Fieldwork and Activities

ROOTS field campaign investigates Late Neolithic settlement in present-day Serbia

FigurineA two-headed figurines found in of Žabalj. Figurines are quite common in the Vinča culture, two-headed specimens have previously been extremely rare to find. Photo: Martin Furholt

A more than 6,500-year-old, two-headed figurine made of clay and a comprehensive pottery inventory from a Neolithic house - these are just two of the remarkable finds made last week by a team from the ROOTS Cluster of Excellence during a field campaign in northern Serbia together with colleagues from the Museum of Vojvodina and the Serbian National Museum in Zrenjanin.

The campaign, funded by a ROOTS Internal Grant and headed by Kiel archaeologists Martin Furholt and Fynn Wilkes as well as Aleksandar Medović and Ildiko Medović (Museum of Vojvodina), is investigating the Late Neolithic site of Žabalj in the Serbian province of Vojvodina. Surface finds and earlier investigations have indicated that a settlement had once existed there that can be attributed to the archaeological Vinča culture. It marks the end of the Neolithic period and the transition to the Copper Age in parts of Southeastern Europe.
In recent years, scientists from the participating institutions have already been able to create an archaeomagnetic map of the site. On the basis of this map, the research team has laid an excavation section over two potential buildings this year.

The aim of the campaign is to obtain material in order to date the site more precisely. In addition to the excavations, the researchers are also surveying the site extensively for surface finds. With these, the participants of the ROOTS subclusters Inequality and Knowledge are conducting a comparative study on the differences in access to manufacturing techniques and material types within and between neighbouring settlements.

The fieldwork will continue until 22 October 2023, however the finds have so far already shown themselves to be exceptional. For example, while figurines are not uncommon in the Vinča culture, two-headed specimens have previously been extremely rare to find.


ROOTS-Feldkampagne untersucht spät-jungsteinzeitliche Siedlung in Serbien

Eine mehr als 6500 Jahre alte, zweiköpfige Figurine aus Ton und ein umfassendes Keramikinventar aus einem jungsteinzeitliche Haus – das sind nur zwei der bemerkenswerten Funde, die ein Team des Exzellenzclusters ROOTS in der vergangenen Woche während einer Feldkampagne in Nordserbien gemeinsam mit Kolleginnen und Kollegen des Museums der Vojvodina und des serbischen Nationalmuseums in Zrenjanin gemacht hat.

Die Kampagne, finanziert von einem ROOTS Internal Grant und geleitet von den Kieler Archäologen Martin Furholt und Fynn Wilkes sowie von Aleksandar Medović und Ildiko Medović (Museum der Vojvodina), untersucht den spät-jungsteinzeitlichen Fundplatz Žabalj in der serbischen Provinz Vojvodina. Oberflächenfunde und frühere Untersuchungen deuten darauf hin, dass dort eine Siedlung existiert hat, die der archäologischen Vinča-Kultur zuzurechnen ist. Sie markiert das Ende der Jungsteinzeit und den Übergang zur Kupferzeit in Teilen Südosteuropas.

In den vergangenen Jahren konnten Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler der beteiligten Institutionen bereits eine archäomagnetische Karte des Fundplatzes erstellen. Auf deren Grundlage legt das Forschungsteam in diesem Jahr einen Grabungsschnitt über zwei potentielle Gebäude.

Ziel der Kampagne ist es, Material für eine genauere Datierung des Fundortes zu gewinnen. Neben den Ausgrabungen suchen die Forscherinnen und Forscher das Gelände weiträumig nach Oberflächenfunden ab. Mit ihnen führen die Beteiligten der ROOTS-Subcluster Inequality und Knowledge eine vergleichende Studie zum unterschiedlichen Zugang zu Fertigungstechniken und Materialtypen innerhalb und zwischen benachbarten Siedlungen durch.

