From June 9th till 11th 2017, Switzerland will organise its second edition of the World Heritage Days. The World Heritage properties will open their doors to the public and offer tailor-made programs for this occasion.
Special tours, open doors, encounters with people working behind the scenes of the World Heritage site and few surprises will make you explore the UNESCO properties. Visit the events near you and take this unique opportunity to discover unexpected facts and experience our heritage.
“YESTERDAY… Between the Mediterranean and the North Sea”. 500 centuries of local history in the heart of Europe: this is the theme of the permanent exhibition at the Laténium. You are taken – step by step – through the different stages of human evolution, from the present day back to the times of the Neanderthal man. The exhibition consists of 8 different rooms, comprising a total area of 2200 m2. In reverse order, it spans a time frame from the Renaissance to the Palaeolithic Era. Thanks to clear explanations, small-scale models, audiovisual media, games for children and many more features, each room settles you into a new atmosphere, where you may learn about the basics of archaeological work and the scientific interpretation of our own past.
Mankind, time, and environment. These three axes, closely linked, are the main pillars of the permanent exhibition at the Laténium. Archaeologists at work, exceptional fieldwork discoveries and figurations of our ancestors: these are just some of the many ways to discover archaeology.
The first symbolic step down the ladder of time brings you back to the Middle Ages. In this room, you will discover objects originating from various contexts such as religious and profane architecture, domestic life, agriculture, fishing, tombs and commerce, such as the impressive ship wreck of Hauterive and its cargo of earthenware dishes and iron bars.
Catch your breath, have a seat and virtually explore local excavations sites, the Laténium webpage, as well as other websites of major archaeological museums from all over the world.
The Gallo-Romans organised and structured the landscape into small parcels. The area around Neuchâtel was no exception; it was divided into squares and listed in a land register. During the Gallo-Roman era, the Neuchâtel area counted several quite remarkable constructions, the mausoleum of Wavre for example, or the palace of Colombier. Their models in the Laténium show both their exact dimensions and their high architectural quality. Mosaics, wall paintings, marble busts, and statues of gods: a new lifestyle made its appearance, fostered by major improvements in construction methods and heating systems.
This impressive room opens towards the vast fishing pond of the park. It hosts the biggest artefact of the Laténium: the Gallo-Roman barge of Bevaix, which is more than 20 m long. Just next to it, you will discover, in a huge showcase, the secrets of underwater excavations, a field in which Neuchâtel archaeology has gained a strong international reputation.
The Celts were not simply adventurous warriors. The virtuosity of their craftsmanship gives us precious insight into the cultural refinement of their society. Celtic art seems to draw a metaphorical image of the society which produced it, violent yet intrepid and inventive. This duality is presented to you in The Celts of La Tène room in a series of spatial contrasts and material oppositions, for example between floor and roof. This symbolizes the dual link established by the Celts between the terrestrial and celestial world.
As human societies started to constitute their first permanent settlements, they strove to strengthen their roots. Huge megaliths were erected to mark the symbolic appropriation of a given territory. In this room, animated by the sounds of lake-dweller craftsmen at work and bordered by stylized wheat fields, the showcases are aligned to a regular grid just like lake-dwellings. Various remains of organic material, pottery and stone tools bear moving witness to past life on the shores of Lake Neuchâtel, during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages.
Animal subsistence, Animal art, sculpted or painted on rock walls – in the windswept tundra, all life in this era was organised around the animal. Back-lighted showcases emerging from the floor host the few traces and findings we hold from this period: tiny jet statues, ochre palettes, projectile fragments and tools made out of silex or deer antlers.
Glacial ambience, dripping sounds fading away into infinity, impressive deep blue walls: here you will pass through 25,000 years of ice age in just a few steps.
The Mousterian is the last period of our virtual time travel. The architecture of this room imitates the entrance into the cave of Cotencher, which gave humans shelter during the entire Mousterian period. In fact, inside this cave, the oldest human remains in the whole of Switzerland were found: the mandible of a Neanderthal woman who died nearly 50,000 years ago. In the same cave, a realistic life size model of a threatening cave bear stares at you from the corner of his eye.
