Peaks, Pastures and Possession – Prehistoric Dry Stone Structures in the Alps

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Title of host publicationPetrification Processes in Matter and Society
DateE-pub ahead of print - 14 Aug 2021
Pages115-129
Number of pages15
PublisherSpringer
EditorsSophie Hüglin, Alexander Gramsch, Liisa Seppänen
Original languageEnglish
ISBN (Electronic)9783030693886
ISBN (Print)9783030693879

Abstract

Transhumant pastoralism is a long-lasting strategy of human-environment interaction at high altitudes. In the European Alps the upland landscapes have been shaped by pastoral activities since the Neolithic. Pastoral groups have contributed to modification of plant communities of the high altitude environments, and they also created different types of seasonal facilities. The most effective assessment of the alpine landscape integrates the study of these structures within an environmental framework. Huts are exploited by herders for different types of activities; corrals and byres are used to stable and milk the animals. Most of these structures are made of stone. Recent archaeological projects shed new light on human exploitation of high altitudes, showing that the earliest dry stone structures occurred in the alpine pastures in the late third and second millennium BC. Interestingly enough, the appearance of these structures does not correspond to the first evidence of pastoral activity in the alpine uplands, as if the earliest pastoral groups exploited much more ephemeral shelters. This observation opens a series of interpretative questions: What triggered the construction of these permanent structures during the Bronze and Iron Age? Was it just for functional reasons or was it also a way to facilitate ‘possession’ of this ‘marginal’ environments?

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