In Switzerland, many village sites from the Neolithic and, to a lesser extent, the Bronze Age became known around larger lakes such as Bienne, Constance, Neuchâtel, Zug and Zürich. There were also lake dwellings built around smaller lakes and in or near peat bogs . Many of the lacustrian sites were excavated in conjunction with various building and highway projects around the country beginning in the 1980s.
Lakeshore settlements are less common around the lake of Geneva. The reasons are not understood but differences in topography, preservation, and environment as well as less survey work may be possible explanations.
The houses of lake dwellings found today in Africa and elsewhere around the world are mostly constructed on high wooden posts because of seasonal variations in river levels. This might also be why prehistoric lake dwellings were sometimes built above the ground, although ground level houses also existed. However, each site is different and unstable ground may explain the use of these long posts sunk deeply into the earth.
Villages of various sizes, ranging in size between 500 and 10,000 m2, are characteristic of the 3rd, 4th and the second half of the 5th millennium BC in this region. This means there could be hamlets with only 6 to 10 houses but also villages with as many as 100 houses.
Because most lake dwelling layers lie below the water table, aerobic bacteria, which are responsible for decay, cannot damage organic materials. Therefore, fruits, seeds, leaves and wood or even fragments of textiles are frequently preserved. As at sites buried in dry sediment, animal bones, flint or stone tools, and ceramics are also present but are in much better condition. Tools made from animal bones or from red deer antler, for example, are preserved with both their manufacture and use wears clearly visible.
Deer antler sleeves are pieces of deer antler which fit over a stone axe to form a sleeve between the axehead and the wooden haft into which the combined axe and sleeve is fitted. Antler sleeves represent a technological innovation designed to protect the valuable axe or adze ash wood shafts and handles from breaking by absorbing the force of blows, because antler is more resilient to shock than wood.
In Europe, antler sleeves and mounts for hafting different stone tools are known since the Praeboreal (early Mesolithic) from Poland, N-Germany, Scandinavia and the UK. Since the 4th millennium BC, antler sleeves became tools of fundamental importance throughout the Neolithic of the Alpine Foreland and remained in use until the Corded Ware period at 2800 BC. Anyhow there may certainly some bias in the old collections of Palafitte remains explicable by the long history and intensity of research in Switzerland and by the favorable preservation conditions at the Swiss lake sites.
Alice M. Choyke and Jörg Schibler : Prehistoric Bone Tools and the Archaeozoological Perspective: Research in Central Europe“The earliest pile-dwelling settlements north of the Alps date from 4300 BC (Egolzwil ), Zürich–Grosse Stadt Kleiner Hafner or Aichbühl. This sets off the period of ‘pile dwellers’, whose culture and way of life can be traced over thousands of years in the wetland areas. The levels of many of the lakes displayed considerable fluctuations over the course of time which led to a dynamic process of villages being built, flooded, abandoned and finally eroded and / or covered by calcareous mud. Therefore, not all periods are represented to the same extent by lakeside settlements. Palynological analyses have, for instance, provided evidence of two periods of climate change that occurred during the Neolithic period in the west-Alpine region; these periods have been named Piora I and II and have been dated to approximately 4100–3800 BC and 3600–3200 BC. They are mirrored in the Eastern Alps by the two almost contemporaneous Rotmoos fluctuations. Based on sedimentological analyses carried out in the northern foothills of the Alps and in the French Jura region, these two phases were parallelized with phases of elevated lake levels (phases of transgression). Analyses of pollen cores and small assemblages of finds suggest that a neolithicized population lived in Switzerland as early as the 6th/5th millennium BC. However, tangible evidence of the Neolithic period in the Swiss Midlands only started to emerge with the earliest pile-dwelling settlements from c. 4300 BC onwards. These settlements have been attributed to the Egolzwil Group, so called after the site Egolzwil 3 , which also included other sites in Wauwil Bog, on Lake Zug and on lower Lake Zurich (for example Zürich–Grosse Stadt Kleiner Hafner . Palynologicalvanalyses in Egolzwil 3 have clearly