Fieldwork and Activities

On the track of the construction of medieval masterpieces: ROOTS PhD candidate spent the summer in English cathedral archives

2022_09_27_Marie Jäcker

Marie Jäcker capturing the cathedral of Ely, Cambridgeshire. Copyright: Jelte Ullrich. 

In June and early July this summer, Marie Jäcker, PhD candidate of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS (subcluster ‘Knowledge ROOTS’) at Kiel University’s Department of History, visited several archives of English cathedrals for her PhD project. Here she reports on her archive trip:

In my research, I focus on ‘Knowledge in Financing and Building Cathedrals in the Late Middle Ages’ and I am especially interested in cathedrals in southern England and northern France. This summer, my research took me to numerous English cathedral cities: from Cambridge, to Ely, Norwich, York, Winchester, and Salisbury, and then up to Exeter and Hereford. The aim of the trip was to gather and work with information from original sources connected to the construction of these cathedrals. The possibility to do so proved to be insightful and led to many fascinating discoveries. I encountered sources in formats I did not expect, for example, richly-illuminated manuscripts and medieval watermarks. 

My work consisted mainly of viewing the original building accounts about the medieval construction projects. Very often, these accounts are older than 600 years. They were kept in the form of parchment scrolls, some of which are longer than 3 m. They are sometimes challenging to work with, especially because they are written in abbreviated Latin. In addition, I was able to gather an impression of the cathedrals in order to match the written material with a personal view and to see how much has been altered since the Middle Ages. 

One of the highlights of my journey was the visit to Exeter Cathedral about which I had conducted research for my Master Thesis and where I could work in the archive situated in the medieval bishop’s palace.

In general, cathedral archives are often located directly next to the cathedrals in magnificent historic buildings. During the trip, this was one of the key elements of my PhD project and I could gather a lot of material which will form the basis of my future research. Above all, the direct experience of examining the original documents on site, the direct view of the corresponding cathedrals, and collaboration with the people working in the archives provided me with new perspectives on my subject.

Marie Jäcker


2022_09_27 Marie Jäcker

Parchment scroll with an account written by the Sacrist of Ely who was the administrator of the building process. Copyright: Marie Jäcker. 


A philosopher on excavation: Dana Zentgraf and the ancient gardens of Pompeii

2022_09_08_ROOTS Website_Dana Zentgraf in Pompeii_Photo
Dana Zentgraf excavating the garden area of the Casa della Regina Carolina. Photo: Yuhan Ji

In July and early August, Dana Zentgraf, PhD candidate of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS at the Department of Philosophy of Kiel University and a member of the “ROOTS Reflective Turn”, participated in the Casa della Regina Carolina Project (CRC) at the Parco Archeologico di Pompei (link). For the trained philosopher, the CRC project was a great opportunity to experience archaeology in action for the first time. In spite of the extreme heat, working in the field turned out to be a great source of additional information to complement her mainly theoretical philosophical work on ancient Roman texts on gardening. Highly inspiring was the possibility to experience the methods of garden archaeology first-hand, which call for detailed documentation, foreseeing sampling, and experiencing texture and colour of the soil while removing each layer. Oscillating between preserving and destroying, this process can only be understood during the work process. Especially in garden archaeology, where features such as trampled soil or sandy remains of planting beds are highly important, an ‘epistemology of destruction’ is necessary.   

Led by Dr. Caitlín Barrett (Cornell University), Dr. Kathryn Gleason (Cornell University) and Dr. Annalisa Marzano (University of Reading), the CRC project started in 2019 and investigates the house of Queen Regina and its garden area. The relationships between domestic material culture, social performance, and historical change are the core research foci of this study. The 2022 excavation season in the garden area of the house revealed new insights into the design of the garden and the activities that were performed inside it as well as its connection to the house itself and to individual architectural features, for example, the garden shrine. The multi-disciplinary approach of the CRC project includes, among other methods, faunal and botanical analysis as well as survey and mapping to reconstruct an image of the garden and its history as complete as possible. 

Further information about the CRC project at: link

Call for Papers: Kiel Conference 2023 — “Scales of Social, Environmental and Cultural Change in Past”

Call for Papers

“Scales of Social, Environmental and Cultural Change in Past Societies” is the topic of the 7th International Kiel Conference of the Johanna Mestorf Academy (JMA). It will be held at Kiel University from 13 to 18 March 2023. Researchers from all disciplines dealing with this topic are invited to submit abstracts for talks or posters for the conference as of now.

During the four-day conference, 38 sessions will be offered, which arise from different aspects of the overarching research questions of the Collaborative Research Centre 1266 “Scales of Transformation” and the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS. The JMA unites these two projects under one roof. The CRC 1266 explores patterns of transformations of past societies. The Cluster of Excellence searches for the roots and connectivities of social, ecological, and cultural phenomena, as well as processes that have significantly shaped human development in the past.

