Prospecting the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Müstair (Switzerland)


The Benedictine Convent of Saint John at Müstair is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the eastern part of Switzerland close to South Tyrol’s border (Italy). Known as a well-preserved Carolingian building complex housing Carolingian and Romanesque frescoes, the convent has received much academic attention. However, all research activities so far have been concentrated on the area enclosed by the convent’s walls, even though the neighbouring fields to the east and south are also part of the convent’s property. This paper reports on the archaeological magnetic and ground-penetrating radar surveys of these areas, executed as part of a pilot project exploring the convent’s immediate environment. At present, these fields are used for agriculture and located on a massive alluvial fan of the mountain stream Valgarola. Dense geophysical sampling revealed an intricate network of distributary channels with stream and mudflow deposits, constituting a natural border of the convent’s territory. In addition to different field systems, a newly discovered broad pathway appears to be an original Roman road. Numerous structural elements, mapped within the convent’s walls, could be attributed to specific building phases. Over 40 large and deep burial shafts, arranged in three rows, were discovered outside the convent’s burial ground. Their specific design and arrangement are characteristic of early medieval burials, such as those of the 6th century Lombards on the edge of the eastern Alps.

Remote Sensing