When I was fourteen, my family moved from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to West Vancouver, British Columbia. In those days, Gastown, the historic district of Vancouver, was starting to fill with interesting shops and hip restaurants, and my parents sometimes took my sister and me there for dinner. Although I found Gastown fun, I could never think of it as historic, since we’d lived in a part of San Juan dating back to the sixteenth century. The oldest building in Gastown had been built in 1887; even our house in San Juan was fifty years older than that.
Vancouver became a city in 1886, San Juan was founded in 1519. Now my home is Bern, whose origins go back to 1191. I take regular walks with a good friend who lives a twenty-minute train ride away in the village of Worb, population about six thousand. Worb is mainly known for being on the edge of the Emmental, the region where “Swiss” cheese (the kind with the holes) comes from. Worb also has a well-known brewery and an impressive castle, part of it built before 1130.
I may not think a hotel from 1887 is old, but, as a North American, I definitely consider a castle dating back nine hundred years to be not only old but quite thrilling. Still, “old” in Worb remains relative. In a section of the village called Sonnhalde, a steep hillside neighborhood with its own primary school, there was once a large Roman estate. Its complex of buildings housed the owners’ family, employees, and slaves and was surrounded with land farmed by as many as two hundred people. The canton of Bern’s archeological experts estimate that the place was destroyed by fire in 270 AD. My friend and I pass near the site of this estate on our standard weekend walk to the nearby hamlet of Vechigen.
The third century certainly trumps the twelfth for age, but a Roman villa that is no longer standing isn’t as impressive as a large medieval castle in which people still live (admittedly in recently renovated apartments, not in the freezing splendor of a twelfth-century keep.) A few days ago, however, I learned that the village of Worb has even more secrets to reveal.
According to my daily newspaper, a Worb man having a pond dug in his garden noticed two objects made of bronze: an elaborately decorated bracelet and a cloak pin. The canton’s archeologists were called in to do further investigation. They found the remains of a woman, cremated in her clothes and jewelry, that had been buried under a slab of sandstone and preserved there since 1300 BC. The archeologists’ careful digging uncovered another armband, a second cloak pin (badly damaged by fire), and pieces of pottery.
Now that’s exciting: finding bracelets in your garden worn by a woman who lived in your neighborhood over three thousand years ago.
Hmm. I can hear my sister Natasha reminding me about the ten-thousand-year-old Native American arrowheads she used to find in the woods behind her house in western North Carolina.
As I said, the idea of old is relative.