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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Lake Dwellings

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The term employed in archaeology for habitations constructed, not on the dry land, but within the margins of lakes or creeks at some distance from the shore.

The villages of the Guajiros in the Gulf of Maracaibo are described by Goering as composed of houses with low sloping roofs perched on lofty piles and connected with each other by bridges of planks. Each house consisted of two apartments; the floor was formed of split stems of trees set close together and covered with mats; they were reached from the shore by dug-out canoes poled over the shallow waters, and a notched tree trunk served as a ladder. The custom is also common in the estuaries of the Orinoco and Amazon. A similar system prevails in New Guinea. Dumont d'Urville describes four such villages in the Bay of Dorei, containing from eight to fifteen blocks or clusters of houses, each block separately built on piles, and consisting of a row of distinct dwellings. C. D. Cameron describes three villages thus built on piles in Lake Mohrya, or Moria, in Central Africa, the motive here being to prevent surprise by bands of slave-catchers. Similar constructions have been described by travellers, among the Dyaks of Borneo, in Celebes, in the Caroline Islands, on the Gold Coast of Africa, and in other places.

Hippocrates, writing in the 5th century B.C., says of the people of the Phasis that their country is hot and marshy and subject to frequent inundations, and that they live in houses of timber and reeds constructed in the midst of the waters, and use boats of a single tree trunk. Herodotus, writing also in the 5th century B.C., describes the people of Lake Prasias as living in houses constructed on platforms supported on piles in the middle of the lake, which are approached from the land by a single narrow bridge. Abulfeda the geographer, writing in the r3th century, notices the fact that part of the Apamaean Lake was inhabited by Christian fishermen who lived on the lake in wooden huts built on piles, and Sir John Lubbock (Lord Avebury) mentions that the Rumelian fishermen on Lake Prasias "still inhabit wooden cottages built over the water, as in the time of Herodotus." The records of the wars in Ireland in the r6th century show that the petty chieftains of that time had their defensive strongholds constructed in the "freshwater lochs" of the country, and there is record evidence of a similar system in the western parts of Scotland. The archaeological researches of the past fifty years have shown that such artificial constructions in lakes were used as defensive dwellings by the Celtic people from an early period to medieval times (see Crannog). Similar researches have also established the fact that in prehistoric times nearly all the lakes of Switzerland, and many in the adjoining countries - in Savoy and the north of Italy, in Austria and Hungary and in Mecklenburg and Pomerania - were peopled, so to speak, by lake-dwelling communities, living in villages constructed on platforms supported by piles at varying distances from the shores. The principal groups are those in the Lakes of Bourget, Geneva, Neuchatel, Bienne, Zurich and Constance lying to the north of the Alps, and in the Lakes Maggiore, Varese, Iseo and Garda lying to the south of that mountain range. Many smaller lakes, however, contain them, and they are also found in peat moors on the sites of ancient lakes now drained or silted up, as at Laibach in Carniola. In some of the larger lakes the number of settlements has been very great. Fifty are enumerated in the Lake of Neuchatel, thirty-two in the Lake of Constance, twentyfour in the Lake of Geneva, and twenty in the Lake of Bienne. The site of the lake dwelling of Wangen, in the Untersee, Lake of Constance, forms a parallelogram more than 700 paces in length by about 120 paces in breadth. The settlement at Morges, one of the largest in the Lake of Geneva, is 1200 ft. long by 150 ft. in breadth. The settlement of Sutz, one of the largest in the Lake of Bienne, extends over six acres, and was connected with the shore by a gangway nearly roo yds. long and about 40 ft. wide.

The substructure which supported the platforms on which the dwellings were placed was most frequently of piles driven into the bottom of the lake. Less frequently it consisted of a stack of brushwood or fascines built up from the bottom and' strengthened by stakes penetrating the mass so as to keep it from spreading. When piles were used they were the rough stems of trees of a length proportioned to the depth of the water, sharpened sometimes by fire and at other times chopped to a point by hatchets. On their level tops the beams supporting the platforms were laid and fastened by wooden pins, or inserted in mortices cut in the heads of the piles. In some cases the whole construction was further steadied and strengthened by cross beams, notched into the piles below the supports of the platform. The platform itself was usually composed of rough layers of unbarked stems, but occasionally it was formed of boards split from larger stems. When the mud was too soft to afford foothold for the piles they were mortised into a framework of tree trunks placed horizontally on the bottom of the lake.

