Lost since 1362 - Joint scientific project locates the sunken church of Rungholt in the North Frisian Wadden Sea in Germany

 A metal frame allows archaeological excavations of one square metre in the tidal flats, which can be excavated and documented during one low tide
A metal frame allows archaeological excavations of one square metre in the tidal flats, which can be excavated and documented during one low tide. (Photo: Ruth Blankenfeldt, Schleswig)

The medieval trading center of Rungholt, which is today located in the UNESCO Wadden Sea World Heritage Site and currently the focus of interdisciplinary research, drowned in a storm surge in 1362. Using a combination of geoscientific and archaeological methods, researchers from Kiel University (CAU), Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), the Center for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology (ZBSA), and the State Archaeology Department Schleswig-Holstein (ALSH), both in Schleswig, have now succeeded in locating the site of the Rungholt church. Thus, they can now finally clarify a much-discussed research question that has been going on for over 100 years.

Interdisciplinary cooperation as the key to success
Within the framework of two interdisciplinary projects funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), i.e., the RUNGHOLT project and the Wadden Sea project in the ROOTS Cluster of Excellence, research has been conducted for several years on the medieval cultural landscape disappeared in the Wadden Sea. Well known for its mythically exaggerated destruction and an archaeological find situation unique in Europe, Rungholt is a prominent example of the effects of massive human intervention in the northern German coastal region that continue to this day.

The key to the success of the work lies in a close interdisciplinary collaboration. "Settlement remains hidden under the mudflats are first localized and mapped over a wide area using various geophysical methods such as magnetic gradiometry, electromagnetic induction, and seismics," explained Dr. Dennis Wilken, geophysicist at Kiel University. And Dr. Hanna Hadler from the Institute of Geography at Mainz University, added: "Based on this prospection, we selectively take sediment cores that not only allow us to make statements about spatial and temporal relationships of settlement structures, but also about landscape development." Archaeological investigations at selected sites provide unique insights into the life of the North Frisian settlers and repeatedly bring to light significant new finds from the tidal flats.

First large-scale reconstruction of Rungholt's drowned cultural landscape with a central church
In May 2023, a previously unknown two kilometer long chain of medieval terps, which are artificial settlement mounds, was recorded by geophysical prospection near Hallig Südfall. One of these terps shows structures that can undoubtedly be interpreted as the foundations of a church 40 meters to 15 meters in size. First corings and excavations have provided initial insights into the structure and foundations of the sacred building.

"The find thus joins the ranks of the large churches of North Frisia," stated Dr. Bente Sven Majchczack, archaeologist in the ROOTS Cluster of Excellence at Kiel University. Dr. Ruth Blankenfeldt, archaeologist at ZBSA, added: "The special feature of the find lies in the significance of the church as the center of a settlement structure, which in its size must be interpreted as a parish with superordinate function."

So far, the finds in the area investigated, which covers more than ten square kilometers, include 54 terps, systematic drainage systems, a sea dike with a tidal gate harbor as well as two sites of smaller churches – and now also a large main church. The settlement area found must therefore be regarded as one of the historically reported main sites of the medieval administrative district of Edomsharde.

Erosion threatens cultural remains
In addition to the unique archival character that the mudflats have for the reconstruction of Rungholt's cultural landscape, the project results of recent years also show the extreme endangerment of the cultural traces that are over 600 years old. "Around Hallig Südfall and in other mudflats, the medieval settlement remains are already heavily eroded and often only detectable as negative imprints. This is also very evident around the church's location, so we urgently need to intensify research here", emphasized Dr. Hanna Hadler.

Research projects in the North Frisian Wadden Sea
The research within the framework of the DFG-funded project "RUNGHOLT – Combined geophysical, geoarchaeological, and archaeological investigations in the North Frisian Wadden Sea in the vicinity of the medieval trading centre of Rungholt" is a joint effort of Dr. Hanna Hadler and Professor Andreas Vött of the Natural Hazard Research and Geoarchaeology group at Mainz University, Dr. Dennis Wilken of the Applied Geophysis group at Kiel University as well as Dr. Ruth Blankenfeldt of the Center for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology in Schleswig and Dr. Stefanie Klooß and Dr. UIf Ickerodt of the State Archaeology Department Schleswig-Holstein. Furthermore, Dr. Bente Sven Majchczack und Professor Wolfgang Rabbel cooperated within the project "Socio-environmental Interactions on the North Frisian Wadden Sea Coast" in the ROOTS Cluster of Excellence of Kiel University.

