Other Publications by ROOTS members

3400 BC – The earliest documentation of the wheel and wagon comes from Northern Germany

Publication by Doris Mischka
We draw attention to the recent publication "The Neolithic in Flintbek. A fine chronological study of the settlement history based on graves" by Professor Doris Mischka. Besides other things, she documents the earliest known example of the use of the wheel and wagon.

Doris Mischka, now a professor at the Institute for Prehistory and Early History at the Friedrich Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, habilitated at Kiel University in 2012. The publication is her habilitation thesis. Here, she documents the entire genesis and development of the Neolithic and Bronze Age burial field in Flintbek, near Kiel. By using 14C analyses, the age of organic materials can be determined. With this, she dated the genesis and development of the burial field in detail.

Around 3800 BC, the first burials appear in the area. People started building long mounds, which they steadily enlarged with successive additions. Moreover, they erected burial mounds with small stone chambers, so-called dolmens. 500 years later, around 3300 BC, they built passage graves, which served as collective burial places for many centuries. Doris Mischka assumes that families from different areas each had their burial place here. Thus, the Flintbek area was a ritual centre for the entire region.

Two initially inconspicuous brown lines in the soil turned out to be traces of wheels. This is clear proof that for the building of the monuments, this new technology was used around 3400 BC. The technology was thus probably not invented in the Near East, as previously assumed.

The book is the 20th volume of a publication series coordinated by the Institute of Pre- and Protohistoric Archaeology at Kiel University, which presents the research results of the priority program "Early Monumentality and Social Differentiation".

We congratulate Doris Mischka for this detailed study, which will effectively enhance scientific discourse.

Mischka, Doris, 2022. Das Neolithikum in Flintbek. Eine feinchronologische Studie zur Besiedlungsgeschichte anhand von Gräbern. Frühe Monumentalität und soziale Differenzierung 20. Verlag Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH (Bonn 2022).

Northern Networks. An Analysis of Three Neolithic Enclosures from the Jutland Peninsula / Tobias Torfing


Recently, Tobias Torfing’s dissertation entitled “Northern Networks. An Analysis of Three Neolithic Enclosures from the Jutland Peninsula” was published. Amongst other things, he found out that the idea of enclosures spread far earlier to this northern area as we assumed hitherto.
During his PhD investigations from 2013–2016, Tobias Torfing was financed by the Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ (link), the forerunner of ROOTS. He finished his PhD in 2018. Now he works as a museum curator for the Museum of Southwest Jutland (link). His book is the 19th volume of a series that has been published as part of the DFG Priority Programme 1400 ‘Early Monumentality and Social Differentiation’, which has been based at Kiel University since 2008. The series includes final theses and conference proceedings, whose topics are closely linked to the priority programme and therefore deal primarily with topics on Funnel Beaker societies in Europe.
His book offers comprehensive analyses of three causewayed enclosures in Northern Denmark. The enclosures were introduced around 3700 BC, a time when the landscape and society of Northern Europe changed significantly. These massive sites, encircled with ditches and palisades, seem to have only been intended for short-lived or periodic usage, but they changed society for the centuries to follow. Each site is studied in relation to its history, chronology, and its impact on social development. It is argued that they – although not central places in a traditional sense – still created centres and an ordered landscape with clearings and pathway networks. They facilitated interaction for a scattered population and solidified connections to other networks around Northwestern Europe.
To explore these venues, this book also reworks the chronology of the Jutlandic part of the Funnel Beaker complex through the systematic use of typology and the modelling of radiocarbon dates.
We congratulate Tobias upon the completion of this extremely good study!

Torfing, Tobias, 2021. Northern Networks. An Analysis of Three Neolithic Enclosures from the Jutland Peninsula. Frühe Monumentalität und soziale Differenzierung 19. Verlag Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH (Bonn 2021).

Find further information about T. Torfing here


Deportationen im Perserreich in teispidisch-achaimenidischer Zeit / Chiara Matarese

Chiara MatareseThis study by Chiara Matarese investigates the phenomenon of deportations in Persia in the period before Alexander the Great. This challenging topic has long escaped scholarly scrutiny. On the one hand, the source situation is problematic: while indigenous documents are lacking, the available Graeco-Roman sources are characterised by numerous clichés that must first be dispelled. On the other hand, the phenomenon of deportation must be theoretically grasped and distinguished from other migration processes.