On the other hand, when the bottom was rocky so that the piles could not be driven, they were steadied at their bases by being enveloped in a mound of loose stones, in the manner in which the foundations of piers and breakwaters are now constructed. In cases where piles have not been used, as at Niederwil and Wauwyl, the substructure is a mass of fascines or faggots laid parallel and crosswise upon one another with intervening layers of brushwood or of clay and gravel, a few piles here and there being fixed throughout the mass to serve as guides or stays. At Niederwil the platform was formed of split boards, many of which were 2 ft. broad and 2 or 3 in. in thickness.

On these substructures were the huts composing the settlement; for the peculiarity of these lake dwellings is that they were pile villages, or clusters of huts occupying a common platform. The huts themselves were quadrilateral. in form. The size of each dwelling is in some cases marked by boards resting edgeways on the platform, like the skirting boards over the flooring of the rooms in a modern house. The walls, which were supported by posts, or by piles of greater length, were formed of wattle-work, coated with clay. The floors were of clay, and in each floor there was a hearth constructed of flat slabs' of stone. The roofs were thatched with bark, straw, reeds or rushes. As the superstructures are mostly gone, there is no evidence as to the position and form of the doorways, or the size, number and position of the windows, if there were any. In one case, at Schussenried, the house, which was of an oblong quadrangular form, about 33 by 23 ft., was divided into two rooms by a partition. The outer room, which was the smaller of the two, was entered by a doorway 3 ft. in width facing the south. The access to the inner room was by a similar door through the partition. The walls were formed of split tree-trunks set upright and plastered with clay; and the flooring of similar timbers bedded in clay. In other cases the remains of the gangways or bridges connecting the settlements with the shore have been discovered, but often the village appears to have been accessible only by canoes. Several of these single-tree canoes have been found, one of which is 43 ft. in length and 4 ft. 4 in. in its greatest width. It is impossible to estimate with any degree of certainty the number of separate dwellings of which any of these villages may have consisted, but at Niederwil they stood almost contiguously on the platform, the space between them not exceeding 3 ft. in width. The size of the huts also varied considerably. At Niederwil they were 20 ft. long and 12 ft. wide, while at Robenhausen they were about 27 ft. long by about 22 ft. wide.

The character of the relics shows that in some cases the settlements have been the dwellings of a people using no materials but stone, bone and wood for their implements, ornaments and weapons; in others, of a people using bronze as well as stone and bone; and in others again the occasional use of iron is disclosed. But, though the character of the relics is thus changed, there is no corresponding change in the construction and arrangements of the dwellings. The settlement in the Lake of Moosseedorf, near Bern, affords the most perfect example of a lake dwelling of the Stone age. It was a parallelogram 70 ft. long by so ft. wide, supported on piles, and having a gangway built on faggots connecting it with the land. The superstructure had been destroyed by fire. The implements found in the relic bed under it were axe-heads of stone, with their haftings of stag's horn and wood; a flint saw, set in a handle of fir wood and fastened with asphalt; flint flakes and arrow-heads; harpoons of stag's horn with barbs; awls, needles, chisels, fish-hooks and other implements of bone; a comb of yew wood 5 in. long; and a skate made out of the leg bone of a horse. The pottery consisted chiefly of roughly-made vessels, some of which were of large size, others had holes under the rims for suspension, and many were covered with soot, the result of their use as culinary vessels. Burnt wheat, barley and linseed, with many varieties of seeds and fruits, were plentifully mingled with the bones of the stag, the ox, the swine, the sheep and the goat, representing the ordinary food of the inhabitants, while remains of the beaver, the fox, the hare, the dog, the bear, the horse, the elk and the bison were also found.