Die Feldarbeiten dauern noch bis zum 22.10.2023, doch schon die bisherigen Funde sind außergewöhnlich. So sind Figurinen in der Vinča-Kultur zwar keine Seltenheit, zweiköpfige Exemplare sind aber bisher äußerst selten gefunden worden.

What a Neolithic household needed - pottery inventory from a Neolithic house. Photo: Martin Furholt

First research trip of Project W.A.L.D. completed

WALD Project
For the W.A.L.D. project, Max Grund screened 150 archival units in the Amberg State Archives. Photo: Max Grund

Investigating historical forest-human relations in an interdisciplinary way is the goal  of the W.A.L.D. project, funded by an Internal Grant of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS. As a case study, the working group has chosen the late medieval and early modern Parkstein-Weiden community office in modern-day Bavaria. The participants expect to gain new insights into the environmental and cultural connectivity between the population of that time and the special natural space of the forest. The gradual transformation of the forest through human intervention had an impact not least on the social fabric of the wood-dependent society itself.

For the sub-disciplines of the project working with historical written sources, Max Grund undertook a research trip to the state archives of Amberg in the first half of September. This archive contains a large part of the written records of the Principality of Pfalz-Sulzbach as well as its share of the Parkstein-Weiden Community Office. In a first inspection, Max Grund examined the historical forest accounts of the office for their evaluability in questions of the changing use of (former) forests. In a further step, he created complete digital copies of the relevant files for selected sample years, which will subsequently serve as source material for the working group. In a further step, he also screened various forest regulations, forest descriptions and other files on forest use, which should help to illuminate the uses of the forest and people's reactions to its change as broadly as possible from a historiographical perspective. In this way, a total of around 150 archival units of record with over 75,000 pages were screened and useful pieces were selected. Thanks are due to the team of the Amberg State Archives for their collegial support in the excavation of the unusually large quantities of records.

In a further step, an archaeological field campaign on site and a second research trip to the Bavarian Main State Archives in Munich are to follow as part of the project. The results of the first trial studies will be discussed at an international workshop at the end of January 2024.


ROOTS Seminar Series: New platform for interactive research exchange successfully launched

ROOTS Seminar Series
Eileen Eckmeier gives the first talk in the new ROOTS seminar series (Photo: Jan Steffen, ROOTS)

The new ROOTS Seminar series started this week with a presentation by Eileen Eckmeier on "Soil use and Overuse: resource and hazard for (pre)historic communities". In a 20-minute presentation, she provided an overview of her research questions, the methods she employs in her work, and discussed the challenges she is currently facing. She also explained how her research contributes to the "big picture" of past socio-environmental dynamics and thus to the major topic of ROOTS. Following the lecture, an engaging and dynamic discussion unfolded among the attendees, touching upon various topics including inquiries about the potential of soil science and exchanging suggestions and ideas on how to foster further collaborations between this discipline and other groups and projects in the framework of ROOTS.

Eileen Eckmeier is professor for Geoarchaeology and Environmental Hazards at the Institute for Ecosystem Research of Kiel University. She joined ROOTS in April 2021. Her research focus is to understand the development of soils and landscapes under the influence of human agency on different spatial and temporal scales. She investigates the effects of land-use on the environment, mainly by applying pedological and geochemical methods to interpret changes in soil characteristics due to soil use or even soil degradation – an important environmental hazard concerning societies in the past and the present. In cooperation with colleagues from different disciplines, mainly from archaeology and prehistory, she conducts fieldwork in the Eurasian steppe areas and southwestern Asia, as well as in Northern Germany and the Alpine region.

The new ROOTS seminar series has been launched to create a regular, interactive communication of research taking place within the ROOTS community. This seminar provides a platform for all ROOTS members to present their ongoing research, share ideas, engage in constructive discussions, and build collaborations across disciplines that enrich the joint interdisciplinary work within ROOTS.

