Herding Strategies, Dairy Economy and Seasonal Sites in the Southern Alps

Ethnoarchaeological Inferences and Archaeological Implications


  • Francesco Carrer University of York




archaeology of pastoralism, archaeological visibility, dairying, ethnoarchaeology, seasonal pastoral sites, southern Alps


This paper investigates one of the main issues of the archaeology of pastoralism in the southern Alps: the decrease of upland archaeological evidence in the late Iron Age (IA) and the Roman period. A novel interpretation is proposed using ethnoarchaeological, ethnographic and ethnohistoric data collected in different areas of the French and Italian Alps. These data document the existence of two pastoral strategies: Alpine pastoralism (focused on dairying activity) and transhumance (mainly focused on the exploitation of wool and primary products of livestock). The sites related to the first strategy are usually permanent and complex, while those related to the second are simple and ephemeral. On the basis of this information, the decrease of upland archaeological evidence during the late IA and the Roman period has been interpreted as a consequence of the decrease of dairy activity and increase of transhumance. These inferences allow us to rethink the evolution of human exploitation of high mountain environments, as well as to tackle the bias of archaeological invisibility in specific pastoral contexts. Furthermore, they also confirm the important role of ethnoarchaeology as a method of improving archaeological interpretation.

Author Biography

  • Francesco Carrer, University of York
    The author’s main interests lie in ethnoarchaeology, landscape archaeology, mountain archaeology and quantitative methods in archaeology. He mainly works in the Italian Alps, where he carries out archaeological survey, ethnoarchaeological fieldwork and archaeological excavations. He has published in major Italian and international journals such as Preistoria Alpina and the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.






How to Cite

Carrer, F. (2015). Herding Strategies, Dairy Economy and Seasonal Sites in the Southern Alps: Ethnoarchaeological Inferences and Archaeological Implications. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, 28(1), 3-22. https://doi.org/10.1558/jmea.v28i1.27499