The settlement of Robenhausen, in the moor which was formerly the bed of the ancient Lake of Pfaffikon, seems to have continued in occupation after the introduction of bronze. The site covers nearly 3 acres, and is estimated to have contained 1 00,000 piles. in some parts three distinct successions of inhabited platforms have been traced. The first had been destroyed by fire. It is represented at the bottom of the lake by a layer of charcoal mixed with implements of stone and bone and other relics highly carbonized. The second is represented above the bottom by a series of piles with burnt heads, and in the bottom by a layer of charcoal mixed with corn, apples, cloth, bones, pottery and implements of stone and bone, separated from the first layer of charcoal by 3 ft. of peaty sediment intermixed with relics of the occupation of the platform. The piles of the third settlement do not reach down to the shell marl, but are fixed in the layers representing the first and second settlements. They are formed of split oak trunks, while those of the two first settlements are round stems chiefly of soft wood. The huts of this last settlement appear to have had cattle stalls between them, the droppings and litter forming heaps at the lake bottom. The bones of the animals consumed as food at this station were found in such numbers that 5 tons were collected in the construction of a watercourse which crossed the site. Among the wooden objects recovered from the relic beds were tubs, plates, ladles and spoons, a flail for threshing corn, a last for stretching shoes of hide, celt handles, clubs, long-bows of yew, floats and implements of fishing and a dug-out canoe 12 ft. long. No spindle-whorls were found, but there were many varieties of cloth, platted and woven, bundles of yarn and balls of string. Among the tools of bone and stag's horn were awls, needles, harpoons, scraping tools and haftings for stone axe-heads. The implements of stone were chiefly axe-heads and arrow-heads. Of clay and earthenware there were many varieties of domestic dishes, cups and pipkins, and crucibles or melting pots made of clay and horse dung and still retaining the drossy coating of the melted bronze.

The settlement of Auvernier in the Lake of Neuchatel is one of the richest and most considerable stations of the Bronze age. It has yielded four bronze swords, ten socketed spear-heads, forty celts or axe-heads and sickles, fifty knives, twenty socketed chisels, four hammers and an anvil, sixty rings for the arms and legs, several highly ornate torques or twisted neck rings, and upwards of two hundred hair pins of various sizes up to 16 in. in length, some having spherical heads in which plates of gold were set. Moulds for sickles, lance-heads and bracelets were found cut in stone or made in baked clay. From four to five hundred vessels of pottery finely made and elegantly shaped are indicated by the fragments recovered from the relic bed. The Lac de Bourget, in Savoy, has eight settlements, all of the Bronze age. These have yielded upwards of 4000 implements, weapons and ornaments of bronze, among which were a large proportion of moulds and founders' materials. A few stone implements suggest the transition from stone to bronze; and the occasional occurrence of iron weapons and pottery of Gallo-Roman origin indicates the survival of some of the settlements to Roman times.

The relative antiquity of the earlier settlements of the Stone and Bronze ages is not capable of being deduced from existing evidence. "We may venture to place them," says Dr F. Keller, "in an age when iron and bronze had been long known, but had not come into our districts in such plenty as to be used for the common purposes of household life, at a time when amber had already taken its place as an ornament and had become an object of traffic." It is now considered that the people who erected the lake dwellings of Central Europe were also the people who were spread over the mainland. The forms and the ornamentation of the implements and weapons of stone and bronze found in the lake dwellings are the same as those of the implements and weapons in these materials found in the soil of the adjacent regions, and both groups must therefore be ascribed to the industry of one and the same people. Whether dwelling on the land or dwelling in the lake, they have exhibited so many indications of capacity, intelligence, industry and social organi zation that they cannot be considered as presenting, even in their Stone age, a very low condition of culture or civilization. Their axes were made of tough stones, sawn from the block and ground to the fitting shape. They were fixed by the butt in a socket of stag's horn, mortised into a handle of wood. Their knives and saws of flint were mounted in wooden handles and fixed with asphalt. They made and used an endless variety of bone tools. Their pottery, though roughly finished, is well made, the vessels often of large size and capable of standing the fire as cooking utensils. For domestic dishes they also made wooden tubs, plates, spoons, ladles and the like. The industries of spinning and weaving were largely practised. They made nets and fishing lines, and used canoes. They practised agriculture, cultivating several varieties of wheat and barley, besides millet and flax. They kept horses, cattle, sheep, goats and swine. Their clothing was partly of linen and partly of woollen fabrics and the skins of their beasts. Their food was nutritious and varied, their dwellings neither unhealthy nor incommodious. They lived in the security and comfort obtained by social organization, and were apparently intelligent, industrious and progressive communities.

