ERC Grant for ROOTS member Eva Stukenbrock

Eva StukenbrockAs the European Research Council announced this week, ROOTS member Eva Stukenbrock is receiving a ERC Consolidator Grant. (photo: Stefan Kolbe, Kiel University).

Last Tuesday, the European Research Council (ERC) announced funding for a new research project lead by ROOTS member Eva Stukenbrock. Within the project titled "FungalSecrets: The role of plant microbiota in the evolution of fungal pathogens and their repertoires of secreted proteins" Stukenbrock from the Botanical Institute of Kiel University and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology Plön (MPI-EB) and her research team will be able to investigate how the plant microbiome, i.e. the microbial colonisation of a plant, is impacted by fungal pathogens at the molecular level. The research project, which will begin in spring and will be funded over a period of five years, is pursuing the key question of whether and how fungal pathogens influence the microbial colonisation of their host plants by releasing certain molecules to support infection. Stukenbrock, who is also a member of the Collaborative Research Center (CRC) 1182 "Origin and Function of Metaorganisms" and spokesperson of the Kiel Plant Center (KPC) at Kiel University, is receiving a so-called ERC Consolidator Grant for these studies, which includes two million euros in funding.

In the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS, Eva Stukenbrock and her team collaborate with the aDNA laboratory and archaeobotanists to identify plant pathogens on ancient plant material and to characterise the genetic architecture of plant resistance genes in early domesticated species. We sincerely congratulate on the success with the new proposal!

The first meeting of the new ROOTS Executive Board

With the beginning of the new year, we are now entering the crucial phase of ROOTS. 
As we look forward to the next months, the first meeting of the ROOTS Executive Board on January 10, 2023 offered the opportunity to all members of the board to exchange and reflect on the growth of ROOTS. This gathering served to define and implement a roadmap in order to successfully reach the next milestones of our cluster of excellence, particularly in light of our efforts to extend our research initiative after 2025. Publications, conferences, including the upcoming 2023 Kiel Conference on “Scales of Social, Environmental and Cultural Change in Past Societies” (13-18 March 2023), will shape and stimulate scientific dialogue and exchange, helping sparking new ideas and advance research also for ROOTS phase 2.

The ROOTS board meeting also provided an opportunity to take a photograph of the new members who compose the board for the next two years:
PIC BOARDThe members of the 2023-2025 ROOTS Executive Board. Upper row, from left to right: Johannes Müller, Mara Weinelt, Vesa Arponen, Ulrich Schmölcke, Nils Müller-Scheeßel, Martin Furholt, Jens Schneeweiss, Cheryl Makarewicz, Eileen Eckmeier; lower row: Pawel Cembrzyński, Gerald Schwedler, Ulrich Müller, Wolfgang Rabbel, Andreas Schwab, Wiebke Kirleis, Andrea Ricci (photo by Jan Steffen)

The new composition of the ROOTS Executive Board is as follows:
Speaker: Johannes Müller
Co-Speaker: Martin Furholt
Co-Speaker (until September 30, 2023): Wolfgang Rabbel
Co-Speaker (from October 1, 2023): Eileen Eckmeier

Subcluster 1 - Hazards: Eileen Eckmeier (Deputy: Mara Weinelt)
Subcluster 2 - Diets: Cheryl Makarewicz (Deputy: Ben Krause-Kyora)
Subcluster 3 - Knowledge: Andreas Schwab (Deputy: Gerald Schwedler)
Subcluster 4 - Urban: Annette Haug (Deputy: Ulrich Müller)
Subcluster 5 - Inequality: Martin Furholt (Deputy: Johannes Müller)
Subcluster 6 - Conflict: Lorenz Kienle (Deputy: Jens Schneeweiß)
Reflective Turn Forum: Vesa Arponen (Deputy: Konrad Ott)
Young Academy: Tim Kerig (Deputy: Andrea Ricci)
Platform 1 - Technical: Wiebke Kirleis (Deputy: Eileen Eckmeier)
Platform 2 - Communication: Ilka Parchmann (Deputy: Andrea Ricci)
Platform 3 - Humanities: Nils Müller-Scheeßel (Deputy: John Peterson)
Postdoc Representative: Pawel Cembrzyński
PhD Representatives: Benjamin Claaßen, Benjamin Serbe
For Kiel University: Kiel University President
For ZBSA: Berit Eriksen (Deputy: Ulrich Schmölcke)
Scientific Coordination: Mara Weinelt (Deputy: Andrea Ricci)