On the floor, a multitude of small illuminated pictures pave the way with coloured lights in the darkness of the cave – they are part of your path, just as the depicted animals were part of the life of the first human beings settling in Switzerland.
The tour ends with the presentation of human evolution. In a long showcase, which you follows on your way out of the museum, the skulls of the different types of known hominids are aligned, once again from the youngest to the oldest. Each hominid is shown with a characteristic tool of its period: a Swiss army knife for the present-day human, a flat chisel for the Cro-Magnon man, a scraper for the Neanderthal man, a hand axe for Homo Erectus, a chopper for Homo Habilis, and no specific tool for the Australopithecus, even though he probably used rudimentary tools…
Because of the exceptionally dynamic research conducted in Neuchâtel’s archaeology department since the 19th century and thanks to public support throughout the canton, the collections at the Laténium are extremely varied and cover a large archaeological horizon. Mot of the objects in these collections were discovered on the territory of Neuchâtel. However, a few of them were found in neighbouring cantons (Vaud, Fribourg and Bern, in particular). Around 1850, the collecting of antiquities was triggered by the first discoveries of lakeside villages. Ever since, archaeological research has been carried out in the Neuchâtel region; first by a few famous forerunners such as Edouard Desor, Emile Vouga, or William Wavre; then at the beginning of the 20th century, Paul Vouga. Since 1967, all artefacts discovered on cantonal excavations (most of them were found during the construction work of the A5 highway) are stored. After the construction of the Laténium, these artefacts were moved into its storage units. Over the years, the collections at the museum have also grown thanks to generous donations from early modern excavations (notably those conducted in South-West France or on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea).
Lying on the south face of the Jura Mountains, the Laténium archaeological park is a perfect place for a stroll. It tells the story of the shores of Lake Neuchâtel and its people, from the end of the Ice Age until today.
Several different landscapes on display, from tundra to present-day agricultural land, show the climatic and environmental changes which the Neuchâtel region went through since the end of the Ice Age. Furthermore, full size reconstructions and authentic archaeological artefacts are presented in the park, bringing prehistory to life!
Discover the Laténium archaeological park by clicking on the arrows on the map! You can display all of these by clicking on the help button on the lower right of your screen.
The archaeological park predates the construction of the museum. In the 1990s, the park became the home of the “megablock of Monruz” (an excavated 400-ton block containing a 15,000-year-old hunter-gatherer camp) and a team of specialised craftsmen rebuilt a Bronze Age pile dwelling and a Roman barge. Finally, plant essences were selected to evoke different prehistoric regional landscapes. Other reconstructions have since been added to this “open air museum” that is the archaeological park.
The Laténium park is located in Hauterive-Champréveyres, facing Lake Neuchâtel. Until the late 70s, the area currently occupied by the museum and its park was submerged. Furthermore, this same area has always been known for its archaeological potential (several soundings and an excavation of the site in 1984 to 1986 led to numerous discoveries). However, being underwater, it was never fully explored until the construction of the Swiss A5 Highway began. But due to ongoing work on the portion of highway running next to the museum, the construction of the Laténium itself was only completed several years after the park. Interestingly enough, the construction of the museum and the highway revealed three major archaeological sites: two pile-dweller villages, one dating from the Bronze Age (1056-871 BC), the other one from the Neolithic (3810-3790 BC) and a hunter-gatherer camp dating back to the Magdalenian period (around 13,000 BC). During the 90s, the “megablock of Monruz” (an excavated block weighing over 400 tons and containing the hunter-gatherer camp) was moved into the park, and a team of specialised craftsmen rebuilt a Bronze Age pile dwelleing and a Roman barge.
The park is open all year round, 7 days a week and there is no entry fee. You can simply walk in, leave your kids on the park’s “prehistoric playground”, relax, enjoy the amazing view of the Alps across the lake, have a drink at the coffee shop terrace… and improve your archaeological knowledge by visiting the museum.
During the tourist season, there are ferryboats from Neuchâtel to the Laténium. The trip is free of charge. However, if you happen to be travelling as a big group, it is recommended that you book your trip in advance with the Société de Navigation Neuchâtel et Morat.