There is no indication of an abrupt change from the use of stone to the use of metal such as might have occurred had the knowledge of copper and bronze, and the methods of working them, been introduced through the conquest of the original inhabitants by an alien race of superior culture and civilization. The improved cultural conditions become apparent in the multiplication of the varieties of tools, weapons and ornaments made possible by the more adaptable qualities of the new material; and that the development of the Bronze age culture in the lake dwellings followed the same course as in the surrounding regions where the people dwelt on the dry land is evident from the correspondence of the types of implements, weapons, ornaments and utensils common to both these conditions of life.

Other classes of prehistoric pile-structures akin to the lake dwellings are the Terremare of Italy and the Terpen of Holland. Both of these are settlements of wooden huts erected on piles, not over the water, but on flat land subject to inundations. The terremare (so named from the marly soil of which they are composed) appear as mounds, sometimes of very considerable extent, which when dug into disclose the remains and relic beds of the ancient settlements. They are most abundant in the plains of northern Italy traversed by the Po and its tributaries, though similar constructions have been found in Hungary in the valley of the Theiss. These pile-villages were often surrounded by an earthen rampart within which the huts were erected in more or less regular order. Many of them present evidence of having been more than once destroyed by fire and reconstructed, while others show one or more reconstructions at higher levels on the same site. The contents of the relic beds indicate that they belong for the most part to the age of bronze, although in some cases they may be referred to the latter part of the Stone age. Their inhabitants practised agriculture and kept the common domestic animals, while their tools, weapons and ornaments were mainly of similar character to those of the contemporary lake dwellers of the adjoining. regions. Some of the Italian terremare show quadrangular constructions made like the modern log houses, of undressed tree trunks superposed longitudinally and overlapping at the ends, as at Castione in the province of Parma. A similar mode of construction is found in the pile-village on the banks of the Save, near Donja Dolina in Bosnia, described in 1904 by Dr Truhelka. Here the larger houses had platforms in front of them forming terraces at different levels descending towards the river. There was a cemetery adjacent to the village in which both unburnt and cremated interments occurred, the former predominating. From the general character of the relics this settlement appeared to belong to the early Iron age. The Terpen of Holland appear as mounds somewhat similar to those of the terremare, and were also pile structures, on low or marshy lands subject to inundations from the sea. Unlike the terremare and the lake dwellings they do not seem to belong to the prehistoric ages, but yield indications of occupation in post-Roman and medieval times. Authorities. - The materials for the investigation of this singular phase of prehistoric life were first collected and systematized by Dr Ferdinand Keller (1800-1881), of Zurich, and printed in Mittheilungen der Antiquarischen Gesellschaft in Zurich, vols. ix.-xxii., 4to (1855-1886). The substance of these reports has been issued as a separate work in England, The Lake Dwellings of Switzerland and other parts of Europe, by Dr Ferdinand Keller, translated and arranged by John Edward Lee, 2nd ed. (2 vols. 8vo, London, 1878). Other works on the same subject are Frederic Troyon, Habitations lacustres des temps anciens et modernes (Lausanne, 1860); E. Desor, Les Palafittes ou constructions lacustres du lac de Neuchatel (Paris, 1865); E. Desor and L. Favre, Le Bel Age du bronze lacustre en Suisse (Paris, 1874) A. Perrin, Etude prehistorique sur la Savoie specialement a l'époque lacustre (Les Palafittes du lac de Bourget, Paris, 1870); Ernest Chantre, Les Palafittes ou constructions lacustres du lac de Paladru (Chambery, 1871); Bartolomeo Gastaldi, Lake Habitations and prehistoric Remains in the Turbaries and Marl-beds of Northern and Central Italy, translated by C. H. Chambers (London, 1865); Sir John Lubbock (Lord Avebury), Prehistoric Times (4th ed., London, 1878); Robert Munro, The Lake-Dwellings of Europe (London, 1890), with a bibliography of the subject. (J. AN.)

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These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Lake Dwellings'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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