Public Lecture: “How History Matters” by Gary Feinman (JMA-Chair)

Public Lecture: “How History Matters” by Gary Feinman (JMA-Chair)
On February 6, Gary Feinman (MacArthur Curator of Mesoamerican, Central American, and East Asian Anthropology at the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, USA) talks on “Rethinking Premodern Governance and Inequality”

Archaeology has learned a lot empirically over the last 50 years, but concepts and presumptions about human groups and how they organize politically stem from the mid-20th century and, in a sense, the century before that with focus on two big ideas, classification and evolution (progress), as well as a strong emphasis on uniformity and linearity. Science has, however, collected enough data to reassess and evaluate these long-standing tenets and assumptions. 

In a public lecture on 6 February 2023, Gary Feinman, MacArthur Curator of Mesoamerican, Central American, and East Asian Anthropology at the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, USA, presents new concepts and ideas on premodern governance and inequality. 

Public Lecture: "How History Matters"
Time: 6 February 2023, starting 04:00 p.m. 
Venue: CAP3 / ‘Hörsaal 3’ / Christian-Albrechts-Platz 3 / 24118 Kiel

Since early November 2022, US archaeologist Gary Feinman is the holder of the Johanna Mestorf Acadamy (JMA) chair of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS at Kiel University. While in Kiel, Gary Feinman collaborates with colleagues in ROOTS and in particular with the subcluster “Roots of Inequalities” 

Feinman received his B.A. in Anthropology at the University of Michigan and received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from City University of New York-Graduate Center in 1980. In his scientific work, he has specialized in the study of complex human societies – how and why they arose, the different ways they were organized and changed over time, and how the economies of these ancient social formations were underpinned and interrelated with their political and social institutions.

Feinman is also the founding and contact co-editor of the Journal of Archaeological Research, which is the top-ranked journal based on Impact Factor in Archaeology and Anthropology. He also is an Editorial Board member of Human Ecology and Cross-Cultural Research and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. For his work he received the Presidential Recognition Award from the Society for American Archaeology.

The lecture on 6 February is part of the Public Lecture Series by JMA-Chairs. It provides novel research perspectives to unveil interwoven past social, environmental, and cultural phenomena, shedding light on the ‘roots’ of current socio-environmental challenges and crises. Leading international experts joining the Cluster of Excellence as JMA Chairs give insight into their research, enhancing ROOTS large interdisciplinary initiative.

Downloud poster here

2022 ROOTS Plenary Assembly: New Board Members Elected

Johannes Müller looks back on successesJohannes Müller looks back on successes, but also on challenges of the year 2022. Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS

The first events in person after two years, numerous field campaigns and conferences, but also staff changes and the impact of the Russian attack on Ukraine: the year 2022 was both successful and challenging for the members of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS. During the 2022 Cluster Plenary Assembly on 7 December, ROOTS speaker Johannes Müller, scientific coordinator Mara Weinelt, as well as Vesa Arponen and Eileen Eckmeier on behalf of the subclusters, platforms, Reflective Turn Forum and Young Academy reflected on the achievements of the last twelve months. The program of the meeting included the welcoming of the new members and the farewell of former members, who either found new career paths in Germany or abroad or recently begun their well-deserved retirements.

Eileen Eckmeier and Vesa Arponen  on behalf of the subclusters
Eileen Eckmeier and Vesa Arponen  on behalf of the subclusters, platforms, Reflective Turn Forum and Young Academy reflect on the achievements of the last twelve months. Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS

Additionally, the elections to the ROOTS Executive Board for the 2023-2024 period was on the agenda.

The archaeologist Johannes Müller continues as ROOTS speaker, while his colleague Martin Furholt succeeds the chemist and didactics expert Ilka Parchmann as co-speaker. In addition, geoarchaeologist Eileen Eckmeier was elected to succeed geophysicist Wolfgang Rabbel as co-speaker once he will retire in October 2023. In the "Hazard" subcluster, Eileen Eckmeier will also take over the position as speaker. In the "Knowledge" subcluster, the Greek philologist Lutz Käppel will pass on the baton of the speaker to his colleague Andreas Schwab, who has been working at Kiel University since spring 2022. The historian Gerald Schwedler was elected co-speaker of the "Knowledge" subcluster. In the "Inequalities" subcluster, archaeologist Martin Furholt took over the speaker position from prehistoric archaeologist Henny Piezonka. The new co-speaker here is Johannes Müller. In the "Conflict" subcluster, the chemist and nano-expert Lorenz Kienle replaces Claus von Carnap-Bornheim, who retired, while the archaeologist Jens Schneeweiß was elected co-speaker. For the Technical Platform, Eileen Eckmeier takes over the co-speaker post from Wolfgang Rabbel and for the Communication Platform, archaeologist Andrea Ricci takes over the co-speaker role from Claus von Carnap-Bornheim.