Through a detailed and critical analysis of the sources, Chiara Matarese succeeds in clarifying the triggers and the goals of the Persian deportations and in presenting the complexity of this multifaceted phenomenon. The author also answers crucial questions, e.g. about whether the deportees were enslaved or on their understanding of identity after resettlement. Thanks to this study, it becomes clear that in practice and in their conception of rule, the Persians proved in many respects to be learned successors of the rulers of the New Assyrian and New Babylonian Empires. The practice of deportation was no exception.

Chiara Matarese completed her PhD thesis in the framework of the Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ (GSC 208).

Matarese, Chiara, 2021.
Deportationen im Perserreich in teispidisch-achaimenidischer Zeit. Classica et Orientalia 27, XII. Wiesbaden: Harassowitz, 318 pages.

For more information about the book here (Harassowitz)

Between Plague and Typhoid Fever – the Hanseatic City of Lübeck in the 14th Century

Ancient DNA A look into the late medieval mass burial site at the Hospital of the Holy Ghost in the city of Lübeck (photo: Dirk Rieger, Hansestadt Lübeck).

Research team uses ancient DNA to gain insight into the development and history of epidemics in historical Lübeck

A team of researchers at Kiel University (Christian-Albrechts-Universität, CAU), Germany, gained insights into the development and history of epidemics in historical Lübeck by means of ancient DNA (aDNA) analysis.

In the Late Middle Ages, urban Europe often fell victim to rampant epidemics. Local disease outbreaks as well as global pandemics were increasingly described in historical sources. Perhaps the most notorious epidemic in human history was the plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which spread throughout Europe's major cities between 1346 and 1353 CE. It became known as the "Black Death". Two-thirds of the European population succumbed to the disease. Thus, the plague has become the eponym for the expression "pestis" or "pestilentiae", which was often used in historical records to describe disastrous epidemics of unknown cause. Also Lübeck was struck by at least six "pestilences" in the 14th century alone, as recorded in the city chronicles. To date, there is no evidence of the pathogens responsible for these diseases.

During construction work at the Holy-Ghost-Hospital (Heiligen-Geist-Hospital) in Lübeck in the early 1990s, several mass burials were discovered next to the outer hospital walls. Scattered over various pits of different sizes, a total of more than 800 skeletons of all sexes and ages were recovered from the site. The pits could be dated to the second half of the 14th century using the radiocarbon dating technique. The large number of people who had died within a short period of time without signs of violence suggested an infectious disease as the cause of death.

Salmonella identified as the trigger

An interdisciplinary team led by Prof. Ben Krause-Kyora from the Institute of Clinical Molecular Biology (IKMB) at CAU has been investigating the cause of death for the people in the mass graves. For this purpose, the aDNA from a total of 92 skeletons was isolated, sequenced and analyzed. "Our initial aim was to determine whether it is at all possible to use aDNA analyses to identify the pathogen responsible for this unknown epidemic," emphasizes Prof. Almut Nebel, also affiliated with the IKMB. "Being able to successfully demonstrate this is an important methodological milestone." The team was able to detect the bacterial pathogen Salmonella enterica subsp. enterica Paratyphi C in the human remains from two pits. "From the city chronicles we know that for the year 1367 CE an unknown "pestilentia" is recorded, which claimed many lives among all social strata, but was confined to Lübeck only", remarks Prof. Gerhard Fouquet from the Historical Seminar at Kiel University. This finding provided the researchers with the earliest evidence to date of an epidemic caused by Salmonella.

S. Paratyphi C is an invasive Salmonella species. The causative agent spreads rapidly and is transmitted to the human host via the consumption of contaminated water or food. Once contracted, the disease manifests itself as continued high fever, abdominal pain and nausea, at times also diarrhea. Without medical treatment, the disease course can be fatal.

The molecular biologists from Kiel further succeeded in fully reconstructing three of the S. Paratyphi C genomes. "Our results indicate a close relationship among the Paratyphi C strains in the Middle Ages," explains first author Magdalena Haller. It can be assumed that the pathogen has spread along commercial routes of the time, including those of the Hanseatic League. The analyses thus provide insights into the origin and evolution of the bacterium S. paratyphi, about which little is yet known. "Paratyphi C is virtually absent from Europe today. However, our results suggest that the pathogen was fairly common in the past. Recurrent outbreaks of paratyphoid fever must have severely affected people back then," explains Haller.

The Lübeck mass burial site represents a unique scientific resource for the study of past epidemics. "Through the close cooperation of molecular biology, history and archaeology, we have not only opened a door to the Middle Ages, but also built a bridge to our Corona era", emphasizes Dr. Dirk Rieger, head of the department of archaeology of the Hanseatic City of Lübeck.