The next lecture in the ROOTS seminar series will take place on 13 June with a talk by Fynn Wilkes and Henry Skorna on “House Sizes in European Prehistory. Investigating material and relational wealth inequality”.

The lecture series takes place in the conference room of the Centre for Molecular Biosciences (ZMB), Am Botanischen Garten 11. All ROOTS members are cordially invited to attend and participate in the joint discussions.


The return to a Bronze Age village in Hungary

The return to a Bronze Age village in Hungary
Drone image of two test excavations (2x2m) in the ’Northern Village’. The tell is in the wooded area on the left. Image: Thaddeus Smith

In April 2023, the Körös Consortium Project, led by Paul Duffy of Kiel University’s Institute of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology and colleagues from University of Georgia and the Field Museum in Chicago, converged near the small town of Tarhos in Hungary to drill cores and expose Bronze Age houses at the tell cluster of Békés-Várdomb. The research was part of Duffy’s work on population aggregation and resilience in prehistoric times within the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS.   

Békés-Várdomb is a 3m-high tell, or ’artificial hill’ in an old river branch (ca. 2100-1700 BC). The tell is part of a greater site cluster during the Bronze Age and at its height, would have held more than 500 people and was one of the largest villages in what is today eastern Hungary. Targeted geophysical survey in previous seasons indicates that many burned houses can be found near the center of the site. The team could not undertake geophysical survey at the tell itself because of managed forest cover.

Another goal of the season was to identify the location of an excavation trench from the 1950s on the forested tell. Duffy’s team used data obtained by means of a laser scan of the landscape surface (Lidar data) and micro-topography to point to likely locations of the old excavation trench. They then used power drilling tools from Kiel to identify soil removed during the old excavation and used to refill the trench afterwards. This so-called ‘backdirt’ they contrasted with intact deposits outside the old trench.
The team was composed of German, Hungarian, American, and Canadian participants. Although the goal of the season was to focus on Bronze Age houses, they couldn’t avoid an intrusive human burial dating to the early Medieval period, much to the delight of the student participants! The site was the highest point on the landscape in the Bronze Age and was reused during the Medieval period by different populations to bury their dead.

The test excavations identified Bronze Age deposits in a good state of preservation. In future seasons, the team anticipates cleaning back the profiles of the tell excavation for new scientific analysis and excavating several of the houses of the tell to detail variation in house structure during the Bronze Age. The research helps understand the role that economic complementarity and social inequalities had in dynamics of growth, success, and dispersal of the Bronze Age’s first large population aggregations.

The return to a Bronze Age village in Hungary
Settlement cluster around the tell showing magnetic anomalies (burned houses) overlaid with lidar topography. Image: Paul Duffy

The return to a Bronze Age village in HungaryDrilling cores into the tell to re-locate the old excavation trench. Photo: Paul Duffy

The return to a Bronze Age village in Hungary
Excavating a Medieval burial intrusive into the Bronze Age layers. Photo: Paul Duffy

The return to a Bronze Age village in Hungary
Bronze Age house floor layers exposed on the Southern Island. Photo: Ruby Winter.

Tracing past cultures with cutting-edge technology

Institute of Geosciences at Kiel University hosts the 15th International Conference on Archaeological Prospecting (ICAP2023)

The team of "Applied Geophysics" from the Institute of Geosciences of the CAU during marine magnetics measurements in Elaia, Turkey.(Photo: Wolfgang Rabbel)

Spades, trowels and brushes are the classic tools of archaeology. To this day, they are indispensable for excavations. But in the meantime, high-precision prospection technologies such as georadar, magnetic field measurements, seismics or lidar lasers have become at least as important for the study of past epochs. Not only do they help to prepare excavations, but with additional data they themselves considerably expand our knowledge about earlier cultures and societies.

From 28 March to 1 April, more than 120 experts from 20 countries will meet at the Kiel University (Germany) for the 15th International Conference on Archaeological Prospection (ICAP). They will exchange information on current developments in various prospection methods, on technical and methodological innovations and on the processing and visualisation of the resulting data. This year, the conference, which takes place every two years, is organised by the Institute of Geosciences (IfG) of Kiel University, supported by the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS.

