The 'Zone nordwärts der Alpen' from 5500 to 780 BC cal


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The 'Zone nordwärts der Alpen' in prehistoric research

The term 'Zone nordwärts der Alpen' to designate a geographical region is well established in the literature of prehistoric research (it might have been Paul Reinecke who first introduced it). Its geographical extension, however, never was exactly defined, and, since the term refers to a relative position ('The Area north of the Alps'), such a definition would be a futile attempt.

The reason for the existence of this term is found in the extreme importance of this area to the development of Central European Prehistory:

It is a kind of a intersectional situation in Central Europe constituted by its major rivers: the Donau, leading to the southeast (Carpathian Basin, Romînia, Black Sea), and the Rhein, flowing to the Atlantic Ocean (Benelux, northern France and Britain). Not so far in the west one can find the catchment of the Rhône, stretching through southeastern France to the western Mediterranean.

There is no doubt, that it was this intersectional situation which brought along the rapid change of material culture in this area, thus enabling Paul Reinecke to establish his extremely successful periodisation for the prehistoric metal ages of Central Europe ( 1 ).

The extension of the author's 'Zone nordwärts der Alpen'

As the visitor of this document soon will realize, the extension of the author's 'Zone nordwärts der Alpen' approximately reaches from the Rhein-valley in the west to the Tisza-valley in the east.

Some maps, however, additionaly show technocomplexes being situated far beyond of this scope. The reason for this can be found in the main objective of these maps: to help the student to better understand the general frame of Central European Prehistory. The mapping of important technocomplexes in distant areas should make overregional correlations possible.

The maps within the present state of prehistoric research

Still in the late seventies the results of radiocarbon dating were far from being commonly accepted and there was a fierce debate between short and long chronologists. Meanwhile this has changed, but many of the technocomplexes still need longer data series to allow reliable dating ( 2 ).

It seems as if we live these years to see the last phase of a period of prehistoric research, in which the age of technocomplexes is not yet definitely fixed. Maybe in a decade or so, this exciting period will have come to an end.

The growing knowledge about absolute age is going to release prehistoric research from a lot of formerly necessary discussions and finally will transfer the Prehistory of Central Europe into an period of Early History, where material culture and its regional interrelations make it possible to study the direction of influences or even the migration of peoples.

Maps as those presented in this document try to bring the facts together, try to show the technocomplexes existing in the same period and so finally try to establish the working ground upon which the Early History of Central Europe in future will be studied ( 3 ).

Concerning the design of the maps in this document

Since the chronological position of many of the technocomplexes still is in debate, the design of the maps must comply to the major need of these days: it should allow changes to be performed easily.

Any attempt to give to the maps a more realistic appearance (e.g. by underlying a topographic background) would envolve very tedious and strenuous work ( 4 ) and rather would hinder the whole undertaking or even prevent it.

Thus the only background feature on the maps of this document is a rectangle, which might be regarded as the extension of the author's 'Area north of the Alps'.

The character size of the technocomplex name roughly refers to its importance or extension. Technocomplexes in local stratigraphies are given by superposed rectangles. Important depot horizons are given in a shaded rectangle.

In the caption one finds the official designation of the period and its duration in calender years BC.

The design of the maps in this document best can express their intention: (a) to give an overview of the phenomena existing in different periods of time ( 5 ) or (b) to be some kind of 3-dimensional index-system allowing an easy access (short-cut) to the vast body of literature.

On chronological order

Since many of the technocomplexes still are without reliable dating one has to look for regional sequences and try to correlate them. For the Neolithic is of special importance the sequence of the Carpathian Basin and its northern fringe (Linear Ceramics, Lengyel, Tiszapolgár, Baden). An epicenter to this can be found in the sequence of the Middle Neolithic in southwestern Germany (Hinkelstein, Großgartach, Rössen, Epi-Rössen). The alpine lake dwellings (Switzerland, Baden-Württemberg, Austria, Slowenia) are the main support for the Young and Final Neolithic.

In the Bronze Age most materials come from graves and hoards and one is faced with the problem of correlating these materials with the materials coming from settlements (which in comparision still are little known). Of greatest importance therefore is the dendrochronogical dating of burial-chambers ( 6 ).

The order of the Neolithic follows the fourfould sequence of Old, Middle, Young and Final Neolithic as it is commonly used in southern Germany ( 7 ).

The order of the Bronze Age follows the system established by Paul Reinecke.

