About TACK TACK Book How to Use What is Tacit Knowledge?

Return to archive


Tesseln/Bâton à marques

submitted by

Nicole de Lalouviere

↑ Back to top

Bâtons à marques (tally sticks) from the Bisse de Bitailla (irrigation channel), Valais

Bâtons à marques (also called ratements or 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 bâtons 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-rights 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 governing the commons.
Beyond their regulatory function, they also offer a glimpse into how premodern alpine communities engaged in practices of commoning.

Source: Musée valaisan des Bisses, Ayent

Submitted by
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.


This object is part of the TACK Exhibition “Unausgesprochenes Wissen / Unspoken Knowledge / Le (savoir) non-dit”, in the section “Codes and Communities”.