by Armando Mombelli, swissinfo.ch
The prehistoric lake dwellings of the alpine region are to be added to the Unesco World Heritage List, as proposed by Switzerland and five other European countries.
These sites provide a unique glimpse of life in the earliest agricultural settlements from 5,000 to 500 BC.
They lie deep in lakes or buried in sand on lake shores. Yet for Unesco, they qualify as part of the cultural heritage of humanity: the pile-dwelling sites (as they are called) constitute some of the most important archaeological evidence of the ascent of man between the Neolithic and Bronze Ages.
The water and the sand of the lakes have created exceptional conditions in which this immense record of prehistory has been preserved.
The organic material used by our distant ancestors – wood, leather, bone, cloth and even left-over food – is preserved much better than anywhere else in this aquatic environment, protected as it is from exposure to air, inclement weather and the forces of human destructiveness.
First discovered a century and a half ago, the pile-dwelling sites of the alpine region have provided specialists with a unique opportunity to reconstruct what life was like in early societies of farmers and herdsmen during the millennia before Christ. These sites point to the missing link in the chain between the hunter-gatherers of pre-history and the first European civilisations.