"Of course, archaeology cannot do without excavations. But geophysical methods can, for example, cover much larger areas with comparatively little effort and thus reveal complete settlement structures that would otherwise remain hidden in the ground," explains geophysicist Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Rabbel from the IfG, conference chair and co-spokesperson of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS.

Thanks to great advances in data analysis in recent years, seismics can now resolve fine structures deep in the ground and thus identify details of past human activities, adds Professor Rabbel.

Close cooperation between geophysics and archaeology has a long tradition at Kiel University. In particular, the Applied Geophysics Group headed by Wolfgang Rabbel is regularly involved in the investigation of archaeological sites, from the North Frisian Wadden Sea to the Mediterranean or Egypt, for example.

Fitting to this year's conference location Kiel, ICAP 2023 will also focus on marine and wetland prospecting. These areas pose a special challenge for several reasons: Visibility underwater is limited, sensitive sensors must be protected from moisture or salt water and electromagnetic signals hardly transmit in water.

"Here at Kiel University we have the great advantage that there is a focus on both marine research and archaeology. So we can learn from each other across disciplinary boundaries and further develop methods for different areas," says Wolfgang Rabbel.

In keeping with this focus, an excursion to the Viking Age site of Haithabu on the Schlei near Schleswig will complete the programme.  

"We are already very much looking forward to the exchange with colleagues during ICAP 2023 and to the suggestions and impulses we can gain," says Professor Rabbel.


Thanks to geomagnetic measurements, long-submerged settlements in the North Frisian Wadden Sea can be recorded. (Photo: Wolfgang Rabbel)

The team of the "Applied Geophysics" of the CAU during seismic measurements in the vicinity of the ancient city of Pergamon near the modern city of Bergama, Turkey. (Photo: Wolfgang Rabbel)

Kiel Conference 2023: Publish Proceedings now!

Kiel Conference Opening
The opening of the Kiel Conference on 13 March 2023. Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS

The Kiel Conference 2023 “Scales of Social, Environmental and Cultural Change in Past Societies” ended last Saturday (18th March 2023) with two excursions to prehistoric and historic monuments in the Kiel Region and to the “Kunsthalle Kiel”. Almost 350 scientists from more than 30 countries had previously spent five days at Kiel University presenting and discussing the latest findings and open research questions on the links between the environment, social relations, material culture, population dynamics and human perception in the past. The Collaborative Research Center 1266  "Scales of Transformation - Human-Environmental Interaction in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies” and the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS organized the conference in the framework of the Johanna Mestorf Academy. 

"The atmosphere was great. You could feel in many conversations with colleagues that after the Corona years, personal direct conversations are very important to foster scientific exchange," said conference chair Johannes Müller, speaker of the CRC1266 and the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS, after the conference. "The 30 sessions were also extremely productive. Almost all of them were of highly interdisciplinary nature, which allowed new perspectives on aspects of past societies. At the same time, this helped to identify research gaps that should be filled in the future," adds Johannes Müller.
Among the highlights of the conference were the four Central Keynotes, in which internationally renowned experts addressed current issues in research on earlier societies and presented examples of new results. 

The first keynote was given by Leonardo Garcia Sanjuán from the University of Seville, who spoke on "Environment, Aggregation, and Monumentality in Early Complex Societies: The Case of Valencina (Spain) (c. 3200-2300 BC)". Leonardo García Sanjuán is currently visiting Kiel as Chair of the Johanna Mestorf Academy. On Tuesday, Dorian Fuller from University College London followed with a talk titled "From grassland to granary: convergent evolution of millet agriculture in Africa and Asia". Carola Metzner-Nebelsick from Ludwig-Maximilian-Universität Munich focused on "Transformation through connectivity in the Central European Bronze Age" on Thursday afternoon. Closing the conference on Friday was the Swedish archaeologist Professor Kristian Kristiansen of the University of Gothenburg, who spoke on "Neolithic transformation: integrating genetic, cultural and environmental changes." 

