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Excavations begin at Bronze Age underwater village


The first underwater excavation of an important World Heritage Site is to go ahead as part of a new research project. An international team, led by the University of Bradford, hopes to uncover the secrets of the mysterious Bronze Age settlement at Lake Viverone, one of the most vibrant trading centres for bronze artefacts in Northern Italy.

Similar swords to those of Viverone have been found as far afield as Germany, the Netherlands and Britain, but surprisingly, the villagers didn’t trade their metal products with their nearest neighbours. The international team, funded by the National Geographic Society, hope to understand the reasons behind this and, through isotopic analysis of artefacts made at Viverone, pin down where the village sourced their raw materials.

“Viverone is a fascinating, but difficult, place to study which perhaps explains why no excavations have been carried out there before,” says lead researcher, Professor Francesco Menotti of the University of Bradford. “We aim to combine the information we gather from the excavations with specialist scientific analysis of the site and its artefacts, to answer some of the many questions that surround the settlement.”

Although Viverone was discovered in the 1970s, the new project will be the first time it has been excavated and scientifically analysed in a systematic way. The wooden piles on which the settlement was built around 3500 years ago are still visible beneath the water, showing a group of houses, surrounded by a palisade, with a walkway to the shore.

An underwater Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) will map the site and create a detailed plan. Core and soil samples will be taken and analysed to understand the environment and climatic conditions and how these changed before, during and after the occupation. Samples from the piles will be analysed using the tree rings within the wood to show when the village was built and how it developed over time.

The region around the Alps had a number of lake villages during the Bronze Age, but those in Northern Italy were all abandoned about five centuries earlier than in the northern Alpine region. The researchers hope to shed light on this mystery as well.

Underwater archaeologists will dive into the lake to dig exploratory trenches at two locations within the village, to see what information lies beneath the surface. The team hope to uncover new artefacts and show the potential for more extensive excavation at the site.

“We hope this initial research will give us an idea how much more Viverone can tell us and show whether further excavation is needed,” says Professor Menotti. “We also hope that by understanding more about the village, we can help to put a preservation strategy in place, to ensure that this important site and the stories it can tell us are not lost to future generations.”

The research will be carried out by the University of Bradford in collaboration with the University of Cambridge (UK); the ‘Terramare’ Underwater team (Freiburg, Germany), the ‘Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per le province di Biella’; the ‘Comune di Viverone’ and the ‘Museo del Territorio Biellese’ in Italy.

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