Lucerne is a beautiful city in central Switzerland on the shore of Lake Lucerne – popular with tourists for sites like the 14th century wooden Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke) spanning the river Reuss. It has long been accepted that the first settlement on Lake Lucerne was the Benedictine Monastery of St. Leodegar, founded in 750 CE. That may change drastically with the recent discovery of what is being called the Atlantis of Lake Lucerne – an underwater village that dates back to 1000 BCE in the late Bronze Age. Did early tourists come there for the sites and leave with souvenir animal skin T-shirts?
Swiss archeologists and historians have long suspected that the monks weren’t the first to settle in Lucerne, but they had no proof – at least none that was readily accessible. Those who believed an early settlement might be hidden under Lake Lucerne were hampered by the lake’s thick layer of mud on its bottom. That mud came prior to the 15th century when the Krienbach river feeding it brought large amounts of rubble and debris that blocked the lake’s outflow. After that, locals built mills and dwellings and further reduced the outflow. Archeologists estimate all of this added 5 meters (16.4 feet) to the depth of Lake Lucerne.
“The construction of the lake water pipeline last year offered the first opportunity to gain an archaeological insight into the Lucerne lake bottom. On behalf of the Cantonal Archeology of Lucerne, a team from Underwater Archeology in Zurich accompanied the dredging work.”
A press release from the Cantonal Archeology of Lucerne described what was found when the lake was carefully dredged to lay a lake water pipeline for the Inseliquai lake energy center of ewl AG. Work started in December 2019 and the diving team accompanying the dredgers began finding artifacts of a lost village in March 2020. (Photos here.)
“As early as March 2020, the excavator lifted numerous wooden piles from the water in addition to alluvial sediments. The diving archeology experts quickly realized that the artificially prepared piles were prehistoric timber. Soon ceramic shards also came to light. The pipeline trench thus leads through the middle of an area with remains of pile dwellings. The dating of the timber using the C14 method and the analysis of the ceramics prove that these settlement remains were dated to the late Bronze Age, around 1000 BC.”
That means a 3,000-year-old lost village from the Bronze Age exists just four meters below the surface of Lake Lucerne. According to Ancient Origins, the timber was once piles or pylons for stilt houses with thatch roofs that allowed prehistoric humans to live near the shore safe from rising waters due to perioding flooding. That was a common building style around other Alpine lakes but this is the first evidence that there were people living at Lake Lucerne in stilt houses.
Nothing else is known about the Bronze Age Lucernians – where they came from, what they did and why they left. That could change with this discovery. There are already 111 known pile-dwelling settlements in the Alps region, including 56 in Switzerland, dating back to 50000 BCE and all have been granted World Heritage Site status to protect them and their artifacts. That will probably be extended to Lake Lucerne’s newly found Atlantis.