A lightweight measuring cart provides large-scale magnetic mapping of cultural traces hidden beneath the surface of today's mudflats
A lightweight measuring cart provides large-scale magnetic mapping of cultural traces hidden beneath the surface of today's mudflats. (Photo:Dirk Bienen-Scholt, Schleswig)

Sediment cores are taken to record settlement remains and reconstruct landscape development at selected sites on the tidal flats
Sediment cores are taken to record settlement remains and reconstruct landscape development at selected sites on the tidal flats. (Photo: Justus Lemm, Berlin)


Publication about the project
Wilken, D., Hadler, H., Wunderlich, T., Majchczack, B., Schwardt, M., Fediuk, A., Fischer, P., Willershäuser, T., Klooß, S., Vött, A. & Rabbel, W. (2022). Lost in the North Sea—Geophysical and geoarchaeological prospection of the Rungholt medieval dyke system (North Frisia, Germany). Plos one, 17 (4), https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0265463

More information:
Website of the  des ALSH
Website of the "Applied Geophysics" group at Kiel University
Website of the Geopmorphology group at the JGU Institute of Geography
The Wadden Sea project of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS
Information on the Rungholt project on the DFG website
Website of the ZBSA

Press contact
Jan Steffen
Media and Public Outreach, Cluster of Excellence ROOTS
+49 (0)431/880-5485
to the website

Scientific contact in Kiel:
Dr. Dennis Wilken
Institute for Geosciences at Kiel University
+49 431 880-4648

Dr. Bente Majchczack
Cluster of Excellence ROOTS at Kiel University
+49 431 880-6705

Scientific contact in Mainz:
Dr. Hanna Hadler
Institute of Geography at JGU Mainz
+49 6131 39-24496

Scientific contact in Schleswig:
Dr. Ruth Blankenfeldt
Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology
+49 4621 813 – 289

Henny Piezonka accepts call to 'Freie Universität Berlin'

Henny Piezonka accepts call to 'Freie Universität Berlin'
Henny Piezonka on expedition in Mongolia. Photo: Sara Jagiolla.

The Kiel junior professor for anthropological archaeology, Dr. Henny Piezonka, has accepted an appointment to the W3 professorship for prehistoric archaeology at the Freie Universität Berlin. She will move to the German capital as early as 2023.

Henny Piezonka has been a junior professor at the Institute for Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology at Kiel University since 2016. She is also PI in the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS, in the Collaborative Research Centre 1266 "Transformation Dimensions" and was a member of the Graduate School "Human Development in Landscapes", from which the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS emerged in 2019.

Her academic career began with studies in Prehistory and Protohistory, Classical Archaeology and Art History at the Humboldt University Berlin and the University of Glasgow. In 2010 she was awarded her doctorate at the Free University of Berlin with a thesis on "Die nordosteuropäische Waldzone im Neolithikum. Studies on the groups with early pottery north and east of the Baltic Sea". At this time, she worked as a research assistant at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn as part of the project "Geoarchaeology of the Steppe: On the Reconstruction of Cultural Landscapes in the Orkhon Valley, Central Mongolia", funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. This was followed by further posts at the University of Greifswald and the German Archaeological Institute before moving to Kiel in 2016.

Henny Piezonka's research focuses on the Neolithic and Early Metal Age in Central and Eastern Europe, hunter-gatherer-fishermen in high latitudes, pastoral nomads in arid and subarctic regions, mobility and sedentarism, conflict and inequality in prehistoric societies. She is involved in ethnoarchaeological studies, most recently in projects in Russia and Mongolia. She works closely with natural and life sciences and other related disciplines. Currently, she is part of an international team that is relaunching the tradition-rich "Ethnographisch-Archaeologische Zeitschrift" as platform for transdisciplinary research.

"Of course we regret that such a talented colleague is leaving us," says Professor Johannes Müller from the Institute of Prehistory and Early History and spokesperson for the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS and SFB1266, "at the same time we wish her all the best for her future career and look forward to many more joint projects."

We welcome Italian archaeologist Marcella Frangipane as new JMA Chair

A public lecture is planned for the end of June

We welcome Marcella
JMA-Chair Marcella Frangipane

With the well-known Italian archaeologist Marcella Frangipane, another international colleague enriches the scientific work of ROOTS as Chair of the Johanna Mestorf Academy since mid-May.

