Fieldwork and Activities

Our team in Mongolia: Field research on urban sites during the Corona Pandemic

Figure 1: Copter flight of the ruins of the Manchu military garrison Uliastai, Zavkhan aimag, Mongolia, September 2020. Doctoral student Enkhtuul Chadraabal (Kiel University) and Mongolian cooperation partners from the Mongolian Academy of Sciences (Photo: G. Odmagnai).

The Mongolian-German research project “Abandoned cities in the steppe: Roles and perception of Early Modern religious and military centres in Nomadic Mongolia”, funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation (link) and associated with the Urban ROOTS subcluster (link), focuses on the study of the emergence and reception of permanent settlement structures in Central Mongolia, which emerged during the reign of the Manchurian Qing dynasty between the 17th and early 20th centuries AD.
Although the Mongolian-German excavation and survey campaign had to be cancelled in summer 2021 due to the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, part of the planned fieldwork could still take place in autumn 2020, when Enkhtuul Chadraabal, PhD candidate in the project, was able to enter Mongolia as a Mongolian citizen. Thus, together with research assistants E. Urtnasan and G. Odmagnai of the Mongolian partner institute, Enkhtuul succeeded in carrying out photogrammetric documentation of the Manchu military city of Uliastai in the Zavkhan Province by copter flights and by creating a 3D digital elevation model of this outstanding modern urban centre (Fig. 1). The city of Uliastai was founded by the Manchurians as a military garrison in 1733 during the Qing reign. It quickly developed into one of Mongolia’s most important political centres and a significant place of economic and cultural life. The city also forms the starting point of the development of today’s modern city (Fig. 2).
In addition, two other Manchu-period sites in the vicinity of Uliastai were flown over and documented. The high-resolution 3D models and the aerial photographs now provide new and detailed information about the structure and location of the Manchu military garrison of Uliastai. These rich datasets will be evaluated and analysed over the next months and they will serve to identify the building structures in more detail when planning future excavations on the site (Fig. 3).

Report: Enkhtuul Chadraabal, PhD student, Institute for Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology, Kiel University.
Collaborators: E. Urtnasan, G. Odmagnai, Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Department of History and Ethnology, Ulaanbaatar; M. Oczipka, University of Applied Sciences, Dresden.MongoliaFigure 2: New aerial photo of the Manchu military garrison of Uliastai, September 2020 (Photo: Ch. Enkhtuul).

Figure 3: 3D elevation model of the Manchu military garrison Uliastai, based on imagery documented during the field work (Graphics and model: M. Oczipka / HTW Dresden).

Burial mounds reloaded: Geophysics and Social Archaeology

TumulusFigure 1: GPS measurements (Photo: W. Rabbel)

The oldest burial mounds in Central Europe are located in the Mittelelbe-Saale area, Germany. Here, Copper Age societies erected corresponding symbols of power for a socially outstanding group around 3700 BCE. Some of these burial mounds were already excavated at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. One of the oldest burial mounds in Central Europe is the Schneiderberg of Baalberge (Saxony-Anhalt, Germany). The place “Baalberge” gave its name to the first metal-producing culture in Central Europe. The mound is now being reinvestigated in the frame of ROOTS by researchers of the subcluster ‘ROOTS of Inequalities’ (link) and the Technical Platform (link) in cooperation with the State Office for Archaeology of Saxony-Anhalt.

The Schneiderberg mound still measures 6m high and 50m in diameter. Investigations of the mound started in September 2020 with non-invasive geophysical deep soundings, including ground radar, electric resistivity tomography and seismic wave sounding. In combination with the information from the old excavations, the measurements suggest that the mound may consist of different construction phases. These will be investigated further in the future. The social archaeological studies will focus on whether the size of the burial mounds is the product of a centuries-long hill biography or whether such an imposing monument was already erected for one person by a group around 3700 BC.