The results of the study were recently published in the international journal iScience. The study was supported by the Collaborative Research Centre 1266 "Scales of Transformation“, the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS, and research funding from the CAU Medical Faculty.
Original publication:

Haller, M., Callan, K., Susat, J., Flux, A., Immel, A., Franke, A., Herbig, A., Krause, J., Kupczok, A., Fouquet, G., Hummel, S., Rieger, D., Nebel, A., Krause-Kyora, B. (2021) Mass burial genomics reveals outbreak of enteric paratyphoid fever in the Late Medieval trade city Lübeck. iScience 24, 102419.

Ancient DNA
The study conducted at Kiel University identifies the earliest evidence to date of an epidemic caused by Salmonella. (Figure: Carina Lange, Kiel University).

Scientific contact:
Prof. Dr. Ben Krause-Kyora
Institut für Klinische Molekularbiologie
Kiel University
 +49 (0)431 500 15142

Angelika Hoffmann
Research focus officer SECC/JMA

+49 (0)431/880-5924 to the website

For German version click here

Societies in balance

Members of ROOTS publish a study on the social significance of stone monuments in Northeast India

MegalithsMegaliths line the paths from the villages to the fields in Nagaland, commemorating their builders. (Photo: Maria Wunderlich)

The construction of stone monuments, or megaliths, is a tradition in Nagaland, Northeast India, which, although no longer continued today, is still deeply embedded in the collective memory of the communities concerned. Megalithic construction has been abandoned in large areas of Northeast India in the course of the severe transformation processes that have taken place within the last 100 years. It can now only be comprehensively reconstructed through the memories of older village members, as well as the stones themselves. Thus, the study represents an important reference point for a chain reaction in which transformative impulses led to the transformation of further interwoven social aspects. In the course of ethnoarchaeological fieldwork in cooperation with the University of Nagaland in 2016 and 2018, it was possible to visit Angami and Chakhesang-Naga villages and document the memories there of the construction of megalithic structures, as well as the Feasts of Merit, i.e. complex merit festivals, in their social embeddedness.
The recently published article "Societies in Balance: Monumentality and feasting activities among southern Naga communities, Northeast India" presents the manifold social, economic and political aspects of megalithic building traditions in a recent context. It showed the intertwining of complex but permeable social hierarchies, the attainment of social prestige through feasting activities, the importance of solidarity and cooperation, and megalithic construction. The article thus makes an important contribution to a holistic and differentiated understanding of possible socio-political meanings of megalithic monuments. This opens up points of departure not only for further ethnoarchaeological studies, but also for an expansion and diversification of the interpretation of prehistoric megalithic monuments and their significance within phases of social transformation.

Click here for the press release on the CAU Newsportal.

The published results have already been picked up by the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Original publication

Wunderlich M., Jamir T., Müller J., Rassman K., Vasa D. (2021) Societies in balance: Monumentality and feasting activities among southern Naga communities, Northeast India. PLOS ONE 16(3): e0246966.  https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0246966


MegalithsSouthern Nagaland (northeast India) is characterized by mountains and agricultural terraces. The tall standing stones also dominate the landscape. (Photo: Maria Wunderlich)

MegalithsThe research trip and documentation of the monuments took place in close cooperation with colleagues from the University of Nagaland. (Photo: Johannes Müller)

MegalithsThe three-dimensional modeling of the monuments using methods incorporating Structure from Motion (SfM) allows a realistic and vivid representation of the stones. (Photo: Sara Jagiolla)

Rare Diseases in the Bronze Age

A new study examines the phenomenon of Rare Diseases in ancient societies

rare diseases
The excavated grave of the male skeleton from the North Caucasus foothills. A healed fracture of the right thigh bone is visible.
© B. Atabiev, Institut für die Archäologie des Kaukasus, Naltschik

Rare diseases are a special field in medical-pharmaceutical research and treatment today. "Rare" means that no more than five in 10,000 people suffer from a particular disease. Patients affected by a rare disorder are often severely restricted, both physically and in their social life, and require a high level of social and medical care.

But what do we know about Rare Diseases in the past, so-called Ancient Rare Diseases, and above all how can we define and diagnose them in skeletal human remains?
This question was investigated by Dr Katharina Fuchs who works as physical anthropologist at the the Institute of Clinical Molecular Biology at Kiel University. Using the disease history of a male individual from the North Caucasus Bronze Age (ca. 2200 to 1650 BC), she came to the conclusion that the criteria for Rare Diseases used today cannot simply be transferred to the past. The recently published study in the International Journal of Paleopathology shows that not only the diagnosis of Rare Diseases and the calculation of incidences and prevalence, i.e. frequency, are challenging for the researchers. Individual impairment and the degree of social integration and support are also difficult to reconstruct.