Contributions that consider these topics from an interdisciplinary perspective are particularly welcome, as are talks or posters that link past social and/or environmental challenges and transformation processes to current ones. We strongly encourage doctoral students to submit abstracts.

Deadline for submission is 15 October 2022. For more information on the submission guidelines, sessions, and the conference, please click here. Please submit your abstracts via this link. We will announce at the end of November which abstracts have been accepted.

The Kiel Conference of the JMA has been held every two years in Germany's northernmost state capital since 2009. The organising team is looking forward to scientifically exciting and inspiring contributions, as well as stimulating and insightful discussions. During the conference in March 2023, the winners of the essay competition of the Reflective Turn Forum of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS will be announced, and the Johanna Mestorf Award for outstanding doctorates will be conferred.

Research and restoration campaign in Vésztő-Mágor (HU): Tracing social inequality with charred grain

Victoria Nuccio_crop
In June 2022, a team from the ROOTS Cluster of Excellence, the University of Georgia, the Field Museum in Vésztő-Mágor, Hungary, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Cardiff University works on the Tell in Vésztő-Mágor. The team cuts back and documents Bronze Age profile walls before it takes protective measures for the profiles. Photo: Victoria Nuccio

New archaeobotanical finds and the question of how to preserve a 40-year-old archaeological excavation as an exhibition were the main focus of a 4-week research campaign led by Paul Duffy of Kiel University’s Institute of Prehistory and Protohistory and colleagues from University of Georgia and the Field Museum in Vésztő-Mágor, Hungary, this June. The research was part of Duffy's work on social inequalities in prehistoric times within the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS.

Vésztő-Mágor is an archaeological site at the edge of the city of Vésztő in eastern Hungary. It is a place where people gathered during the Neolithic, the Copper Age and the Bronze Age (ca 5200-1650 BC). Over the millennia, a settlement mound was thus formed, called a “tell” in archaeological terms. Vésztő-Mágor, seven meters high, is the largest known tell settlement in today's Great Hungarian Plain. "It is also one of three archaeological sites where we are investigating why population aggregations were sustained longer in some periods of history than in others," explains Duffy.

In addition to scientific goals, the Vésztő-Mágor campaign this June focused on the long-term preservation and conservation of the tell. The first excavations took place there back in the 1980s. Afterwards, the trench was left open and covered with a permanent structure in order to showcase the archaeological findings in situ as a museum exhibit. However, in recent years, the preserved excavation profiles became increasingly unstable and already collapsed in places.

The project "Time Will Tell: The Vésztő-Mágor Conservation and Exhibition Program" aims to slow this process and permanently preserve the excavation for visitors. It is funded by the Foundation of the Study and Preservation of Settlement Mounds in the Prehistoric World, Cardiff University, the University of Georgia (USA) and ROOTS.

The team included Attila Gyucha from the University of Georgia and William A. Parkinson from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Both had studied Vésztő-Mágor in previous years and served as co-directors for this year's campaign. Conservators Dr. Ashley Lingle and Dr. Jerrod Seifert of Cardiff University assisted the team for the first time.

As the work progressed, it became apparent that some profiles were so fragile and crumbly that the only solution was to protect them behind bricks. To do this, the team made their own mud bricks and mortar using soil from the tell itself, and built a retaining wall against one large profile in the trench.

In addition to the restoration and preservation work, the campaign was also productive from a research point of view. The experts discovered two extensive layers of charred grain on Bronze Age house floors (ca 1800 BC) in the profiles. Sampling and flotation of these deposits yielded rich archaeobotanical material. Measurements of various isotope ratios - including nitrogen isotopes - can provide information on the extent to which plough agriculture was practiced in the settlement, and its association with social inequality. "That's our central focus in the ROOTS-funded project 'Agriculture, Regional Variation and the Development of Social Inequality,' or ARDS," Dr. Duffy says. The analyses are ongoing.  