For further information, please contact Prof. Dr. Johannes Müller or Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Rabbel


Grabhügel reloaded: Geophysik und Sozialarchäologie

Die ältesten Grabhügel Mitteleuropas befinden sich im Mittelelbe-Saale-Gebiet. Hier errichteten kupferzeitliche Gesellschaften für eine sozial herausragende Gruppe um 3700 v. Chr. entsprechende Symbole der Macht. Bereits am Ende des 19. und zu Beginn des 20. Jahrhunderts wurden einige der Grabhügel angegraben.
Einer der ältesten Grabhügel in Mitteleuropa ist der Schneiderberg in Baalberge (Sachsen-Anhalt, Deutschland). Der Ort „Baalberge“ wurde für die erste metallproduzierende Kultur Mitteleuropas namengebend. Hier wird der Grabhügel zurzeit im Rahmen von ROOTS durch Mitglieder des Subcluster ‚Social Inequality‘ (Link) und der technischen Plattform (Link) in Kooperation mit dem Archäologischen Landesamt Sachsen-Anhalt neu untersucht.

Der Schneiderberg ist heute noch 6 m hoch und hat einen Durchmesser von 50 m. Die Untersuchungen begannen im September 2020 mit zerstörungsfreien geophysikalischen Tiefensondierungen, unter anderem mit Bodenradar, elektrischer Widerstandstomographie und Durchschallung mit seismischen Wellen. In Verbindung mit den Informationen aus den Altgrabungen deuten die Messergebnisse daraufhin, dass der Grabhügel aus mehreren Konstruktionsphasen bestehen könnte, die weiter untersucht werden sollen. Im Rahmen der sozialarchäologischen Studien geht es darum, ob die Größe der Grabhügel Produkt einer jahrhundertelangen Hügelbiographie ist oder ob bereits um 3700 v. Chr. ein solches imposantes Monument für eine Person von einer Gruppe errichtet wurde.

Kontakt: Prof. Dr. Johannes Müller oder Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Rabbel

TumulusTumulusFigure 2 & 3: Seismic measurements (Photo: W. Rabbel)


Figure 4: First results of geoelectric measurements (Sep. 2020) combined with the excavation section of Paul Höfer (1901) (E. Erkul)

TumulusFigure 5: Elektrik measurements (Photo: E. Erkul


Figure 6: Magnetic measurements (Photo: E. Erkul)TumulusFigure 7: Georadar measurements (Photo: E. Erkul)

Mountains, mires, metal pollution: investigating past sulphidic ore mining in the Arlberg Alps

With accelerating speed and intensity, humans have used, altered and polluted alpine landscapes and ecosystems by hunting, livestock management and the extraction of natural resources. Despite their idyllic appearance, the Alps are nowadays a largely cultural landscape, full of mostly invisible scars by quarries, pits, shafts, fires, deforestation and soil erosion – not to speak of the touristic overuse in recent times.

This summer, while public life and research all over the world were still frozen by the pandemic, peatlands in the Alps were unimpressed and just went on growing – burying and storing carbon and information since the last glacial maximum. In spite of the circumstances, a small team led with Clemens von Scheffer, member of the ROOTS Hazards Subcluster (Link), managed to do fieldwork in the Austrian Alps. The mires they headed for are located close to St. Christoph am Arlberg in the Verwall area, at ca. 2000 m elevation, where only marmots, chamois and occasional hikers, but no viruses, roam. Only 100 years ago, mining operations for ores rich in zinc, lead, arsenic and iron were finally given up here. Yet still today, disintegrating stone buildings, shafts, buddle pits, bare mine dumps and thriving Silene rupestris – a heavy metal indicator plant – bear witness to the operations. While written proof goes back to the end of the Middle Ages, evidence of earlier extraction is inexistent.

Disturbed by cold rain and mosquitoes, the team was able to take several core profiles in direct proximity of the old mines. Back in Kiel, the process of drawing secrets from the old wounds of the murky depths of these mountain peatlands has begun. Not only will the geochemical analyses provide indications for episodes of heavy land use and, potentially, prehistoric mining but also reveal the environmental legacy of these past operations – heavy metal pollution adsorbed to humic substances and to countless tiny moss leaves.