According to the results of the elections, all candidates were elected with large majority of votes.

The new composition of the ROOTS Executive Board is as follows:

Speaker: Johannes Müller
Co-Speaker: Martin Furholt
Co-Speaker (until September 30, 2023): Wolfgang Rabbel
Co-Speaker (from October 1, 2023): Eileen Eckmeier

Subcluster 1 - Hazards: Eileen Eckmeier (Deputy: Mara Weinelt)
Subcluster 2 - Diets: Cheryl Makarewicz (Deputy: Ben Krause-Kyora)
Subcluster 3 - Knowledge: Andreas Schwab (Deputy: Gerald Schwedler)
Subcluster 4 - Urban: Annette Haug (Deputy: Ulrich Müller)
Subcluster 5 - Inequality: Martin Furholt (Deputy: Johannes Müller)
Subcluster 6 - Conflict: Lorenz Kienle (Deputy: Jens Schneeweiß)
Reflective Turn: Vesa Arponen (Deputy: Konrad Ott)
Young Academy: Tim Kerig (Deputy: Andrea Ricci)
Platform 1 - Technical: Wiebke Kirleis (Deputy: Eileen Eckmeier)
Platform 2 - Communication: Ilka Parchmann (Deputy: Andrea Ricci)
Platform 3 - Humanities: Nils Müller-Scheeßel (Deputy: John Peterson)
Postdoc Representative: Pawel Cembrzyński
PhD Representatives: Benjamin Claaßen, Benjamin Serbe
For Kiel University: Kiel University President
For ZBSA: Berit Eriksen (Deputy: Ulrich Schmölcke)
Scientific Coordinator: Mara Weinelt (Deputy: Andrea Ricci)

Lutz Kaeppel chairs the elections for positions on the cluster bodies
Lutz Käppel chairs the elections of the ROOTS Cluster Executive Board. Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS

Dangerous pathogens were lurking around every corner in an early medieval settlement

Skull from grave 83 in Lauchheim "Mittelhofen". On this individual, the team was able to detect three infections. Photo: Isabelle Jasch-Boley

  • DNA from 1300-year-old skeletons allows analysis of the health status of an a community of the Merovingian period
  • Study reveals high prevalence of infections with various pathogens
  • Results also allow conclusions on susceptibility to infections in times of climatic changes in general

Lack of personal hygiene, disease-carrying rats and general unsanitary living conditions - the Middle Ages are commonly regarded as an age of ubiquitous disease. However, most of our knowledge about medieval epidemics relates to the late Middle Ages after the 12th century CE. In contrast, the incidence of infection in the early Middle Ages and the pathogens responsible for disease outbreaks during this period are still largely unexplored. An interdisciplinary research team led by scientists from Kiel University (CAU) has now found evidence for a high prevalence of infectious diseases in the early medieval settlement of Lauchheim "Mittelhofen" (Baden-Württemberg) using the latest analysis techniques for ancient DNA. The study has been published today in the international journal Genome Biology.

Analysis reveals various pathogens in the skeletons

For this study of the early medieval settlement Lauchheim “Mittelhofen”, researchers isolated DNA from 70 human skeletons excavated within its borders. The graves could be associated with distinguishable farmsteads and dated to the late Merovingian period (7th-8th century CE). “The DNA data showed that the Lauchheim inhabitants suffered from infections with various pathogens, such as Mycobacterium leprae, the hepatitis B virus HBV, the parvovirus B19 and the variola virus VARV”, says Professor Ben Krause Kyora from the Institute for Clinical Molecular Biology of the CAU and member of the Cluster of Exzellence ROOTS, who led the research team.

