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Bâton à marques (tally stick) of the Bisse de Bitailla (irrigation channel), 1762


Nicole de Lalouviere

Bâtons à marques (also called ratement,s Tesseln) are pieces of carved wood used as tally sticks in the Swiss Alps. They functioned as records of use rights, taxes, products, and labour duties. Tesseln in Upper-Valais and and bâton à marques in Lower-Valais were employed in the governance of common property and resources, including alpine pastures, wine, and irrigation water.

The tally stick of the Bisse de Bitailla, an irrigation channel in the Arbaz municipality, has carvings referring to domestic signs and their associated water rights. These link water right holders to water use, accounted in irrigation time.

As they were passed down, edited, and made anew, tally sticks enabled tacit knowledge transmission and performed as adaptable physical supports of negotiation and cooperation—crucial components to govern the commons.

Beyond their regulatory function, they also offer a glimpse into how premodern alpine communities engaged in practices of commoning.

This object will be presented at the TACK Conference in the object session LINEAGES, 20 June 2023 between 17:30 – 19:00 (CEST) at ETH Zürich (Auditorium HPV G5).

Nicole de Lalouvière is a doctoral fellow at the Institute of Landscape and Urban Studies, Department of Architecture, ETH Zürich. Her doctoral research project, undertaken under the supervision of Prof. Tom Avermaete, examines the landscape and material history of the irrigation systems of Canton Valais in Switzerland.