View of the Tell of Vésztő-Mágor from the outside
View of the Tell of Vésztő-Mágor from the outside. Photo: William Ridge

View of the excavation preserved as an exhibition in the 1980s.
View of the excavation preserved as an exhibition in the 1980s. Photo: Victoria Nuccio

The team examines partially collapsed profiles in the excavation preserved as an exhibition
The team examines partially collapsed profiles. Photo: Victoria Nuccio

Two expansive layers of charred cereals were identified on Bronze Age house floors in the profiles
Two expansive layers of charred cereals were identified on Bronze Age house floors in the profiles. Photo: Paul Duffy

In order to protect some Bornze Age profiles in the exhibition the team produced a great number of mud bricks
In order to protect some Bronze Age profiles in the exhibition the team produced a great number of mud bricks. Photo: Paul Duffy

The new brick wall protects the valuable Bronze Age profiles
The new brick wall protects the valuable Bronze Age profiles. Photo: Paul Duffy


Conference on Urban Dynamics in the Middle Ages

Gerald Schwedler and Ulrich Müller open the conference
Gerald Schwedler and Ulrich Müller open the conference


The Middle Ages are not only an era of city foundations. Many towns already grew beyond their original boundaries in the late Middle Ages with the construction of new quarters or entire “new towns”. Old cities, gradual city extensions or even “new cities” had to be enabled to functionally interact in light of political, social and economic challenges. Experts from Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic met in Kiel from 9-11 June upon the invitation of the Urban ROOTS subcluster to exchange the latest findings on “Urban expansions and urban dynamics in the Middle Ages”. During the three-day conference, key topics included the material “footprint” of these complex processes, such as walls, streets, and buildings, as well as political and legal issues arising from urban expansions. The conference was successful in combining perspectives on the topography, architecture, constitution, economy and everyday culture of the city expansions in an interdisciplinary way. The contributions will be published in a conference volume.

Experts from Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic met in Kiel
Experts from Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic met in Kiel. Photo: Pawel Cembrzynski


The participants of the 3-day conference. Photo: Pawel Cembrzynski
The participants of the 3-day conference. Photo: Pawel Cembrzynski

The ‘Lost Cities’ project is back in Mongolia

Team members Henny Piezonka, Ochir Battulga and Odmangai Gansukh excavate the 3 m high waste
Team members Henny Piezonka, Ochir Battulga and Odmangai Gansukh excavate the 3 m high waste heap that accumulated during the use of the Baruun Khüree monastery between the 17th and the early 20th centuries. Photo: Sara Jagiolla, CAU.

For the first time since 2019, the German-Mongolian research project “Abandoned Cities in the Steppe” was able to conduct extensive fieldwork in Central Mongolia in May and June 2022. This year, the focus was on investigations at the monastic city of Baruun Khüree in the Orkhon Valley. Through excavations, remote sensing, and ethnographic interviews, the team collected a wealth of new data to understand the city design, the daily life activities, and the historical significance of Baruun Khüree for the development of Mongolia’s urban network.
Funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation since 2019 as part of the ‘Lost Cities’ programme, the project explores the emergence and perception of permanent settlement structures in Mongolia that evolved during the reign of the Manchurian Qing Dynasty between the 17th and early 20th centuries CE. In the process, previously enigmatic pit formations in the Orkhon Valley have already been attributed to Qing Dynasty military activities in Central Mongolia, and the ruins of the garrison town, Uliastai, have been precisely documented for the first time. In addition to ROOTS PI Henny Piezonka, ROOTS Associate Members Jonathan Ethier and Christian Ressel, and PhD student Enkhtuul Chadraabal, the fieldwork team included colleagues from Germany, Mongolia, the US and Canada. ROOTS also co-funded this year’s field campaign. “The ongoing analysis of the new data over the next months is expected to yield a wealth of new insights on urbanism in nomadic Mongolia,” commented Henny Piezonka.

Lea Kohlhage investigates thousands of bones
Lea Kohlhage investigates thousands of bones from the waste heap of the Baruun Khuree monastery for the Dietary ROOTS subcluster. Photo: Sara Jagiolla, CAU

Read more: here 

New high-resolution climate archive from Andalusia

New high-resolution climate archive from Andalusia
Daniel Barragan, Julien Schirrmacher, Mara Weinelt and Aleta Neugebauer working on the drill core in Kiel 

Heat waves, droughts and water supply problems: Caused by man-made climate change, the Iberian Peninsula is currently developing into a climate hotspot. A look into the past might help in assessing the consequences and finding solutions for upcoming challenges. In cooperation with researchers from Spain and Portugal, scientists from ROOTS and the CRC 1266 are investigating changes in past societies and connectivities with the environment during climate stress.
In spring, the team took a 19-metre-long drill core from a former lagoon northwest of Seville in order to reconstruct environmental changes over the past 6000 years. A special focus of the project is the period about 4200 years ago, when the largest Copper Age settlement in Andalusia was located there. A natural climate change occurred during this era at the transition from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age with distinct traces in the archaeological material. With the new drill core, the team hopes to gain more precise insights into these developments: "This is possibly the first climate archive ever on the Iberian Peninsula where we can see changes in temperatures, precipitation and plant growth per year," says Mara Weinelt, one of the project coordinators. The analysis of the core is now being carried out in laboratories in Kiel.


Fieldwork + Activities


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