There are many conclusions that the anthropologist K. Fuchs can draw from the skeleton of the man from the Caucasus that she examined as part of the study: Since his youth, he suffered from a rare hip disorder, the Legg-Calvé-Perthes Disease, and he had a limping gait due to this inwards twisted leg. Moreover, as an adult he survived severe fractures of his skull and thigh. Apart from this, the wear patterns of his teeth show that he used them as tools during working processes, as was customary. Also, from the objects that he was buried with can be inferred that he did not hold a particularly high social position.
"Taken together, the results show that this man was important to society. The fractures he endured required a high level of care. He probably survived his injuries because his fellow human beings took care of him. This gives us an idea of how people in the North Caucasus treated each other 4,000 years ago and how they treated someone who was physically limited for most of his life", Fuchs explains. Such considerations go beyond the topic of Ancient Rare Diseases, but illustrate the social dimension of their investigation.

Another result of the study is that the criterion of "rarity" in relation to Ancient Rare Diseases cannot be defined by rigid thresholds. The fact that a disease is rare today does not necessarily mean that it was rare in the past. Depending on the causes for the emergence of a disease, the aetiology, the occurrence, disappearance and, most interestingly, the change from a rare to a common disease pattern are subject to social and human ecological dynamics. This is a finding of modern medicine, which identifies lifestyle and external influences as important components.

Research into Rare Diseases of the past is therefore also relevant for our understanding of today’s diseases. One of the co-authors of the study, Dr Julia Gresky from the German Archaeological Institute, stresses: "Since its foundation in 2019, the research of the ‘Ancient Rare Diseases’ workgroup also has the task to reach people who are affected today. We hope to contribute to public awareness by pointing out that humankind has always been confronted with Rare Diseases – but also that being affected does not have to mean social isolation".

The study was supported by the Cluster of Excellence ‘ROOTS’ and the Collaborative Research Centre ‘Scales of Transformation’ at Kiel University. Both projects focus on the research of human environmental interactions in past times and societies.  

You can find the German version of this news here

Original publication:

Fuchs, K., Biaslan, A., Witzmann, F., Gresky, J., Towards a definition of Ancient Rare Diseases (ARD): Presenting a complex case of probable Legg-Calv´e-Perthes Disease from the North Caucasian Bronze Age (2200-1650 cal BCE). International Journal of Paleopathology 32 (2021) 61-73. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpp.2020.11.004


Scientific contact:
Dr. rer. nat. Katharina Fuchs
Institut für Klinische Molekularbiologie

Press contact:
Angelika Hoffmann
Research focus officer SECC/JMA


In addition, you can find a video on this topic here

rare diseases
Right and left femoral bones of the male individual from the North Caucasus. The bones exhibit pathological changes examined in the study.
© Katharina Fuchs, Institut für Klinische Molekularbiologie

rare diseases
The North Caucasus Mountain Range in what is today the Kabardino-Balkaria region. Bronze Age societies inhabited these landscapes.
© Katharina Fuchs, Institut für Klinische Molekularbiologie

Why did the European oyster disappear from the North Sea?

Historical oyster shells from the collection at the Zoological Museum in Kiel, created between 1868 and 1885 by the natural scientist Karl August Möbius (© Jutta Drabek-Hasselmann, Zoologisches Museum, Uni Kiel).

For the first time, an interdisciplinary research team decodes the historical genetic diversity of the European oyster with the aid of museum collections.

The European oyster was fished in abundance and eaten with gusto and therefore a major economic factor for the northern German region in the 19th century. In 1868, with the aim of boosting its population in the shallow coastal waters, the Prussian government commissioned a detailed study of the mollusc species led by Karl August Möbius, Professor of Zoology in Kiel. For this purpose, Möbius created an extensive collection of oyster shells, which contained around a thousand specimens from the North Sea, from along the Atlantic coast and from the Mediterranean. With his investigations into how oysters develop in mutual dependence on other animals and plants in their habitat, Möbius became a founding father of modern ecology.

The new study emphasizes the importance of Möbius’ oyster collection for current biodiversity research. “The carefully documented collection offers unique research material, especially for modern scientific methods,” stressed Dr Dirk Brandis, Director of the Zoological Museum and lecturer at Kiel University. It was one of the first museums ever to examine historical collections with regard to their genetic information. "Thanks to proper storage, the extensive material and the experience of the IKMB, with whom we collaborated on the genetic analysis, we were able to trace the relationships of the European oyster," says marine biologist Sarah Hayer, first author of the study and a doctoral student at Brandis at the Zoological Museum.

