3DARK DEPTH - Describing, Discussing and Developing Analytical Research Knowledge of the Dark Earth Phenomenon in Theory and Practice

Sampling of a garden layer in Bardowick (Lower Saxony) for detailed laboratory analyses. Photo: Jens Schneeweiß.

In the centre of the interdisciplinary research project is Anthropogenic Dark Earth (ADE). This term is not precisely defined. It describes strikingly dark-coloured anthropogenic soils that are characterised by great thickness, a high organic matter content and an apparently homogeneous structure. Such soils are found in many chronological and geographical contexts. Often they are associated with far-reaching cultural-historical implications: as the basis of a pre-Columbian civilisation (Terra Preta); as the subject of social and gender studies (African Dark Earth); as markers of late antique transformation of urbanity (Roman Dark Earth) or as a key element of Viking-age subsistence economies (Nordic Dark Earth, Palaeo-Urbanozeme) – to name but a few examples. Moreover, there is hope that the "Magic Earth" can help solve some of our current environmental problems in a sustainable way. But, the phenomenon of the Dark Earth is not yet fully understood. The project will use the potential of Roots to conduct, develop, present and discuss its own research on the Northeast European Dark Earth. An international interdisciplinary workshop will bring together representatives from different research fields to formulate current research questions and common standards, as well as document the current state of research in a proceedings publication. The "Anthropogenic Dark Earth Colloquium (ADEC)" will take place in October 2022. There are already commitments from leading specialists from eight countries. In the colloquium, we will present our own research on Nordic Dark Earth. Nordic Dark Earth was first described in 2015 at a Slavic settlement site in Lower Saxony. (1)  In a plant trial, quantitative data on the yield of rye, panicle millet and lens are being collected in the CAU's Archaeolab in the Botanical Garden in order to determine the real yield potential on this soil. These are crops typical for the Slavs of the 10th century. The yield (the harvest), the total biomass produced and the distribution of isotopes in soil and plant are measured. In addition, a Hortisol in Bardowick was extensively sampled as a general reference to the Dark Earths. This is a late medieval-modern garden soil from a town that lived from vegetable cultivation from its destruction in the 12th century until the 20th century, i.e. the formation conditions of the soil are largely known. A comprehensive analysis design, which goes far beyond the standard soil analysis repertoire with micromorphology, archaeobotany and soil DNA analyses, enables the comparison with different Dark Earths on several levels. The project is scheduled for two years and will be completed in 2023.


K. Wiedner, J. Schneeweiß, M. Dippold, B. Glaser, Anthropogenic Dark Earth in Northern Germany – The Nordic Analogue to terra preta de Índio in Amazonia?, Catena Special Issue: Man versus Nature: natural and anthropogenic footprints recorded in soils. Catena 132 (2015), 114–125.


This project evolves from cooperation between the ROOTS subclusters Conflict, Hazards, Urban, Inequality, and Dietry.

Involved ROOTS members:
Jens Schneeweiß: jschneeweiss@roots.uni-kiel.de
Eileen Eckmeier: eeckmeier@ecology.uni-kiel.de
Pawel Cembrzynski: cembrzynski@roots.uni-kiel.de
Ben Krause-Kyora: b.krause-kyora@ikmb.uni-kiel.de
Wiebke Kirleis: wiebke.kirleis@ufg.uni-kiel.de


External Collaborator:
Frank Schlütz (NIhK)


Fieldwork + Activities


Participating Institutions