For further information, please contact Dr. Clemens von Scheffer by sending an email to cscheffer(at)

AlpsFigure 1: Cored peatland (left), buddle pit and stone building (right) at St. Christoph am Arlberg. Photo by Clemens von Scheffer.

AlpsFigure 2: Preparing to take the third meter with a Russian peat corer. Photo by Clemens von Scheffer.

AlpsFigure 3: Freshly cored, well-preserved mossy peat. Photo by Clemens von Scheffer.

AlpsFigure 4: Pushing the corer into the mire by hand. Bare mine dump in the background. Photo by Clemens von Scheffer.

ROOTS Social Inequalities Forum: Tales from the Burial Mound

In three sessions, Julian Laabs, Henny Piezonka, Johannes Müller and Andrea Ricci will present a newly established database on burial mounds. The aim of the database is to gather standardized information on as many Eurasian burial mounds as possible as a proxy of social inequality between the Atlantic and Central Asia, from the 5th to the 2nd millennia BCE. The size of the monument itself is seen as representing the economic strength of the deceased or the successors. Data entry is still ongoing. 

The project will be further developed in discourse within the ROOTS Social Inequalities Forum. See also: Link

These three sessions of the Social Inequalities Forum will take place from 10 to 11.30am on Tuesday, October 20, October 27, and November 10.

Uc Tepe
Figure 1: the kurgans of Üçtəpə in eastern Azerbaijan (photo: A. Ricci).

Ethnoarchaeology during Corona times: “Remote” fieldwork in Siberia and “hands on” research on Sami reindeer herding in Finland

Dietary ROOTS PhD candidate, Morgan Windle, was able to participate in an exciting field expedition with colleagues from the University of Oulu to Kilpisjärvi, Lapland, Finland at the end of July, adding to her original travel agenda to the Taiga of Western Siberia (postponed due to the Corona virus) as a part of her doctoral project Human-reindeer interactions in contemporary and ancient Siberian communities (supervised by Prof. Henny Piezonka and Prof. Cheryl Makarewicz).
Our Russian partners were able to carry out the planned expedition to the Taz Selkup communities on the lower course of the Pokal‘ky River in the forest zone of Western Siberia (in association with Henny Piezonka’s project Ethno-archaeological research among the Selkup, a mobile hunter-fisher community in Siberia). Here, families continue to practice mobile hunter-fisher lifeways and incorporate small-scale reindeer herding in their subsistence economy for transport purposes. The objectives of this trip were to document processes of incorporating reindeer husbandry in an economic system otherwise based on foraging, to document known archaeological and ethnographic sites, and to conduct further ethnoarchaeological research via interviews, artefact documentation, as well as participant observation of practices among the Selkup families. In doing this, Aleksandr Kenig and his team were able to circumvent Morgan’s absence and collect data particularly pertinent to her project with the aid of Taz Selkup family members (Fig. 1-2).

Morgan Windle
Figure 1: Russian partners and Selkup family members collecting hair samples from the herd on Morgan's behalf (photo: A. Kenig).

Morgan Windle
Figure 2: Selkup family member collecting hair samples from the herd for isotopic analysis (photo: A. Kenig).

While Russian colleagues were in Siberia, Morgan was in Kilpisjärvi. The aims of this fieldwork were to understand the status of reindeer herding in this part of Lapland (Fig. 3-4) with an emphasis on Sami practices and the tensions between the inhabitants of the tourist town of Kilpisjärvi and indigenous reindeer herders (Fig. 5). Additionally, explorations of the Mallan luonnonpuisto (Malla Strict Nature Reserve) were carried out in search of remnants of bunkers (Fig. 6) and prisoners of war camps from WWII – all of which occupy an important traditional grazing space for reindeer, but which herders are no longer allowed to access legally. For Morgan, she was especially interested in learning from the local Sami reindeer herders (Fig. 7), who grew up in mobile families and could provide insights into the old ways of Sami herding strategies. Additionally, unlike the dense forest of the Siberian taiga, the open upland tundra landscape provided Morgan with the opportunity to understand the potential differences between human-reindeer systems within a more global perspective.

