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Munching a Prehistoric Snack in Italy!

Number 19 - December 1999

F. Rigobella



Situated at the site of one of the most famous and studied Bronze Age lake-settlements in the Italian Alps and representing an important exhibition and information centre for alpine prehistory is the Lake-dwelling Museum. Built in Molina di Ledro in 1972, the museum is part of the Natural Science Museum of Trento.

As part of the museum’s general improvement programme during 1994, the Natural Science Museum in Trento created a Prehistoric Botanical Garden based on the analysis of pollen and vegetable macro-remains found in the settlements at Molina di Ledro and in the nearby village of Fiavè.The purpose of the garden is to provide visitors with an opportunity to see the most important vegetable species for the inhabitants of the pile dwelling huts.Trees and shrubs that produce edible fruits, and are from the area, have been planted, and a plot has been sown with the most important species cultivated during the Bronze Age.The seeds (three sorts of grain and two of barley) were supplied by the Experimental Institute for Cereal Growing, a section of Sant’Angelo Lodigiano (Lodi). At the moment, cultivation of plots with plants that have colouring properties and were traditionally used by local people, and also in prehistoric times, are being established.

The Prehistoric Snack

Along with the creation of the Prehistoric Botanical Garden, the museum has also tried to link prehistory with the reality of today.This has led to the creation of an archeo-agricultural activity that recently involved several local classes from the Scuola Media (secondary school) at Bezzecca and has since been repeated with several other schools.

The purpose is to arouse the interest of the children, and transform their way of seeing prehistory, and the lake-dwelling inhabitants, from being the producers of broken pieces of pottery, to people who lived before us and worked, fought and loved like us.

There are three distinct phases to the activity which are obviously linked together:

  1. An introductory stage about the piles, their discovery and the part they have played in human history, and in particular, regional history. In this first theoretical phase specific themes such as dating methods, the reconstruction of the prehistoric natural environment (study of wood, cinders, seeds, fruits, pollens), their agricultural methods (cultivation techniques, environmental influences, species cultivated) and agricultural implements (finds, building-methods, flint working) are studied.
  2. The second stage involves a handcraft activity in which the participants reconstruct numerous prehistoric tools and work on the creation of the plots for the cultivated plants.The children are asked to find, at home or in the woods, suitable pieces of wood which have a similar form to the tools they are going to make.These objects are then worked by the children until they form the shape of hoes, sickle handles, scrapers or knife hafts or a plough. The next step is the insertion of the flint-blades into the handles in order to reproduce some of the tools originally employed by the lake-dwellers. Then the children, with the self-made hoes and plough, work the ground to clean it of stones and roots. They then plant the same species of cereals and edible plants found in the anthropical layer.
  3. The last stage of the activity is a day dedicated to the ‘Prehistoric snack’ i.e. a day in the life of one of the lake-dwelling inhabitants. In the morning a group gather grain using the wood and flintstones utensils that they made earlier, while another group collects the flax and after binding them in sheaves, beats them to separate the seeds from the plants. In the meantime, other children prepare the fire. This is used to heat the stones on which the prehistoric bread is to be cooked.For this purpose, they cut the wood necessary for the fire using their prehistoric axes.Several craftsmen, under the guidance of Archaeologist Romana Scandolari, splinter the flintstones to make the tools necessary for wood and leather working, while the pot-makers model the clay. In the afternoon the cereals are milled to produce flour using simple prehistoric hand-mills.The flour is mixed with salt and water to make a light bread pastry and then cooked on the hot stones above the fire. At the end of the day there is the long awaited moment for the ‘Prehistoric snack’ and everyone, tired but satisfied, is able to enjoy the 'bread of the lake-dwellers' with jam, wild fruits and juice.


This programme and series of activities has aroused great interest and participation from a large number of children and teachers.The fact that they have to make and later use their own prehistoric instruments leads students to acquire a new way of looking at history in general, and in particular, at the way of life of the ancient lake-dwelling inhabitants.The importance in prehistoric culture of manual labour, profound knowledge of the area, its resources and the capacity of making the best use of them, becomes immediately evident to the children.This implies a reappraisal and the modification of the image, typical in many students' minds, of a savage hunter dressed in hides and rags.

Moreover, during the activity students are able to discover the soft fruits and the edible berries found in the woods, and they learn to recognise the trees and the shrubs that produce them. Above all, it allows them to take possession again of the knowledge possessed by their ancestors, which is now almost forgotten and destined to disappear.

En Italia se Mordisquea un Aperitivo Prehistórico!


Cerca del Museo de las Viviendas del Lago, en Molina de Pedro, en Italia, se ha creado un Jardín Botánico prehistórico. Su principal propósito es dar a los visitantes una visión global de las especies vegetales más importantes en las vidas cotidianas de los antiguos moradores del lago.

Junto con las construcción del Jardín Botánico Prehistórico, se ha desarrollado un programa arqueológico – agrícola. Este programa incluye una introducción de los moradores del lago y de su historia, seguida de la reconstrucción de varias armas prehistóricas y la creación de varias parcelas en las que se siembran las especies que cultivaban los habitantes del lago. La fase final del “aperitivo prehistórico” es pasar un día entero realizando algunas de las actividades mas importantes y necesarias en la vida diaria de los antiguos habitantes del lago. Se presta una atención particular al trabajo de la piedra de sílex, la cosecha del lino, la alfarería y el proceso y cocción de los cereales; y la prueba final, ¡comerse las pequeñas barras de pan!