The Neolithic Agricultural Regime in the Inner Alps

The Neolithic Agricultural Regime in the Inner Alps

Our knowledge about inner Alpine, Neolithic husbandry regimes is poor, due to the lack of multidisciplinary archaeobotanical and archaeozoological studies. However, in the course of the studies on the Neolithic Iceman “Ötzi” numerous questions raised concerning his social status. This gave reason to several suggestions amongst which nowadays the assumption, that the Iceman was involved in an early form of transhumance (alpine pasture farming), has gained general acceptance. However, the existence of such a Neolithic transhumance practice in this inner Alpine region bases only on palynological investigations conducted in the vicinity of the discovery site and is not validated by archaeological findings up to now. Additional doubts on the existence of such an animal husbandry practice in the area during the Iceman’s lifetime are posed by new coprolite studies conducted on about hundred caprine (sheep/goat or ibex/chamois) dung pellets recovered from the Iceman’s find spot dated from 5400 to 2000 BC. Their results reveal that none of these dung pellets derives from domestic animals (sheep/goat) but all from game (ibex/chamois).
Furthermore, palaeo-ethnobotanical analyses of Neolithic dwelling sites are missing for the Vinschgau and are also rare for the rest of the Südtirol. The recent discovery of a copper aged settlement layers near Latsch in the Vinschgau with well preserved bones, domesticates and other plant material in the cultural layers enables new opportunities to study new data concerning late Neolithic agricultural practices in the area. Therefore this research proposal aims to evaluate the husbandry regime during the late Neolithic period in the area where the Tyrolean Iceman lived. The key questions addressed to this study are:
1) Did there exist a local seasonal vertical transhumance (alpine pasture farming) during the time of the Iceman?
2) What kind of crops were grown in this area at the time of the Iceman, and are they in agreement with the crops recovered with the Iceman?
In answering these questions this research provides new findings and data concerning late Neolithic agricultural systems in the inner Alpine regions, in particular concerning alpine pastoral systems. Besides this a detailed vegetation and settlement history of the area is established, which enables to place the Iceman finding into a bigger setting. 

Funding
FWF-Project-no.: P21129-G19

Personnel involved
Klaus Oeggl
Daniela Festi
Andreas Putzer  

Cooperation
Hubert Steiner, Amt für Bodendenkmäler der Autonomen Provinz Bozen, Südtirol
Umberto Tecchiati, Amt für Bodendenkmäler der Autonomen Provinz Bozen, Südtirol
Annaluisa Pedrotti, University of Trento, Italy
Pierluigi Pieruccini, Dipertimento di Scienze della Terra, Università di Siena
Wolfgang Müller, Department of Geology, Royal Holloway University of London
Walter Leitner, Institut für Archäologien, Universität Innsbruck