On nomenclature

The term 'technocomplex' was introduced to palaeolithic research in order to replace the term 'culture', which encomprises such unmaterial facets of human life, such as singing, dancing or telling fairy-tales - all these facets hardly can be found in the shape of those lithic industries. The same is true, though in a less degree, for the material culture of the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages.

Nevertheless the term 'technocomplex' may sound gauge for Neolithic or Bronze Age industries. It is used in first line to avoid the discussion about the notion of 'culture', 'group' or 'culture-group'.

Whenever possible the eponyme names of technocomplexes are given: the name of a site showing best the idiosyncratic character of a material in a certain region at a certain time. Already Paul Reinecke was working with eponyme designations (e.g. Straubing, Langquaid, Göggenhofen). The actual system was worked out especially by Hermann Müller-Karpe and its Frankfurt School ( 8 ).

Phase designations as 'Bronze Age III' are little helpful because they do not refer to the regional individualities of the material. They do not make it possible to connect a material feature to a certain region.

An intermediate position is taken by designations referring to certain traits of the material, e.g. the shape of pots in the Neolithic. One can easily realize, that designations of this type usually refer to phenomena with overregional distributions (see Linear ceramics, Stroked Ware, Funnel Beakers, Corded Ware, Bell beakers). From designations of this kind one usually can infer a dissatisfying state of research: These phenomena still need more intensive study, until their (existing) local variations are worked out sufficiently.

One can realize, that wherever eponyme designations not are defined, mapping is extremely ineffective if it is not completely useless ( 9 ).

On center and periphery

Anyone concerned with the Prehistory of Central Europe will realize, that in the maps presented in this document there is a central region for which the most important technocomplexes are given (the center of the map-maker) and there is a periphery, towards which the number of technocomplexes decreases remarkably. There are two reasons for this:

The first reason is dependant on the original objective of these maps: to serve as a teaching material, so it should not be overloaded with information.

The second reason is found in the nature of 'single person map-making': It normally will be the banlieue to the central position of the map-maker, where his overview is most complete. The more he has to deal with phenomena being situated in periphery, the more fragmentary his knowledge will be.

On the bibliographic links

According to another objective of this document: to provide the student with a kind of short-cut to the vast body of prehistoric literature, the main intention was to keep the number of references as small as possible.

Nevertheless the student should be able to find a reference, which (a) can serve as a starting-point for further studies, and, (b) in which illustrations of the material ( 10 ) are represented. A further objective (c) was to give the student the possibility to become acquainted with major works on the period. Concerning the incompleteness of the bibliographic reference one also should know, that preferently books are cited, which can be found in the Erlangen library.

It is inherent to the nature of such a bibliography that many authors of important contributions will miss their work in the bibliographic links given. If this is the case, I want to apologise and ask the person concerned to send me a mail with the bibliographic references lacking.

Things to come ?

The indispensable prerequisite to the establishment of the working ground upon which the Early History of Central Europe once will be written is the individual mapping of every technocomplex to a degree as exact as possible ( 11 ). The results would provide us with the possibility to build up realistic maps upon a topographic background. The accompanying site lists could constitute the index-system to work out maps of wider phenomena, e.g. types of house construction, types of burial or types of economy. Since such phenomena usually have more longevity and a wider spread than the technocomplex-specific traits of material culture (e.g. the shape of pots or metal objects), they would give us most important information on descent and inter-relationships of the technocomplexes.

This work, however, is a task of permanent effort and thus has the feature of, on the one hand, demanding permanent improvement, but, on the other hand, of actually never being complete - we do not need to wait for its final execution.

Yet, there might be something to come in near future - today or tomorrow:

Critiques and commentaries on this document (may they concern dating integrity, completeness of the technocomplexes cited or bibliographic data) and sketches of comparable maps for adjacent areas. The author would like to integrate any feedback into the maps of the present document.


Thus, as a thing to come in the nearer future one could plausibly imagine a set of maps for a wider area of Central Europe generated by the specialists of the region.


I want to thank the students of Erlangen ( 12 ) for spending much energy in helping me to compile the bibiographic links during this winter term (96/97). My special thanks go to Utz Böhner MA, who helped me getting along with HTML, who took over the transfer to the UNIX-server, and, who urged me to build up the maps for the Late Bronze Age, something I originally did not intend to do. Abigail and GŁnther Kampf (Regensburg) once more had a hard work to transfer my chaotic outline into a readable english text - any remaining errors, however, are on the responsibility of the author.