Morgan Windle
Figure 3: One of the many young reindeer that Morgan encountered in Finland (photo: M. Windle).

Morgan Windle
Figure 4:  A herd of reindeer that was encountered on the customs platform between the Finnish and Norwegian borders (photo: M. Windle).

Morgan Windle
Figure 5: View of Kilpisjärvi's most prominent feature in the landscape, the Saana fell (photo: M. Windle). Morgan Windle
Figure 6: Scraps from WWII bunkers on the north side of the Saana fell (photo: M. Windle).

Morgan Windle
Figure 7: One of the reindeer herders who Morgan met on her fieldtrip during an interview on his property (photo: M. Windle).

During particular outings with herders, she not only visited spaces for reindeer milking that were historically used by the Sami people when they were still mobile pastoralists a few decades ago but also observed the traditional round-up spaces for slaughter (Fig. 8) and earmarking (Fig. 9). Notably, cross-cultural interest in Morgan’s work was displayed by the reindeer-herders during these dialogues, in which they were interested in hearing from Morgan about Siberian herding and the endurance of traditional lifeways on the Siberian tundra and taiga. This was an unexpected result of Morgan’s visit in Finland, which demonstrated the impacts of ethnographic fieldwork, i.e. that the investigations on reindeer herding are not only an exercise relevant to scientific research but also for the indigenous communities themselves. It was an incredibly fruitful trip for the project as it yielded additional interregional insights on reindeer husbandry in northern ecosystems and provided an opportunity to enhance the ethnoarchaeological fieldwork required to understand reindeer domestication, while also becoming more informed on circumpolar indigenous issues outside Morgan’s study area and her home country of Canada.

Morgan WindleFigure 8: Traditional place for Sami people to slaughter reindeer, which is now used to round up herds to send them to EU slaughterhouses (photo: M. Windle).

Morgan WindleFigure 9: Camp platform where reindeer-herding families live during the earmarking round-up season. Sitting optimally high in the open tundra, families are able to watch over their herds during this busy time when the herd is separated and marked (photo: M. Windle).

Acknowledgements: The field trip to Northern Finland was hosted by the Departments of Cultural Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Oulu in collaboration with the ERC and the Academy of Finland funded project "Domestication in Action" (DiA). Morgan would like to thank Hannu I. Heikkinen (Cultural Anthropology), Vesa-Pekka Herva (Archaeology), and Mathilde van den Berg (DiA doctoral student) for leading the field organization. Thanks are also extended to Aleksandr Kenig (Archaeology and Ethnoarchaeology), Andrei Novikov (Archaeology and Ethnoarchaeology) and their teams for carrying out data collection on Morgan’s behalf on the taiga during their field research. We are greatly indebted to the Selkup partners for kindly sharing their expertise and resources. Finally, Morgan would like to thank her supervisors Henny Piezonka and Cheryl Makarewicz for their continued support amidst the difficulties during Corona times. Without their encouragement and creative problem solving, these two advancements in Morgan’s work would not have been possible.

History of wood exploitation in the Southern French Alps: Modelling of man-environment relationships at local scales

wood exploitation
wood exploitation
Fig. 1 and 2: In the small village of Courbons (900 m a.s.l., near Digne-les-Bains city), the beams of the stables are very often made of oak, which was at least a hundred years old when they were felled. Nowadays, such big trees are no longer present in the forests of the region.

As part of the Subcluster ‘ROOTS of Socio-Environmental Hazards’ (link), several dendrochronological sampling campaigns have taken place in France since February 2020 under the direction of Dr. Lisa Shindo (contact: The first campaign took place in the ancient theatre of Orange. More on this part of the project can be seen in a short video, in French, which was made for the website of Orange city (link). The following campaigns were conducted in mountain houses and churches at 600-900 m altitude in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (Fig. 1) and at 1100-1700 m altitude in the Hautes-Alpes (Fig. 2). In total, more than 15 mountain buildings dating from antiquity to modern times were studied. Dendrochronological analyses are still in progress, however, we can already deliver first results: in the wood-frames of the Hautes-Alpes buildings (at higher altitudes), only larch (Larix decidua Mill.) could be detected, whereas in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (at lower altitudes), the species are more varied. In particular, there are beautiful oak (Quercus sp.) beams in the stables, i.e. in the oldest levels. Nowadays, however, in the local forests there are no more living oaks that can produce such beams. This means that oak may have been over-exploited at one time, leading to its rarefaction.

