Stormy fieldwork on Hallig Hooge

Wadden Sea
The North Sea waves wash over the low summer dike of Hallig Hooge during storm (picture: Bente Majchczack).

During the first week of May 2021, members of the ROOTS Wadden Sea Project (link) and colleagues from the DFG Rungholt-Project conducted a week of geophysical fieldwork on Hallig Hooge, one of the small tidal islands in the German North Frisian Wadden Sea.
In search of High Medieval settlement remains, the team took advantages of favorable tides to continue last year's prospections (link) in the tidal flats surrounding Hooge. The activities started with unforeseen difficulties: on the first day, westerly winds prevented a tidal creek from running dry, denying access to a promising portion of the tidal flats.
In this area, a previously unknown Medieval dike had already been mapped with the implementation of high-precision drone photography. The intention was to study the dike in more detail. Unfortunately, the vagaries of the tides prevented the measurement and proved once again that the Wadden Sea is a difficult and unpredictable landscape for research.
In the following two days, the westerly winds ran up to gale force 10. The water level rose steadily until the waves of the North Sea occasionally crashed over the Hallig's low summer dike. For the team, this was a special opportunity to imagine the living conditions of the Medieval settlers: What was it like in the 14th century to stand on a terp during a storm and watch the water pound over the protective dike? What was it like to not know if the dike could withstand the storm or whether the terp would prove to be built high enough? This was a truly immersive experience of human-environmental relations for the team!
Despite the storm, it was possible to carry out measurements on the Hallig. An early Medieval site could be surveyed with electromagnetic induction (EMI) and ground penetrating radar. What the magnetics already indicated as a possible dwelling mound was revealed as a rectangular elevation below the younger Hallig sediments. According to earlier pottery finds, this could be one of the oldest settlements dating to the 8th/9th century AD, when settlers first had to react to rising water levels and frequent flooding by building terps. A first archaeological excavation on the site is scheduled for July 2021.
By Thursday, the storm had calmed down and it was possible to resume measurements in the tidal flats. As historical records report, a church parish called Hooge was lost to the great storm flood of 1362. During the 1970s, numerous graves were found south of Hooge on the bank of a tidal creek, revealing the location of a former church terp. In 2020, it was possible to map the entire terp site using magnetic gradiometry. Besides the high Medieval terp, numerous traces of younger peat quarries and a dyke structure were identified. During this first 2021 field season, it was possible to refine these previous measurements with EMI, getting a more precise picture of the dike structure associated with the peat quarries and parts of the terp. As the Medieval settlement structures continue in several directions underneath the tidal flats, there is much more potential for further detailed prospections: stay tuned!

Wadden Sea
Dennis Wilken and Bente Majchczack performing EMI measurements on a typical peat quarry site near Hallig Hooge (picture: Ruth Blankenfeldt, ZBSA).

The Wadden Sea project is currently receiving media coverage:
15.05.2021: The first fieldwork in March 2021 led the team into the famous Rungholt-tidal flats near Hallig Südfall and was extensively covered in the Saturday-issue of all sh:z newspapers ("Die mühsame Suche nach den Spuren Rungholts", in Schleswig-Holstein am Wochenende 15./16.05.; page 4-7).
23.05.2021: Radio-feature about the nature and history of the Halligen and the Wadden Sea with coverage of the Rungholt-research: Deutschlandfunk, "Sonntagsspaziergang" at 11:30am-1:00pm
25.05.2021: Radio-feature about one century of Rungholt-research up to the latest advancements in geophysical and geomorphological methods: WDR-5, "neugier genügt" at 10:04am-12:00pm



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