Marcella Frangipane’s research focuses on the rise and early developments of hierarchical and unequal societies, the rise of centralised economies, bureaucracy, and the State in the ancient Near East, with particular reference to Mesopotamian and Anatolian environments. At the core of this research is the long-term excavation in Arslantepe, Anatolia, where she started to work in 1976. In 1990, she took over the direction of this benchmark project, leading it till 2019.

Besides her work in Anatolia, Marcella Frangipane has taught Prehistory and Protohistory of the Near and Middle East and Strategies and Methods of Archaeological Research at the Sapienza University of Rome for undergraduate, master and PhD degrees. She is the author of more than 180 publications in international journals and volumes, among which are five books.
In her latest book, Un frammento alla volta: Dieci lezioni dall'archeologia (One fragment at a time: Ten lessons from archaeology), she deals more generally with the question of what archaeology is about—not discovering individual treasures, but uncovering the roots of crucial phenomena and linking them to the present.

In addition, Marcella Frangipane has been, till 2018, the Editor in Chief of the journal Origini and the Series Studi di Preistoria Orientale (SPO), all published by the Sapienza University of Rome. She is the Editor of the monograph Series Arslantepe, where the final results of the excavations at the site are published. Marcella Frangipane has also participated in field research in Mexico, Italy, Egypt and Turkey, and was field vice-director of the Sapienza excavations at the Late Predynastic site of Maadi (Egypt).

Marcella Frangipane is International Member of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), member of the Italian Accademia dei Lincei, corresponding member of the Deutsches Archäologische Institut in Berlin, corresponding member of the Archaeological Institute of America and, since 2021, foreign fellow of the British Academy.

For her research at Arslantepe, she has received the Discovery Award by the Shanghai Archaeology Forum (China 2015); the Vittorio De Sica Prize for Science (Archaeology) (Italy 2015); and Rotondi Prize to Art Saviors (Italy 2017). She has also received the honorary PhD by the University of Malatya (Turkey) and the titles of Cavaliere Ufficiale dell’Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana and Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella della Solidarietà by the President of the Italian Republic.

During her stay in Kiel, Marcella Frangipane will not only continue existing collaborations with colleagues from ROOTS and further develop new projects, but will also give a public lecture that is planned for the second half of June. Details will be announced in time on the ROOTS website, Mastodon, Twitter other usual channels.

Link to JMA-Chair at the ROOTS Website
Link to Johanna Mestdorf Academy

We welcome Miko Flohr as new JMA-Chair

Expert for urban, social and economic history of the Greco-Roman world collaborates with colleagues in the Cluster ROOTS

Mirko Flohr
This month, we welcome Miko Flohr. lecturer in Ancient History at the University of Leiden (Netherlands) as a holder of the Johanna Mestorf Academy Chair for the coming months until 31 July.

Miko Flohr is a renowned expert on the urban, social and economic history of the Greco-Roman world. He started his career with studying Classics in Nijmegen. After finishing his Ph.D. in Classical Archaeology at Radboud University, Nijmegen, in 2010, he was assistant director of the Oxford Roman Economy Project at the Faculty of Classics of the University of Oxford, and Supernumerary Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford. He has been researching and teaching at Leiden University since 2013.
In his research, Miko Flohr focuses on the impact of Roman imperial hegemony on urban communities and everyday life, and the extent to which this shapes the archaeological and epigraphic record.

While in Kiel, Miko Flohr will collaborate with colleagues in the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS, particularly within the Subcluster Urban ROOTS. On Monday, 8 May, he has been giving a lecture as part of the Urban ROOTS lecture series “Stadt und Wasser. A public JMA Chair lecture with Miko Flohr will be announced separately.

Miko Flohr’s profile at the University of Leiden


2023 ROOTS Retreat: Members discussed further development of the Cluster of Excellence and the steps towards a second phase of ROOTS

During the ROOTS retreat
During the ROOTS retreat, Professor Simone Fulda, President of Kiel University, pledged the full support of the University for the next ROOTS proposal. Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS

Last week, more than 90 members of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS at Kiel University met for an intensive two-day retreat to share scientific findings and engage in discussions regarding the future development of the interdisciplinary research on past human-environmental connectivity. In a highly constructive atmosphere, a special focus was dedicated on the visions for the next application phase within the Excellence Strategy of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the German Federal States. In late summer 2024, the proposal for a second funding phase of ROOTS has to be submitted. During the retreat there was broad consensus, not only among ROOTS members, that this second phase would be scientifically highly desirable. Professor Simone Fulda, President of Kiel University, pledged the full support of the University for the next proposal: "I sense great enthusiasm and commitment here for the research of the Cluster. These are very important prerequisites for a successful application. The University will support this process in the best possible way," she emphasized.

