The first traces of human life in Switzerland lead us back to the Ice Age. In an intermediate ice age, probably in that of Riss-Würm, hordes of hunters searched the caves of the high Alps to hunt their main prey, the Ursus spelaeus. The Wildkirchli caves in the Santis region, the Drachenloch above Vättis, the Wildenmannlisloch in the Kurfirsten, the Steigelfadbalm above Vitznau, then the Schnurenloch and Ranggiloch in the Simmental are known as such; and finally the Cotencher cave near Boudry in the southwestern Jura. In most of the caves the archaeological layer is interposed between two layers of clay from the glacial period; it is recognized by the dark color and the presence of bones of the cave bear, the arctic fox, the chamois and other animals of the ice age, as well as stone and bone tools, and hearths. In the Drachenloch skulls and long bones of the cave bear were piled into stone chests, which was interpreted by E. Bächler as a primitive cult sign to a hunting deity. He calls,chelléana, civilization). Due to the absence of stone tools, it can be understood, with O. Menghin, in the European civilization of bones. Cotencher seems to be a little more recent, it must be attributed approximately to the Würmian glacial period and corresponds at best to the French civilization of Le Moustier (see Mousteriana, civilization). In the last period of the most ancient Paleolithic we find three centers of human residence. One southwest with the destroyed Veyrier cave near Geneva and the Grotte du Scé near Villeneuve, one in the Olten and Birstal caves and the third in the well-known Jura caves of Kesslerloch and Schweizersbild. In recent years, the findings of Vordere Eiche and Besetze near Thayngen and the rock shelter of Bönistein near Zeinigen have been added. The main animal in these places is the reindeer, of which there are often pierced bones and imprints of animal and plant figures. The tools show a prevalence of blades, so they can be attributed to the civilization called by O. Menghin of blades.
The evolution from La Madeleine-type stations to the Neolithic civilization of stilts is not yet fully understood. It seems that it happened differently in the Jura than in the central region. In Birseck the Neolithic civilization develops through the Mas d’Azil civilization with painted pebbles and flat harpoons; in Olten the civilization of La Madeleine is followed by the civilization of Tardenois, which is then replaced by a civilization of the Campigny type with knives and clay objects; given the wealth of flint in the Olten, this civilization seems to have lasted there until the Metal Age. In the central region we only know the Tardenois civilization, with its small tools and with a fauna that, with the reindeer and the arctic fox, is linked to the fauna of the most ancient Paleolithic age, and with the wild horse and the roe deer he already indicates a fauna of the steppe. This civilization clearly leads to the early Neolithic, which must have been influenced by the Grimaldian civilization of the NO. of Italy. In the Neolithic age (4000-2000 BC) the Indo-Europeanization of the country clearly began. Why then appears that primitive Indo-European civilization “of the peasant”, which we find in the stilts, and in which a stable population attends to cultivate the land and raise cattle, takes weaving and ceramics to a high degree of perfection, and professes a high cult of the dead. That stilt houses are not constructions on dry land, but on water is demonstrated by botanical, faunal and archaeological discoveries, and can also be corroborated with linguistic arguments.
The Neolithic tombs of Switzerland can be distinguished as cave tombs, with reclining or crouched skeletons, stone sarcophagi with skeletons in the same position, and cremation mounds. The stone sarcophagi, to be attributed, according to the main points of discovery, to the civilization of Chamblandes-Glis, betray an Italian (Grimaldian) and a Pyrenean influence, to which are still added influences of the civilization of the Seine and Marne. The menhirs of the Jura suggest a stone cult.
The bronze civilization (2000-1000 BC) developed from a first phase similar to that of the tombs of Chamblandes and Glis, and in which, as characteristic elements, snails of the type of Columbella rustica, bronze hooks, appear. intertwining pins, triangular daggers, sharp axes and carved objects. Another group is formed by the mounds, which are followed by the urn fields: these must derive from a foreign people. In connection with this civilization, a final flowering of stilts follows, in which southern and south-eastern decorative motifs are widespread.
No great changes have occurred in the content of civilization; among domestic animals the horse now appears for the first time, and the chariot appears, which also acquires religious importance. This also demonstrated the cult of medicinal springs, which is testified to by the discovery of the Saint Moritz spring.
It is not yet clear who the bearers of the Hallstatt civilization (v.), In Switzerland, were. The Illyrians and other allied bloodlines, such as the Reti perhaps, have been shown to have inhabited the country. It is only at the end of this period that the Celts appear. The Etruscans certainly resided only in the south of the country, since the granulated Etruscan goldsmiths, which are found in the north, must be considered as imported goods. The dwellings from this period are high in the mountains, and we already know some of them, such as the Dickenbännli near Olten, the Hemming near Neunkirch, the Ebersberg on the Irchel, and others. A more exact knowledge of these houses has come from the latest excavations on the Wittnauerhorn, in the Fricktal and on the Burgenrain near Sissach. Behind powerful dry-built defense walls, housing huts and stables were set up. Rhaetian houses in the high mountains have recently been found, including the Montlingerberg in the Rhine valley (Canton of St. Gallen). The most important evidence of the Hallstatt civilization are the mounds, scattered throughout the country by the hundreds, now isolated, now in true necropolis. They are found on the Seerücken, near Trüllikon, in Bärhau near Unterlunkhofen, on the heights east of Lake Sempach, in Subingen, Ins and Valengin, while the mound has never penetrated into Valais and Graubünden. Yet strong influences from the South and the East must have been exerted in this period, since in these tombs Italian cyst cysts and primitive Greek hydria have been found.
Historical times begin with the La Tène period. The bearers of this civilization are of Celtic race, and they are mainly the Helvezî. In the Valais reside the Seduni, the Nantuati, the Veragri, in the Jura the Allobrogi, the Sequan and the Raurici. The Helvezî must have lived in the center, of which the most important branch, the Tigurini, lived in Aventicum. Caesar reports from the Elvezî that they owned 12 oppida, 400 villages and many farms. Unquestionably recognizable Oppida were discovered in Geneva, Petinesca, the Enge Peninsula near Bern, Vindonissa and Basel. In these places there are always embankments fortifications, defensive ditches, cemeteries, underground dwellings and sewers. The Celtic locality of is not well known Aventicum, capital of the Tigurini. The locality of La Tène, which gives its name to the civilization, located at the exit of the Zihl river from Lake Neuchâtel, is interpreted differently (see la Tène).