History of the Alps

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The valleys of the Alps have been inhabited since prehistoric times. Alpine culture centers on transhumance.


Early history

The Wildkirchli caves in the Appenzell Alps show traces of Neanderthal habitation. During the last glacial maximum, the entire Alps were covered in ice. According to the book The Seven Daughters of Eve, by Bryan Sykes, MtDNA Haplogroup K arose along the southeastern slopes of the Alps around 12-15,000 years ago.

Traces of transhumance appear in the neolithic. In the Bronze Age, the Alps formed the boundary of the Urnfield and Terramare cultures.

In Valle Camonica, on Italian side of the Alps, the Camunni engraved about 300.000 petroglyphs from epipaleolithic to iron age.[1]

The earliest historical accounts date to the Roman period, mostly due to Greco-Roman ethnography, with some epigraphic evidence due to the Raetians, Lepontii and Gauls. A few details have come down to us of the conquest of many of the Alpine tribes by Augustus, as well as Hannibal's battles across the Alps.

The successive emigration and occupation of the Alpine region by the Alemanni from the 6th to the 8th centuries are, too, known only in outline. For "mainstream" history, the Frankish and later the Habsburg empire, the Alps had strategic importance as an obstacle, not as a landscape, and the Alpine passes have consequently had great significance militarily.

It is not until the final breakup of the Carolingian Empire in the 10th and 11th centuries that it becomes possible to trace out the local history of different parts of the Alps, notably with the High Medieval Walser migrations.

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