1902 Encyclopedia > Lake Dwellings

Lake Dwellings

LAKE DWELLINGS, as their name implies, are 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 ; a notched tree trunk served as a ladder ; and the piles were so firmly driven that no shakiness was perceptible even when the houses were crowded with people. In such a climate the advantages of dwelling in houses so situated are obvious. The custom is common both in the Gulf of Maracaibo and in the estuaries of the Orinoco and Amazon; indeed the name of the province of Venezuela was given to it from the prevalence of these pile-dwellings along its shores. A similar system prevails in New Guinea. 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 accommodating a number of families. Cameron describes three villages thus built on piles in Lake Mohrya in Central Africa, the motive here being to prevent surprise by bands of slave-catchers. Similar con-structions 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. Historians have referred to the former existence of the custom in Europe and Asia. 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 13th century, notices the fact that part of the Apamsean Lake was then called the Lake of the Christians, because it was inhabited by Christian fishermen who lived on the lake in wooden huts built on piles. Fishermen's huts roughly constructed of branches of trees and supported on piles placed saltire-wise existed in the shallows of the bays on the European side of the Bosphorus not many years ago, and Sir John Lubbock mentions that the Boumelian fisher-men 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 16th 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 few years have shown that such artificial construc-tions in lakes were used as defensive dwellings by the Celtic people of post-Boman and mediseval times (see CEANKOGS). Similar researches on the Continent have also established the fact that in pre-historic times nearly all the shallow 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 iu 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. 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, twenty-four in the Lake of Geneva, and twenty in the Lake of Bienne. Some of these settlements have been of con-siderable size. 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, which is one of the largest in the Lake of Geneva, is 1200 feet long by 150 feet in breadth. The settlement of Sutz, one of the largest in the Lake of Bienne, extends over an area of 6 English acres, and was connected with the shore by a gangway nearly 100 yards long and about 40 feet wide. The sub-structure 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 simply the rough stems of trees of a length pro-portioned to the depth of the water, sharpened some-times 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 more regularly 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, deposited around and among them, exactly in the manner in which the foundations of piers and breakwaters are now con-structed. In cases where piles have not been used, as at Niederwyl and Wauwyl, the substructure is a mass of fascines or faggots laid parallel and crosswise upon one another with layers of brushwood or of clay and gravel separating the beds of the wooden material, which is steadied and kept in position by upright stakes not driven into the lake bottom,—a few piles here and there being occasionally fixed throughout the mass to serve as guides or stays. At Niederwyl the platform was formed of split boards, many of which were 2 feet broad and 2 or 3 inches in thickness. On these substructures were placed the groups of 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 separate dwelling is in some cases marked by boards rest-ing 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 roof's were thatched with bark, straw, reeds, or rushes. As the superstructures are in all cases gone, there is no evidence as to the position and form of the doorv/ays, or the size, number, and position of the windows, if there were any. In some cases the remains of the gangways or bridges connecting the settle-ments with the shore have been discovered, but in others the village appears to have been practically insular and accessible only by canoes. Several of these single-tree canoes have been found, one of which is 43 feet in length and 4 feet 4 inches 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 Niederwyl they stood almost contiguously on the platform, the space between them not exceeding 3 feet in width. The size of the huts also varied consider-ably. At Niederwyl they were 20 feet long and 12 feet wide, while at Bobenhausen they were, about 27 feet long by about 22 feet wide. The character of the relics associated with the sites of the various settlements dis-closes the fact that in some cases they 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 iron and bronze were used. But, though the character of the associated 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 parallelo-gram 70 feet long by 50 feet 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 celts or 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 inches 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 an encrustation of 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 Eobenhausen, 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 an area of nearly 3 acres, and is estimated to have contained 100,000 piles. In some parts three distinct successions of inhabited platforms have been traced. The first had been destroyed by fire. It is repre-sented 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 feet of peaty sediment inter-mixed 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 placed 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 feet 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 metal. No bronze objects have yet been found at Eobenhausen, although the presence of the crucibles attests the fact of the use of that metal. The settlement of Auvernier in the Lake of Neuchatel is the richest and most considerable station 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 inches 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 at this station. In the settlement at Marin in the Lake of Neuchatel iron takes the place of whatever in the older lake dwellings was made either of stone, bone, or bronze. The swords are well forged, of a peculiarly fibrous iron, and furnished with iron sheaths. The spear-heads are large, sometimes as much as 18J inches in length, with blades indented by segmental curves. Shield mountings, horse trappings, and personal ornaments such as fibulae are here made of iron instead of bronze, and Roman and Gallic coins found in the relic bed bring the occupation of the settlement distinctly within the historic period. The antiquity of the earlier settlements of the Stone and Bronze age* is not capable of being deduced from existing evidence. "We may venture to place them," says Dr 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 established that the people who erected the lake dwellings in Switzerland were also the people who were spread over the mainland. The forms and the ornamentation of the implements and weapons of stone and bronze which are found in the lake dwellings are the same as those of the implements and weapons in these materials which are found in the soil of the adjacent regions, and both groups of relics 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 indica-tions of capacity, intelligence, industry, and social organi-zation that they cannot be considered as presenting, even in their Stone age, a low condition of culture or civilization. Their axes were made of tough stones, sawn from the block by flint, 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 cook-ing utensils. For domestic dishes they also made wooden tubs, plates, spoons, ladles, and the like. The industries of spinniug 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 organi-zation, and were apparently intelligent, industrious, and prosperous communities.

The materials for the investigation of this singular phase of prehistoric life were first collected and systematized by the late Dr Ferdinand Keller, who died at Zurich, July 21, 1881, in the eighty- first year of his age. They were submitted in a series of seven successive reports to the Society of Antiquaries of Zurich, of which he was president, and printed in the Society's Transactions, Mittheilungen der Antiquarischen Gesellschaft in Zurich, vols, i.-xix., 4to, 1855-76. The substance of these reports has also been issued as a separate work in England, The Lake Dwellings of Switzerlandand other parts of Europe, by Dr Ferdinand Keller, translated and arranged by John Edward Lee, 2d ed., 2 vols. 8vo, London, 1878. Other works on the same subject are Frederic Troyon, Habitations Lacustres des temps anciens et modernes, 8vo, Lausanne, 1860 ; E. Desor, Les Palafittes ou Constructions Lacustres du Lac de Neuchatel, 8vo, Paris, 1865 ; E. Desor and L. Favre, Le Bel Âge du Bronze Lacustre en Suisse, folio, Paris, 1874 ; A. Perrin, Étude préhistorique sur la Savoie spécialement a l'époque lacustre (Les Palafittes du Lac de Bourget), 4to, Paris, 1870 ; Ernest Chantre, Les Palafittes ou Constructions Lacustres du Lac de Paladru, folio, Chambery, 1871 ; P>artolomeo Gastaldi, Lake Habitations and prehistoric Remains in the Turbaries and, Marl-beds of Northern and Central Italy, translated by C. H. Chambers, 8vo, London, 1865 ; Sir John Lubbock, Prehistoric Times, 4th ed., 8vo, London, 1878. (J. AN.)

The above article was written by J. Anderson, LL.D., Curator, Scottish Antiquarian Society.

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