Bronze Age Settlement Unearthed in Quaint Swiss Village

Archaeologists expected to find a Roman settlement at the site, but something much older was uncovered.

A pit filled with heat stones from the excavation in Heimberg. Photo: Guy Jaquenod, © Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern.

A settlement from the Bronze Age was accidentally discovered in a Swiss village, in a location where nothing older than the Roman era had ever been found before.

In the autumn of 2023, in anticipation of an upcoming construction project, the Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern conducted a salvage excavation on a known Roman site in the village of Heimberg, Switzerland. The expectation was that an ancient brick workshop would be uncovered, yet no such remains were found. Instead, the thrilling discovery of a settlement dating to 3,200–3,500 years ago was made.

The excavation in Heimberg; the right edge of the area is where a pit filled with heat stones was found. Photo: Daniel Breu, © Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern.

In the three-month-long excavation, several indicators of the settlement’s age were uncovered. Among them were ditches and pits, some entirely filled with hearthstones. Though the intended use of the stones remains uncertain, they had clearly been shattered by extreme heat. It is theorized that the stones were heated and then piled into the pit to provide warmth for the prehistoric community. Another possibility is that the stones were used for cooking. Such findings are typical of Bronze Age settlements.

Other pits appear to have been used for clay extraction. Clay was an essential raw material, used for making ceramics and plastering the wicker walls of houses. A substantial quantity of ceramics was also unearthed, decorated in a style that dated the artifacts to 1500-1200 BC.

Bronze Age ceramics recovered as a block from the rescue excavation in Heimberg. Photo: Frédérique Tissier, © Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern.

Only a portion of the settlement has been excavated, so the size of the entire site remains unknown. The identity of the settlers is also a mystery, as no burial ground has been found.

The village of Heimberg is situated in the floodplains of the Aare River, a tributary to the Rhine, in the Swiss Plateau between the Jura and Alps mountains. This site joins the growing number of Bronze Age sites uncovered in the greater area. Together, these discoveries indicate the significance of the Aare Valley as a habitat and transport corridor between the Alps and the Swiss Plateau for the people of that era.

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