Before the discussions about the future started, however, the ROOTS members had looked back. All units of the Cluster of Excellence presented their scientific results. These included surprising new insights into the relationship between social inequality and violence in prehistoric societies, as well as fundamental new findings about the genetic basis of today's chronic inflammatory diseases in the Neolithic, or discoveries about how certain medieval economies on the North Sea coast destroyed their own natural foundations, to name but a few. The presentations enabled members from the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and life sciences to develop a common understanding of the cluster's current progress.

This served as the basis for the following, intense discussions around the roadmap to a successful application for ROOTS 2. "The two days were definitely challenging, but I found them to be very constructive and purposeful, too," says cluster speaker Johannes Müller, "so we were able to identify milestones that we need to achieve over the next months. Some great ideas for new innovative research perspectives were formulated. By fulfilling the aims of our first proposal, we also look into future perspectives that will enable us to expand questions about the past that are relevant to our present challenges.”

Roots speaker Johannes Müller opens the retreat
ROOTS speaker Johannes Müller opens the retreat. Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS

All units of the cluster present their scientific results
All units of the cluster present their scientific results. Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS

Small working groups discuss the results so far...
Small working groups discuss the results so far... Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS

and develop ideas for the next proposal based on them.
And develop ideas for the next proposal based on them. Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS

Welcome to new JMA Chair Axel Christophersen – Public Lecture on 15 May

Axel Christophersen is JMA Chair from April to June 2023. Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS

How are climate, nutrition, health, and general welfare in medieval cities connected? Norwegian archaeologist Axel Christophersen has been intensively working on these research questions for many years. Currently he is visiting Kiel as a holder of the Johanna Mestorf Academy Chair to discuss his research and exchange results with colleagues from the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS, particularly within the Subcluster Urban ROOTS. As part of his visit, he is giving a Public Lecture titled "Why does she act this way"? on 15 May.

In his lecture, he will present an oblique look at interdisciplinary cooperation, opportunities and limitations in archaeological observation, documentation and analysis work. The title of the lecture is taken from a book of Astrid Lindgren, where a subterranean being wonders why two human legs are sticking out of the ceiling of her earth cave. In interdisciplinary projects, one can be confronted with such questions: What is this? Why is it done that way, etc.? Urban archeology, in the Nordic countries and elsewhere, has always been much about experimenting and working with different disciplines. In the wake of such collaborative relationships, notorious challenges arise. Axel Christophersen will reflect on these challenges on the background of his own research in Norway.
Currently, Axel Christophersen is professor for Historical Archaeology at the NTNU University Museum in Trondheim. From 2016 to 2021, he coordinated the cross-disciplinary project “Medieval urban health: From individual to public responsibility AD 1000-1600” funded by Norwegian Research Council.

Between 2002-2013 he was appointed Director of the NTNU University Museum. During his time as director the museum was awarded the Trondheim City´s Residents Associations Award (2009), The Museum of the Year in Norway (2010) and membership in the European Museum Excellence Club - Best in Heritage (2011). In 2013 he returned to his professorship in historical archaeology. In 2014 he was research Fellow at the McDonald Institute of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge. Since 1994, Axel Christophersen is member of The Royal Norwegian Society of Science and Letter.

Public Lecture by JMA Chair Axel Christophersen as part of the “Archäologisches Kolloquium” Series of the Institute for Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology.
Title: "Why does she act this way?" - An oblique look at interdisciplinary cooperation, opportunities and limitations in archaeological observation, documentation and analysis work.
Date: May 15, 2023 from 06:30 PM to 08:30 PM
Venue: Johanna-Mestorf-Str. 2–6 (Eingang 4, Erdgeschoss, R. 28), 24118 Kiel / hybrid

Download Poster for Lecture Series

A forum for human diversity

New start for the "Ethnographisch-Archaeologische Zeitschrift" at Kiel University