Surprising regional differences in genetic material

“These type of historical sequencing involves a lot of effort because a large amount of the historical DNA decomposes over the years. With these oyster shells, however, we were able to achieve amazingly good results,” said Professor Ben Krause-Kyora, Director of the Ancient DNA Laboratory at the IKMB. The research team was surprised at how different the oysters from individual regions were genetically. “Because normally the sea current in coastal regions enables exchange between populations and so their genetic structure ought to be relatively similar,” said marine population geneticist Dr Christine Ewers-Saucedo from the Zoological Museum, who is leading the study.

According to one finding from the study, the oyster specimens from the Wadden Sea were genetically significantly different from those in other areas. The research team regarded this as an indication of how well the European oyster adapted over the course of time to the extreme living conditions in the Wadden Sea with its heavily fluctuating water levels, temperatures and salt contents. But this appears to have been the cause of its downfall, too, they assume. It seems it was no longer able to adapt flexibly to climatic changes and novel pathogens and finally died out in the Wadden Sea, accelerated by the heavy overfishing in the 1930s. “This also explains why later attempts at establishing a population there from other areas of Europe were not successful – these oysters did not have the right genetic requirements,” said Ewers-Saucedo.

Taking genetic factors into consideration in current re-establishment projects

Möbius' oyster collection not only enables extraordinary insight into the past, but also provides new findings for current re-establishment projects. “Oyster beds offer unique habitats and they secure loose sediment or slow the current,” said Ewers-Saucedo, highlighting the importance of oysters for marine ecosystems. The research team recommends that if the European oyster is to be re-established in the Wadden Sea, genetic factors need to be considered too.

“With the decoding of the genetic diversity of the European oyster, this study also demonstrates the unique scientific value of the museum’s natural history collections,” said Brandis. He and the team at the Zoological Museum are currently preparing an exhibition to show how museums are conducting research with the aid of their collections. This will also include examples from Möbius’ oyster collection.

In the clean room at the IKMB, Sarah Hayer, a PhD student in marine biology, prepares oyster shells up to 150 years old for genetic analysis (© Ben Krause-Kyora).

Unterwater image oysters bed (© Stephane Pouvreau; Ifremer
. https://doi.org/10.24351/48842)

The study was supported by the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS “Social, Environmental, and Cultural Connectivity in Past Societies” from Kiel, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). It was developed within the framework of the research project “Historical collections of marine organisms – a window into the beginnings of Global Change in the North and Baltic Seas”, which was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Alongside Kiel University’s Zoological Museum and the Ancient DNA Laboratory, Senckenberg – Leibniz Institution for Biodiversity and Earth System Research (SGN), the German Primate Center and the Verbund der deutschen Nord- und Ostseesammlungen (NORe e.V.) (association of German North Sea and Baltic Sea collections) are also involved in the joint project.

Original publication:

Hayer, S., Brandis, D., Immel, A., Susat, J., Montserrat Torres-Oliva, M., Ewers-Saucedo, C., Krause-Kyora, Ben  et al. Phylogeography in an “oyster” shell provides first insights into the genetic structure of an extinct Ostrea edulis population. Sci Rep11, 2307 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-82020-x

Read more:
Recently, the Kiel researchers ruled out the American slipper snail as the cause of the oyster mortality: https://www.uni-kiel.de/en/university/details/news/365-oyster-deaths

Scientific Contact:
PD Dr. Dirk Brandis brandis@zoolmuseum.uni-kiel.de

You can find the german version of this press release here

Holism in Ancient Medicine and Its Reception / Chiara Thumiger (ed.)

ThumigerThis new volume, edited by Chiara Thumiger, a ROOTS research associate in the subcluster Knowledge ROOTS (link), aims at exploring the ancient roots of ‘holistic’ approaches in the specific field of medicine and the life sciences, without overlooking larger theoretical implications of these discussions. The project expands the perspective and includes larger cultural discussions and, in a comparative spirit, reaches out to some examples beyond Graeco-Roman medical cultures. As such, it constitutes a fundamental contribution to the history of medicine, the philosophy of medicine, cultural studies, and ancient studies more generally. The wide-ranging selection of chapters offers a comprehensive view encompassing an exciting new field: the interrogation of ancient sources in the light of modern concepts in the philosophy of medicine, as a justification of the claim for their enduring relevance as an object of study as well as a means to enable a more adequate contextualisation of modern debates within a long historical process.


Thumiger, Chiara (ed.): Holism in Ancient Medicine and its Reception. Brill (2021), 448 pages.
The book can be viewed here (Brill).


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