Archaeological Discoveries on Schnidejoch and at Other Ice Sites in the European Alps


  • Albert Hafner



ice patch archaeology, Alps, Switzerland, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman Period, Medieval Period, bow equipment, climate history, alpine pass


Only a few sites in the Alps have produced archaeological finds from melting ice. To date, prehistoric finds from four sites dating from the Neolithic period, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age have been recovered from small ice patches (Schnidejoch, Lötschenpass, Tisenjoch, and Gemsbichl/Rieserferner). Glaciers, on the other hand, have yielded historic finds and frozen human remains that are not more than a few hundred years old (three glacier mummies from the 16th to the 19th century and military finds from World Wars I and II). Between 2003 and 2010, numerous archaeological finds were recovered from a melting ice patch on the Schnidejoch in the Bernese Alps (Cantons of Berne and Valais, Switzerland). These finds date from the Neolithic period, the Early Bronze Age, the Iron Age, Roman times, and the Middle Ages, spanning a period of 6000 years. The Schnidejoch, at an altitude of 2756 m asl, is a pass in the Wildhorn region of the western Bernese Alps. It has yielded some of the earliest evidence of Neolithic human activity at high altitude in the Alps. The abundant assemblage of finds contains a number of unique artifacts, mainly from organic materials like leather, wood, bark, and fibers. The site clearly proves access to high-mountain areas as early as the 5th millennium BC, and the chronological distribution of the finds indicates that the Schnidejoch pass was used mainly during periods when glaciers were retreating.