Prehistoric pile dwellings around the Alps

Pfahlbau Pile Dwelling Museum, Unteruhldingen, Germany

Prehistoric pile dwellings around the Alps

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This is the website of travel writer, Michael Turtle. After working in broadcast journalism for a decade in Australia, Michael left Sydney to travel the world indefinitely and write about his discoveries.

Prehistoric pile dwellings around the Alps, Unteruhldingen, Germany

Real estate agents always say that it’s about location, location, location. The ancient people who lived around the Alps region in central Europe 7000 years ago already knew that, though.

When it came to building their homes, it was all about location. They chose spots along the edges of lakes, rivers and wetlands and constructed wooden huts, elevated above the ground or water level on wooden piles. This gave them multiple strategic advantages.

Pfahlbau Pile Dwelling Museum, Unteruhldingen, Germany

Firstly, there was the protection from wild animals because, even if these predators could cross the water or marshy ground, they couldn’t climb up to the houses. Secondly, the inhabitants had easy access to the food supplies in the rich waters that flowed down from the mountains. And, most importantly, the waterways on which they constructed their homes were also the main trade routes of the time so it was easy to do business with other people passing by in canoes.

Pfahlbau Pile Dwelling Museum, Unteruhldingen, Germany

Of course, the idea of ‘business’ is not what we imagine today. The first of these pile dwellings appeared in about 5000BC, before even the most ancient of civilisations rose across the world. However, evidence from the sites show that the Neolithic people of this time were trading things like flint, shells and amber. Over the coming millennia, this style of dwelling remained popular even as carts, pottery and textiles emerged.

Pfahlbau Pile Dwelling Museum, Unteruhldingen, Germany

Pfahlbau Pile Dwelling Museum, Unteruhldingen, Germany

None of the original dwellings remain intact from this prehistoric time in Alpine Europe but the locations the people chose have provided one major benefit for us today. The waterlogged environments have protected the foundations and other relics that were left underwater when the inhabitants moved on. For archaeologists, it’s an exceptional conservation of history from settlements that existed from 5000BC to about 500BC that give us an incredible insight into everything from the agricultural systems to metallurgy skills of these people.

Pfahlbau Pile Dwelling Museum, Unteruhldingen, Germany

Pfahlbau Pile Dwelling Museum, Unteruhldingen, Germany

There are 937 known sites of pile dwellings in the area around the Alps which stretch across what is today Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland. 111 of them have been protected as a World Heritage Site and almost half of them are in Switzerland. The best one to visit, though, is the Pfahlbau site in the German town of Unteruhldingen.

Pfahlbau Pile Dwelling Museum, Unteruhldingen, Germany

Pfahlbau Pile Dwelling Museum, Unteruhldingen, Germany

On the edge of Lake Constance, in the town of Unteruhldingen, experts have reconstructed a small community of these ancient pile dwellings. Although it is artificial in the sense that the structures are not original, everything has been put together exactly the way it would have been thousands of years ago. The museum is run by underwater archaeologists and cultural historians to ensure the accuracy of everything.

Pfahlbau Pile Dwelling Museum, Unteruhldingen, Germany

What is particularly interesting is the way the huts are displayed these days as interconnected. Although the construction is quite rudimentary, there is an advanced sense of community in the design. The dwellings are built in clusters and are connected with elevated walkways. There is even a protective wall built in the water around one of the groups of buildings to create a small protected harbour.

Pfahlbau Pile Dwelling Museum, Unteruhldingen, Germany

The museum has also incorporated exhibitions, displays and reconstructions within the dwellings to help illustrate the life of the original inhabitants. It is useful and informative but is a reminder that these structures are not strictly a historic site themselves, just representative of the ones that were once scattered all across this region and are now marked only by their underwater foundations.

Location

The Pfahlbau Pile Dwelling Museum is located at:
Strandpromenade 6, D-88690, Unteruhldingen, Germany.
You can see it on a map here.
Opening Hours
The museum is open at the following times:
January – February: Guided tours Monday – Friday at 1430
March: Guided tours Monday – Friday at 1430 and open Saturday – Sunday from 0900 – 1700
April – September: 0900 – 1900
October: 0900 – 1700
November – December: Guided tours Monday – Friday at 1430

Price

Admission costs are as follows:
Adult: 9€
Students: 6,50€
Children 6-15: 5,50€
Getting there
To get to the Pfahlbau Pile Dwelling Museum, catch the train to Überlingen and then take the bus number 7395 to Unteruhldingen which takes about 20 minutes, then follow the signs to walk the 10 minutes to the site.
Accommodation
I stayed at the Hotel Garni Rotes Haus which is a modern and well-designed hotel right near the lake.
Top tip
The museum is not far from another World Heritage Site on Reichenau Island, so consider combining the two into a day trip .

Website

Time Travel Turtle was supported by DB Bahn, the German National Tourist Board and Youth Hostels in Germany but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

UNESCO world heritage siteThis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For more info click here.
You can see all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites I’ve visited here.

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