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The archaeology of the Alps

29 March 2011

The archaeology of the Alps, or more specifically in this instance a small part of the mountains as preserved in Ecrins National Park in France, and confined solely to the Holocene (see Current World Archaeology 46) and concerns what is a high altitude plateau above the tree line. For example, there is plenty of evidence of Mesolithic hunting activity – and this continued into the Neolithic era (farmers on the lower slopes may have continued the tradition). It was here that animals migrated in the spring and early summer to take advantage of herbs and grasses on the plateau. It seems the most prolific period of human activity was from mid third millennium BC until the end of the second millennium BC. At this time stone built enclosures were constructed – arranged in a sub-circular or egg shape (the dominant architectural design of the period it would seem). Farmers were using the upland pastures, taking over the role of wild animals, grazing the plateau in the early summer months. A similar lifestyle continues into the modern world – with sheep. Little evidence of Iron Age or Roman period occupation of the high mountain zone has been found – in this part of the Alps. However, there was a lot of activity at lower levels and in the valleys as major Roman military and trade routes crisscrossed the Alps. 

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