A forum for human diversity
The editorial team of the new EAZ met on the occasion of the Kiel Conference 2023 in mid-March at the Kiel University: Henny Piezonka (Kiel University), Jens Schneeweiß (ZBSA), Martin Furholt ( Kiel University), Bill Angelbeck (Douglas College, Canada), Maria Wunderlich (Kiel University), Anastasia Khramtsova (Cluster ROOTS). Not present was Jerimy Cunningham (University of Lethbridge, Canada, pictured in the frame), who is also part of the new editorial team. © Jan Steffen / Tine Pape, Cluster ROOTS

Human societies are extremely complex. Anyone who wants to understand the cultural-historical development of our species must combine methods and results from numerous disciplines such as archaeology, social and cultural anthropology, palaeoecology, or philosophy. At the same time, many scholars are specializing in increasingly narrow research areas and niches. "Therefore, we need to demonstrate all the more that we can gain valuable new insights by bridging disciplines and approaches," says Dr. Henny Piezonka, professor of anthropological archaeology at Kiel University and member of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS.

She is part of an international team that is now reviving the "Ethnographisch-Archaeologische Zeitschrift" (EAZ), one of the oldest academic forums for the interdisciplinary study of humans and their lifeworlds from antiquity to the present. Now, after a five-year break and a change of the editorial team, a new issue of the EAZ is being published—for the first time with Kiel as the official place of publication. The new, 57th volume is dedicated to one of the fathers of American anthropology, Franz Boas, who received his doctorate in Kiel 142 years ago.

The goal of the EAZ is not only to bridge disciplinary boundaries. It is also about challenging habits and hierarchies of power in academia, combating inequalities and thus enabling new ways of looking at, and understanding, the human condition. "In recent decades, there have been increasingly critical approaches to anthropology and archaeology rooted in postcolonial, indigenous, feminist, and queer concerns. They challenge outdated research that has been very male, Western, and dominated by the English language," explains Prof. Dr. Martin Furholt of the Institute of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology at Kiel University and member of the editorial board of the new EAZ

"The combination of anthropological and archaeological research, including a revival of transdisciplinary specialties such as ethnoarchaeology, can amplify alternative and previously disadvantaged voices in a way that contributes to the decolonization of the disciplines," adds his colleague Henny Piezonka.

In this way, the EAZ aims to provide a critical and self-reflexive view on current global challenges such as social inequality, climate change, and indigenous sovereignty. In doing so, the new editorial team builds on the journal's long history as a cross-disciplinary medium.

Founded in East Berlin in 1953, the EAZ follows research traditions that emerged in Germany in the mid-19th century, integrating various approaches to archaeology and anthropology. This tradition also influenced Franz Boas, who is considered one of the pioneers of cultural anthropology in the United States.

In Europe, however, the fields were institutionally separated in the 20th century. The EAZ stood largely alone with its transdisciplinary orientation until the early 21st century. Between 2009 and 2018, it was published in Leipzig and increasingly incorporated theoretical and philosophical contributions as well as analyses of the history of archaeological thought.

With its relaunch at Kiel University, the EAZ is now dedicated to research at the intersections of archaeology, sociocultural anthropology, and philosophy, particularly the relationships between society, culture, and the environment.

EAZ articles initially appear online at www.eaz-journal.org. Two issues per year may be printed on demand. As with other scientific journals, scientific quality is ensured by external, international reviewers who advise the editors whether a submitted article should be accepted or revised. There is no cost to the researchers. Accepted articles are published on the website without a paywall under an internationally renowned, free license. "This open access approach also ensures a democratization of research. The decisive factor is not how well funded the institution is where the scientists work. Scientific quality alone counts," emphasizes Prof. Henny Piezonka.

The editorial systems run on servers hosted by the IT Centre of Kiel University. In addition to Martin Furholt and Henny Piezonka, the new editorial team includes Prof. Dr. Bill Angelbeck (Douglas College, Canada), Prof. Dr. Jerimy Cunningham (University of Lethbridge, Canada), Dr. Jens Schneeweiß (Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology Schleswig/Cluster ROOTS) and Dr. Maria Wunderlich (Institute for Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology at CAU /Cluster ROOTS). Dr. Nils Müller-Scheeßel (Institute for Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology at CAU /Cluster ROOTS) supports the team in the editorial process. The journal also has an international network of recognised experts  for a board of Associate Editor, advising on the review of submitted articles.

Ethnographisch-Archaeologische Zeitschrift (EAZ)


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