The infectious agents detected in Lauchheim cause both chronic and acute diseases of varying severity. Infection with M. leprae can lead to the development of persistent and highly debilitating leprosy. Symptoms of HBV infection range from mild abdominal pain and fever to liver fibrosis and even liver cancer. B19 is seemingly less dangerous as the infection is usually asymptomatic and severe complications are rare. In contrast, before its eradication in 1980, variola virus caused smallpox – an acute disease of high mortality. “However, due to the genetic differences between the modern and medieval VARV, we cannot tell what the symptoms of the infection were in the Middle Ages and whether the pathogen was as dangerous as the modern variola”, explains Prof. Krause-Kyora.

Many people even suffered from multiple infections

The authors noted a substantial number of co-infections with two or even three different infectious agents. Overall, 31% of the community died with a molecular trace of infection with at least one pathogen. “Although this number is very high, it does not reflect a disease burden at one moment in time. Dating of the graves suggests that the burial ground was used for approximately one century, so between three to four generations. It is important to keep that in mind,” says one of the lead authors of the study Joanna Bonczarowska from the Institute for Clinical Molecular Biology of the CAU.

Nevertheless, the researchers believe that their reports are likely underestimating the true prevalence of infection in early medieval Lauchheim. Krause-Kyora remarks that “Once all soft tissue is deteriorated, only blood-borne pathogens can be reliably identified in the bones. When considering this limitation together with the degradation of DNA molecules that occurs over time, some infections were probably undetected.”

Overall poor health and climatic change

The Lauchheim inhabitants were generally of poor health, as their skeletons showed signs of infections and/or an inadequate diet. One of the senior authors Prof. Almut Nebel from CAU’s Institute of Molecular Biology, says that “At the time, Europe experienced a rapid climate decline, known as the Late Antique Little Ice Age. Climate change can drive crop failures, eventually leading to famine.” Malnutrition possibly increased the physiological stress of the people. “In theory, famine would weaken the undernourished population and allow for an easier spread of the pathogens among the community. Those people were in very poor health and the conditions seemed to be favorable for disease spread and evolution of the pathogens.” adds Nebel.

The study provides a new, temporal perspective on the infectious disease burden in a community living in a period characterized by high exposure to pathogens, rapid cultural transition and major climate changes. These conditions, to an extent, one can relate to today – in times of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases and climate change.

"This study is also a good example of the collaboration between different disciplines at the CAU. Expertise and resources from the Collaborative Research Centre 1266, the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS and the Cluster of Excellence Precision Medicine have come together to learn more about the history of human diseases and to draw possible lessons for us today," Ben Krause-Kyora sums up.

Bonczarowska et al.: Pathogen genomics study of an early medieval community in Germany reveals extensive co‑infections. Genome Biology,

Samples are carefully taken from bones of early medieval people buried in Lauchheim "Mittelhofen". Photo: Katharina Fuchs

Bone samples are analysed for ancient DNA under clean room conditions. Photo: Katharina Fuchs

The CRC 1266: here
The Cluster of Excellence “Precision Medicine in Chronic Inflammation” (PMI): here

Germany's first community excavation provides evidence for a long settlement tradition in Schenefeld

The project initiator Claus von Carnap-Bornheim presents the archaeological finds in Schenefeld
The project initiator Claus von Carnap-Bornheim presents the archaeological finds in Schenefeld. Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster Roots. 

Citizen science project "Schenefeld excavates" ends with a presentation of the results  

  • Evaluation of Germany's first participatory community excavation shows great enthusiasm among citizens.
  • The pilot project in Schenefeld (Schleswig-Holstein, Germany) provides evidence for a settlement tradition of more than 1000 years in the town.
  • Participating archaeologists and community volunteers are committed to continuing the research and further community excavations in Germany.

To work with volunteers from outside academia is common practice in archaeology. These enthusiastic people often support excavations or provide information about possible archaeological sites. However, the project "Schenefeld gräbt aus" ("Schenefeld excavates"), in which more than 100 adults, young people and children from the Schleswig-Holstein municipality of Schenefeld largely independently explored their town's past with the help of spades, trowels and brushes in May and June 2022, is so far unique in Germany. Today, the final event took place in the Community Hall, where the organising team from the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS (Kiel University), and the Center for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology in Schleswig (ZBSA) presented the evaluation of the finds.