An abstract of the paper for the annual conference of the Association for Tree-ring Research can be found here (link). The presentation “Well-designed mountain houses feature the only dated Pinus Sylvestris timbers in the southern French Alps” can be viewed online (link). A detailed article on this study will be published in the coming months.

Furthermore, together with Walter Dörfler and Ingo Feeser from the Institute of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology, Kiel University, we will conduct sedimentological, palynological and dendrochronological analyses this autumn in order to study annual sedimentary layers of lakes in northern Germany. The aim of this investigation is to identify events common to several lakes as well as characteristic years.

wood exploitationwoodFig. 3 and 4: In the hamlet of Dormillouse (1700 m a.s.l., near Briançon city), the large barns built in the upper levels of the houses are only made of larch. Large quantities of hay were stored there to feed the animals in winter.

Georadar investigations in the Casa del Citarista in Pompeii

Georadar PompeiiThe georadar team at work, Insula del Citarista (I 4), Pompeii. Photo: Tobias Busen, Kiel University.

In the framework of the project ‘The Insula del Citarista (I 4) in Pompeii’ (Link), which is part of the subcluster ‘Urban ROOTS’ (Link), fieldwork took place during the first week of September 2020. The aim of this study is to investigate earlier buildings covered by the extensions of the Casa del Citarista, which occupied large parts of the city block in its last building phase. For this purpose, a team from the Applied Geophysics group of Kiel University (Link) investigated the different areas of the house by means of radar technology (GPR). The results of this study will be discussed and combined with all the available evidence regarding the building phases of this important domus that have been compiled thus far.

Georadar PompeiiThe georadar team at work, Insula del Citarista (I 4), Pompeii. Photo: Tobias Busen, Kiel University.

The Wadden Sea Project starts geophysical investigations

Wadden SeaThe geomagnetic team at work on the tidal flats near Hooge. Photo: Ruth Blankenfeldt, ZBSA.

The Wadden Sea Project, as part of the Subcluster ROOTS of Socio-Environmental Hazards (Link), started its fieldwork last July with two short geophysical measurements on the tidal flats near the small North Frisian island of Hallig Hooge.

Hooge is one of the small islets (“Halligen”) in the Wadden Sea without a protective dyke. The marshland of the island is therefore open to the sea and often flooded during storm surges, forcing the inhabitants to settle on high terps. This way of life does not differ much from that of the early settlers during the High Medieval period, when the marshlands around Hooge had a much larger extent than today. In 1362, the “Grote Mandränke” flood significantly impacted the area, whereby large portions of the land were submerged and turned into tidal flats, leading to large losses of settlements and cultivated marshes.
Applying geomagnetic gradiometry, electromagnetic induction and drone photography, the first geophysical campaign of our project set out to find traces of the High Medieval settlements in the tidal flats south of Hooge. The starting point was an archaeological area documented in the 1970s, when erosion uncovered remains of a terp and several graves, which led to the assumption of the presence of a church. The results of our investigations surpassed all expectation. The geomagnetic prospections documented archaeological structures with high visibility and clarity. Three closely connected terps show traces of buildings and rectangular graves, and possibly also a west-to-east aligned outline of what might have been a church building. Furthermore, the surroundings of the terps show dense signatures of peat quarrying, probably dug in the aftermath of the inundation of the cultural landscape.
Further activities included measurements at the on-land site of an early medieval settlement and an excursion to further early- to high medieval sites on the tidal flats. Hooge has proven to be an excellent test area to map and analyse settlements of various periods and we look forward to the results of the next campaigns.

Wadden Sea Geomagnetic prospections on the tidal flats near Hooge. Drone photo: Dirk Bienen-Scholt, municipality of Hooge.


Fieldwork + Activities


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