In addition, Danish archaeologist Anders Fischer, visiting Kiel since January as Chair of the Johanna Mestorf Academy, gave a public lecture during the conference on "DNA results and initial archaeological considerations from a study of Danish prehistoric skeletons."  

An extra highlight right at the beginning of the conference was the presentation of the Johanna Mestorf Award to Iris Nießen for her excellent dissertation on the development of a settlement on the banks of the Danube into a full-fledged part of the medieval city of Regensburg. 

"The great interest of our colleagues in the conference as well as the feedback we have received so far show us that the interdisciplinary concept of the conference was fruitful. Now the proceedings of the conference should be published if possible, so that we can discuss them in an even broader context," Johannes Müller appeals to the participants and adds: "In two years we will hopefully all see each other again at the eighth edition of the Kiel Conference."

Kiel Conference
Almost 350 scientist from more than 30 countries participated in the Kiel Conference 2023. Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS

Kiel Conference 2023
The Kiel Conference ended with two excursion. One of them led to prehistorc and historic monuments in the Kiel Region. Photo: Nadine Schwarck

 More pictures from the conference as picture gallery

Please note:
The Cluster of Excellence ROOTS and the CRC1266 support the publication of conference proceedings.
If you are interested, please contact or

Kiel conference website: here
Press release Johanna Mestorf Award: here


Amber as a Connector of Societies in Prehistory

Jutta Kneisel opens the Amber Workshop at Kiel University.(Photo: Jan Steffen, ROOTS)

Amber is not only a sought-after find for today's beach walkers on the North Sea and Baltic Sea - even in the earliest eras of European human history, amber played an important role, for example as a trade good. That is why it also holds a prominent position in research on prehistoric societies and their interconnections. From 23 to 25 February 2023, 30 experts from all over Europe met at the Kiel University and online to exchange and discuss the latest findings on the social role of amber as a " connector of knowledge and societies" from the Late Neolithic to the Iron Age of Europe at the invitation of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS. 

"The aim of the workshop was to gain an overview of the European amber trade in these epochs, less with regard to possible exchange routes than to the social aspect of the people who had access to amber," explains ROOTS member Jutta Kneisel. She had organised the workshop together with ROOTS PhD student Benjamin Serbe. 

Among other things, the participants discussed what significance amber had for the societies of the time and which group of people actually gained access to this strange stone from the north. Is amber just as important at its source in the north as it was in faraway Mycenae? Who wore the large amber necklaces, who only wore pendants, who had access to raw amber? Who worked it? Were its flammable and electrostatic properties known? 

"Since colleagues from the Baltic Sea and North Sea regions as well as from countries around the Mediterranean participated, we were indeed able to gain a comprehensive Europe-wide picture of the current state of research on these questions," says co-organiser Benjamin Serbe. 

For many participants, the one-day excursion to the Danish North Sea resort of Blåvand was also a highlight of the workshop. This included both a visit to the amber exhibition of the Tirpitz Museum as well as a walk on the beach with - partly successful - amber hunting. "For some of the colleagues from Southern Europe, this was the first visit to the region of origin of Baltic amber, which impressed them very much", Jutta Kneisel reports. 

At the end of the workshop, the participants agreed that the three-day event had yielded important new insights into the social role of amber in European prehistory. They will soon be published in a joint conference volume.

ROOTS Amber Workshop excursion
The Excursion to the west coast of Denmark was one of the highlights of the workshop. (Photo: Jutta Kneisel)

On a windy day, the participants experienced the harsh North Sea climate. Some even found amber themselves on the beach. (Photo: Jan Steffen, ROOTS)


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Fieldwork + Activities


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