Tracing past cultures with cutting-edge technology

Institute of Geosciences at Kiel University hosts the 15th International Conference on Archaeological Prospecting (ICAP2023)

The team of "Applied Geophysics" from the Institute of Geosciences of the CAU during marine magnetics measurements in Elaia, Turkey.(Photo: Wolfgang Rabbel)

Spades, trowels and brushes are the classic tools of archaeology. To this day, they are indispensable for excavations. But in the meantime, high-precision prospection technologies such as georadar, magnetic field measurements, seismics or lidar lasers have become at least as important for the study of past epochs. Not only do they help to prepare excavations, but with additional data they themselves considerably expand our knowledge about earlier cultures and societies.

From 28 March to 1 April, more than 120 experts from 20 countries will meet at the Kiel University (Germany) for the 15th International Conference on Archaeological Prospection (ICAP). They will exchange information on current developments in various prospection methods, on technical and methodological innovations and on the processing and visualisation of the resulting data. This year, the conference, which takes place every two years, is organised by the Institute of Geosciences (IfG) of Kiel University, supported by the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS.

"Of course, archaeology cannot do without excavations. But geophysical methods can, for example, cover much larger areas with comparatively little effort and thus reveal complete settlement structures that would otherwise remain hidden in the ground," explains geophysicist Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Rabbel from the IfG, conference chair and co-spokesperson of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS.

Thanks to great advances in data analysis in recent years, seismics can now resolve fine structures deep in the ground and thus identify details of past human activities, adds Professor Rabbel.

Close cooperation between geophysics and archaeology has a long tradition at Kiel University. In particular, the Applied Geophysics Group headed by Wolfgang Rabbel is regularly involved in the investigation of archaeological sites, from the North Frisian Wadden Sea to the Mediterranean or Egypt, for example.

Fitting to this year's conference location Kiel, ICAP 2023 will also focus on marine and wetland prospecting. These areas pose a special challenge for several reasons: Visibility underwater is limited, sensitive sensors must be protected from moisture or salt water and electromagnetic signals hardly transmit in water.

"Here at Kiel University we have the great advantage that there is a focus on both marine research and archaeology. So we can learn from each other across disciplinary boundaries and further develop methods for different areas," says Wolfgang Rabbel.

In keeping with this focus, an excursion to the Viking Age site of Haithabu on the Schlei near Schleswig will complete the programme.  

"We are already very much looking forward to the exchange with colleagues during ICAP 2023 and to the suggestions and impulses we can gain," says Professor Rabbel.


Thanks to geomagnetic measurements, long-submerged settlements in the North Frisian Wadden Sea can be recorded. (Photo: Wolfgang Rabbel)

The team of the "Applied Geophysics" of the CAU during seismic measurements in the vicinity of the ancient city of Pergamon near the modern city of Bergama, Turkey. (Photo: Wolfgang Rabbel)


Fieldwork + Activities


Participating Institutions