shown that the lifestyle was fully Neolithic, characterized not only by permanently occupied villages but also by an economy based on farming and animal husbandry. Archaeological traces of settlements start to increase from the mid 39th century BC onwards. Settlements of the Cortaillod tradition named after the site Cortaillod– Petit Cortaillod and dating from the subsequent centuries are known from almost all of the lakeshores. The Cortaillod Culture extended across Central Switzerland and to the lakes of Zurich and Pfäffikon. Judging by the stylistic development of the pottery it evolved seamlessly from the Egolzwil Group and its development can be traced in the stratigraphic sequence of the site Zürich–Grosse Stadt Kleiner Hafner . Subsequently, influences from the east emerged and became manifest in the Pfyn Tradition (called after the associated site Pfyn–Breitenloo, Canton Thurgau), which spread into Central Switzerland up to the lakes of Baldegg and Lucerne. The people of the Pfyn Group were already using copper. The necessary know-how had come from the east. The pottery shows a gradual transition from the Pfyn Group to the Horgen Culture: the tendency towards simpler cylinder-shaped cooking pots with thick walls had already started earlier and experienced a highpoint in the Horgen Culture. Smaller vessels were now mainly made of wood and well preserved examples have been recovered at various sites. The transition from Pfyn to Horgen occurred during the phase Piora II (see above) and is thus not very well represented at the lakesides. An important site from this transition period is Arbon–Bleiche 3 , which has been dated dendrochronologically to between 3384 and 3370 BC. Towards the end of the Cortaillod and the following Port-Conty period (around 3400 BC) Western Switzerland also suffers a reduction of pottery types and quality, but the ceramic forms still show a western tradition. In Western Switzerland no tangible evidence has been found, either for the transition from Cortaillod to the western strand of the Horgen Group called ‘Western Horgen’, or for the transition from Horgen to the subsequent Lüscherz Group. Yvonand–Le Marais is the only site where a layer contained both typical Horgen and Lüscherz pottery together. In contrast to the Western Horgen tradition, Lüscherz pottery had different types of decoration and round bases. Other characteristic features of assemblages pertaining to this culture were flint daggers made of Grand-Pressigny flint originating from the region of Tours (France), netting needles, various stone beads and copper daggers. All these artefacts were closely modelled on objects from the South of France. The Lüscherz Group is dated to 2950–2900 BC on the southern end of Lake Neuchâtel and from about 2850 BC onwards to 2700 BC in the northern area of Lake Neuchâtel and around Lake Bienne. A further marked change in the pottery shapes occurred between 2780 and 2750 BC in Central and Eastern Switzerland with the appearance of vessels with S-shaped profiles and corded decorations typical of the Corded Ware period. To what extent this change was also linked with a change in society and attitudes is one of the great unanswered questions. While settlement finds documenting this distinctive change in Central and Eastern Switzerland have not yet been made, it has been proved that it took place within the space of 30 years at most. Cornerstones are the sites Zürich–Grosse Stadt Kleiner Hafner with a last tree-ring felling date of 2781 BC (Horgen Culture) and Zürich–Wollishofen Bad with 2749 BC (Corded Ware). The lakeside settlements on Lakes Burgäschi and Inkwil formed the southwester boundary of the distribution pattern of the Corded Ware Culture (Äschi SO–Burgäschisee Ost, or Bolken / Inkwil–Inkwilersee Insel, ), which extended throughout the entire western part of Central Europe and southern Scandinavia. Because this tradition is mainly represented by burial finds elsewhere in Central Europe, the pile-dwelling sites have provided important insight into Corded Ware settlement structures. On Lake Neuchâtel some of the decoration elements adopted from Corded Ware led to the development of the Auvernier cordé typical of Western Switzerland. A stratigraphic sequence of this development was documented in Yverdon-les- Bains–Baie de Clendy . In the second half of the 25th century BC, the occupation of the lakeshores all across Switzerland ended, but the reasons for this phenomenon have not yet been identified. Therefore, settlement traces of the Bell Beaker Culture have not been found in wetland areas, even though some individual finds have come to light (for example in Wädenswil–Vorder Au, or in Sutz-Lattrigen–Rütte)”.