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Volume 14, 1881
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“On the Swiss Lake Dwellings,” by Neil Heath.


This paper was prepared mainly to illustrate a collection of remains from the Swiss Lake Dwellings, presented to the Museum by Mr. J. T. Mackelvie, and which are as follows :—

Three stone axes, with stag-horn handle.
Four " " without handle.
One weight for weaving.
One round piece of burned clay, with hole in it.
Three round pieces of stone, like buttons, supposed weights fornets.
Five flint arrow-heads.
Five working tools.
Five chippings or flakes.
Six bone needles.
Three bone chisels, sharp at both ends.
Six pieces of stag-horn.
Five glass bottles, containing seeds, etc.
Two pieces of wood, supposed to have been used in wattling.
One bone knife.
One piece of cloth.
Two photographs of Möringen and Lättringen.

To give you some idea of the number of articles that have been found from time to time, and belonging to this period, I shall quote from a table drawn up by Sir John Lubbock :—Axes, 2,676; arrows, 161; flakes and chippings, etc., 5,100; other objects, 1,239; besides many corn-crushers, whetstones, and weights.

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The axe must have been one of the most valuable and valued implements. It was useful in war, useful in peace. They were not very large, varying in length from one to six inches, and with a cutting edge varying from one to three inches. Serpentine and diorite are the principal materials of which they were made, though flint and jade were sometimes used. Jade is not found in the west of Europe, and hence it is supposed that axes made of it must have come from the East, being passed on from tribe to tribe by way of barter. The flint found in Switzerland was not suitable for axes, but France had abundance for all, and it is generally supposed that the flint used in Switzerland was obtained from Pressigny. Considerable doubt exists as to the way in which these axes were made. The generally accepted theory is, that they were made by blows of a hammer on the stone that had been carefully selected, and that when by skilfully repeated blows the required size had been attained the ridges between the grooves formed by the fracture were ground down by means of sandstone. The small ones, such as we have on the table, were inserted along with bitumen in a socket of stag-horn, which in turn fitted a hole in a handle of hard wood. The larger ones were fastened in various ways to handles. Adzes were formed in a similar manner, and attached to an angular piece of wood, as the Maoris used to do a few years ago. Obviously there would be a considerable number of chips, the best of which were selected for arrow-heads and knives, while those that could not be so used, and which we call flakes, were useful for a variety of purposes. They used them as scrapers—as spokeshaves amongst other things. I think the Lake Dwellers must have found them as useful as the Maoris do their pipi and other shells.

Bone.—In the present collection there are several implements made of bone. It will be seen that the particular bone selected is that of the stag, an animal which must have been found in considerable numbers, if we may judge from the great variety of articles made therefrom. The chisels which lie on the table are sharp at both ends. I very much fear they could not be of great service, for it is evident that the sharper the cutting edge is, just so much the less strong will it be. Authorities do not make their use quite clear. The needles would be extremely valuable for making holes in the skins with which they clothed themselves in the early part of the period. In the absence of thread at the same time, they appear to have found a fitting substitute in narrow strips of skin.

Weight for Weaving.—The stone weight, which was found at Nidau, is said to have been used for weaving. It is, I think more likely to have been used for sinking the nets.

The round piece of burned clay with the hole in it is generally understood to have been used as a spindle whorl. This implement brings us to the second half of the period, by which time it is evident that the people

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had acquired a knowledge of weaving, flax being cultivated and woven into tissues; agriculture had made a start, and such animals as the ox, sheep, goat, pig and dog were domesticated.

Weaving.—The piece of cloth we have here is apparently made of flax, the warp and the woof being wonderfully regular, and indicating a great advance in civilization. Hemp does not appear to have been known.

Grain.—One of the small bottles in the collection contains some carbonized cereal, whether wheat or barley I cannot say. Three varieties of wheat, two kinds of barley, and two of millet, were cultivated, but how the ground was prepared I cannot discover, no acknowledged agricultural implements having been found as yet. It is a fact that they made bread, apparently however without leaven. The specimens that have been found very closely resemble badly-made “damper.” Sometimes they appear to have roasted the grains, pounded them between stones and stored them away in earthenware vessels made pointed at the bottom, so that they could easily stand upright in the ground. Carbonized apples have also been found. There are no traces of the grape; but what are supposed to be stones of the wild plum, seeds of the raspberry and blackberry, and shells of the hazel nut and beech nut, occur pretty frequently, while in one settlement peas have been discovered.

Animals.—Professor Rütimeyer, who has paid great attention to the fauna of this period, tells us that the total number of species amounts to 70, and that at least 6 of these, the dog, horse, pig, goat, sheep, and two varieties of oxen, were domesticated. He says, also, that the bones very seldom occur in a natural condition, those of domestic and wild animals are mixed together, the marks of knives are upon many, and almost all have been broken, evidently for their marrow. The stag and the ox seem to have been specially numerous, the stag in the older settlements exceeding the ox in the number of specimens, while in the more modern ones the converse is true. The hog appears to come next in order of abundance, followed by the goat and the sheep, which latter seems to have increased very rapidly. The dog is found less frequently than the fox. Remains of the bear, the wolf, the bison, and the elk have also been found. The stag and the boar of those times seem to have been much larger than they are now, the fox smaller, and the sheep about the same size as those now grazing on the mountain sides in Wales and Shetland. People were free from the presence of the common mouse and the house-rat, and as puss was not therefore required, so she did not appear. Professor Rütimeyer found a single bone of the common fowl, but this he assigns to a later period.

I have not been able to obtain any reliable information as to the race of men that inhabited these lake dwellings.