing material between the blades and the valuable wooden handles. Direct hafting became the tradition. It was only from the thirty-second century b.c. onward that antler sleeves were used once again around Lake Zurich and Lake Constance.

About seventy thousand animal bones were collected and analyzed, together with botanical remains and small bones from mammals, birds, amphibians, and fish, from more than seventy soil samples. In addition, pollen, macro plant remains (plant parts and seeds), and sediments from several profile columns were analyzed. Their identification has made possible the reconstruction of the environment around Arbon as well as agricultural and animal husbandry practices, in addition to plant gathering and hunting strategies and the food eaten by the village inhabitants. Agriculture was based on cereals (mainly tetraploid naked wheat, emmer, and barley), with large amounts of poppy and flax. A large portion of the caloric intake came from collected plants, of which hazelnuts were by far the most important. Human excrement (in the form of large masses of various berry seeds) and cereal threshing remains are most common in the zones between the houses, reflecting the custom of dumping garbage outside the buildings.

Botanical analyses of the sheep/goat and cattle feces showed that animals stayed inside the village only in winter. Their food was "collected" around the village in the form of plants, such as ferns or blackberry leaves. Masses of mistletoe leaves or pollen from early-flowering catkin-bearing shrubs suggest that such plants as alder or willow probably were used as fodder in late winter or very early spring. It is likely that during the summer animals were pastured away from the village. About 50 percent of the consumed meat came from hunted animals, especially red deer. Most of the meat from domestic animals came from pig and cattle. Thus, hunting was important in supplying food, especially during times of food-production crises. The small bones extracted from the soil samples show that the inhabitants also must have consumed frogs and a great deal of fish. Whitefish was most common, although there were also many bones from large pike.

The distribution of hand-collected bones and bones from soil samples indicate that the people living in houses nearer the lake consumed more pigs and caught more whitefish. Because whitefish must be caught in open water, it may have been that these people had dugouts. People from inland houses hunted more red deer and caught more pike. These differences may be evidence of very early separation and specialization in food production, which also may reflect the beginnings of social differentiation. There are no big differences between houses as far as cultivated plants are concerned.

The excavations of the well-preserved site of Arbon-Bleiche 3 took place at a time when the full range of scientific analyses could be applied to the artifacts and rich biological data. The site presents us with a more reliably detailed model for Late Neolithic village life in central Europe than we have ever possessed.


Akeret, Örni, Jean Nicolas Haas, Urs Leuzinger, and Stefanie Jacomet. "Plant Macrofossils and Pollen in Goat/Sheep Faeces from the Neolithic Lake-Shore Settlement Arbon Bleiche 3, Switzerland." Holocene 9, no. 2 (1999): 175–182.

De Capitani, Annick, Sabine Deschler-Erb, Urs Leuzinger, Elisabeth Marti-Grädel, and Jörg Schibler. Die jungsteinzeitliche Seeufersiedlung Arbon Bleiche 3: Funde. Archäologie im Thurgau, no. 11. Frauenfeld, Switzerland: Amt für Archäeologie Kanton Thurgau, 2002.

Hosch, Sabine, and Stefanie Jacomet. "New Aspects of Archaeobotanical Research in Central European Neolithic Lake Dwelling Sites." Environmental Archaeology 6 (October 2001): 59–71.

Leuzinger, Urs. Die jungsteinzeitliche Seeufersiedlung ArbonBleiche 3: Befunde. Archäologie im Thurgau, no. 9. Frauenfeld, Switzerland: Departement für Erziehung und Kulturdes Kantons Thurgau, 2000.

JÖrg Schibler, Stefanie Jacomet,
Alice Choyke