Ilka Rau and Dr Katrin Schoeps
Ilka Rau (ZBSA, left) and Dr Katrin Schöps (IPN) from the Schenefeld digs organising team, project initiator Professor Claus von Carnap-Bornheim (back right) and Mayor Johann Hansen during the presentation event in Schenefeld.

Citizens excavate more than 1000 years of settlement history

The community excavation was based on the assumption that Schenefeld could be one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein. Correspondingly old structures of Schenefeld’s St. Boniface Church as well as individual, earlier archaeological finds had indicated this. On 18 November 2022, Ilka Rau of the ROOTS/ZBSA organising team could confirm that the excavations earlier this year unearthed traces of extensive settlement activity in Schenefeld already in the later 1st millennium CE. "However, in contrast to these older pottery finds from the Early Middle Ages, very few to no pottery sherds were found from the first half of the second millennium, i.e. from the High Middle Ages. The majority of the pottery finds are modern," adds Ilka Rau.

The extent to which Schenefeld has been continuously settled since the first millennium and exactly where people settled in the Middle Ages cannot yet be clearly determined on the basis of the excavations to date. Further investigations would be necessary.
"We have been able to confirm that people lived in Schenefeld more than 1,000 years ago. This is a great result for our community," says Mayor Johann Hansen. "At the same time, we are experiencing that science is a lengthy process. New results often raise new questions. That is also an important insight. And, of course, we would like to continue our research to close the gap in finds from the High Middle Ages."

Survey shows great enthusiasm among participants

Katrin Schöps from the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education (IPN) in Kiel also confirms that participants are not only enthusiastic about the results but also about the scientific work itself. Since "Schenefeld gräbt aus" was a first in Germany, the IPN is using questionnaires to examine the impact of the project on the community and the people in the town.

"The evaluation is still ongoing, but a preliminary analysis shows that participation in the excavation has had a positive impact on people and the sense of community. Seventy percent of the respondents would participate again and almost 90 percent would advise their friends to participate in such a project," reports Dr. Schöps. This is confirmed by similar studies in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Poland or the Czech Republic, where such participatory, community archaeological projects have been practiced for many years.

Transferring experience from Great Britain to Germany

One of the leading experts for community excavations in Great Britain is the archaeologist Prof. Dr. Carenza Lewis from the University of Lincoln. A meeting between her and Prof. Dr. Claus von Carnap-Bornheim (Cluster of Excellence ROOTS and former director of the ZBSA) in 2019 provided the impetus for the German pilot project. After delays due to the Corona pandemic, concrete preparations started in 2021. For this, Kiel University, the Schleswig-Holstein State Archaeological Office and the IPN, also part of the ROOTS network, were brought on board.

After appropriate introductions by the experts, the volunteers from Schenefeld opened a total of 31 one-square-meter test pit excavations in gardens, on meadows and at public spaces throughout the municipality on two weekends in May and June 2022. Numerous archaeologists from the participating institutes were on hand to help the volunteers fill out excavation protocols or record their finds. More than 2,000 individual finds were thus precisely recorded and could subsequently be scientifically analysed.
"This was a very successful premiere for a community excavation in Schleswig-Holstein. The people of Schenefeld contributed a lot to this. Thank you very much for this from the entire team. I can only hope that the findings from this premiere, both in terms of Schenefeld's settlement history and the advantages of citizen science excavations, will make many similar projects in Germany possible," summarises Prof. Dr. Claus von Carnap-Bornheim, who has since retired.

On the ROOTS YOUTUBE channel, a video shows a summary of the project.

Link zum Youtube-Kanal: Youtube Link
Links: the Center for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology in Schleswig (ZBSA) the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education (IPN) German press release on the website of Kiel University

Schenefeldt graebt aus
Volunteers Swea Scholle, Volker Schade and Maike Beer-von Aspern work on their testpit excavation in June 2022. Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS

Schenefeldt graebt aus
Volunteers meticulously document each find so that it can be included in the scientific evaluation. Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS

Schenefeldt graebt aus
How old is the shard? Archaeologist Sebastian Schultrich (Cluster ROOTS) advises volunteer Marei Küppers on how to classify a find. Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS

Schenefeldt graebt aus
Just like experienced archaeologists, the volunteers work their way into the past, layer by layer, with spatulas and brushes. Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS

Schenefeldt graebt aus
A total of 100 adults, young people and children took part in the "Schenfeld digs out" campaign on two dates. Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS


Fieldwork + Activities


Participating Institutions