Our heritage
Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps

Virginie Galbarini

Head of Communication at the Laténium Museum

What is your role in relation to the Prehistoric Pile Dwellings?
The Laténium is a unique interpretation centre. It has collections of thousands of artefacts of prehistoric pile dwellings, of which only a small part is presented to the public. In its archaeological park, one can discover houses from the Neolithic and Bronze Age. They are associated with the restitution of ecosystems that allow a better understanding of the links between the inhabitants of the prehistoric pile dwellings and their environment. Finally, many researchers work at the Laténium and contribute to the dynamism and transmission of knowledge of these particular sites. My role, as head of communications, is to do everything possible to promote this heritage to our public. The great thing about prehistoric pile dwellings is that they allow us to address a number of different themes that touch on the daily lives of prehistoric people. The quality of conservation of the remains makes this past extremely alive and close to us, one feels connected to it even if visiting the Laténium for the first time!

How did you arrive at the Laténium?
I was lucky enough to study archaeology and history at the University of Neuchâtel when the Laténium had just opened its doors. The Neuchâtel teachers and archaeologists who trained me were able to pass on to me a passion for the regional heritage. I believe that it is above all this enthusiasm and this desire to share that led me to the professions of mediation and then communication, which I gradually trained for. In 2017, I joined the management team of the Laténium as head of communication. 

What fascinates you most about the this heritage?
Obviously, the quality of conservation of organic materials is exceptional. Discovering basketry, terracotta pots or wooden kitchen utensils in very good condition, being able to read the shapes and sometimes the decorations, even though some of these objects are more than 5,000 years old, is really exciting! But what fascinates me most is the precision of a scientific discipline called dendrochronology. Thanks to the rings of trees, it is possible to date the construction of a village or its abandonment to the nearest year and for very ancient periods. The Laténium, which is not only a museum, houses the Archaeology section of the Office for Heritage and Archaeology of the Canton of Neuchâtel. Its staff members study and protect the prehistoric pile dwellings, among many other tasks. The wooden finds from the stations are carefully observed in their dendrochronology laboratory, which is also closely involved in the conservation and museography of the wooden remains.

What activities do you recommend?
After discovering the Laténium and its archaeological park, I find it interesting to go for a walk in the forests along the shores of Lake Neuchâtel. Starting from the Laténium in the direction of Marin or from Concise to Vaumarcus in particular. These preserved areas of the coastline are home to plant and animal species that have been present since the Neolithic period. Small hidden beaches allow you to observe the shoreline and reed beds. It is like being out of time.

Do you have any special tips?
The Laténium opens the doors of its deposit on the occasion of certain major events such as the World Heritage Days in June or the European Heritage Days in September. Numerous finds from prehistoric pile dwellings are carefully classified. For example, it is possible to follow the evolution of human gestures and techniques over almost three millennia.