Black Gold: Educational film on bucket flotation for archaeobotanical investigations

Black Gold
As a by-product of research on social and agricultural transformations in the Late Bronze Age archaeobotanist Wiebke Kirleis together with her team has produced an educational film documenting archaeobotanical sample preparation.
The 11 minute short film shows the individual steps that each archaeobotanical sample has to go through – step by step and meticulously explained, understandable for pros and laymen alike. The advantage of bucket flotation presented here is that samples can be mudded near the excavation site – even in extremely shallow waters.  Another advantage: instead of a 10-litre bucket full of sediment, only a sample bag with a sip of water needs to be brought to the lab. At the Institute for Prehistory and Protohistory, the samples are washed, dried, and eventuelly sorted and determined under the binocular microscope.
With this educational film, there is a digital format is available that can be used to prepare practical archaeobotanical exercises and archaeological excavations at universities, and can also be used for museum education and in the archaeo:lab (link to ROOTS website and link to Forschungswerkstatt).
The search for old plant remains, i.e. archaeobotanical analyses, allows us to decipher the diet of the time and make statements about agriculture. In this case, the cooperation between archaeologists and archaeobotanists expands the knowledge about an archaeological site and the living conditions and makes it possible to understand how everyday life was organised at that time.
The film which comes in a German and an English version was made during an excavation in Dobbin (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania) under the direction of Jutta Kneisel. 

The English version:

The German version:

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Find more information on the Botanical Platform here

Contact: Prof. Dr. Wiebke Kirleis wiebke.kirleis@ufg.uni-kiel.de

Plague case 5000 years ago in Latvia: No evidence of an epidemic at the time

ancient DNA

Skull bones of the man who was buried in Riņņukalns, Latvia, around 5000 years ago. The research team has discovered the plague pathogen in these bones (photo: Dominik Göldner, BGAEU, Berlin).

A research team from Kiel University in Germany has found new clues to the evolution of the pathogen, based on DNA from a 5000-year-old plague case.

The plague, which caused a pandemic in the late Middle Ages, leading to an estimated 25 million deaths worldwide known as the "Black Death", is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis (Y. pestis), which occurs especially in rodents and can be transmitted to humans by fleas as well as from person to person. Recent studies have shown that the pathogen already infected humans much earlier, but how exactly it evolved, and when it became dangerous for humans are the subject of current scientific research. A team from Kiel University (CAU), in collaboration with the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology (ZBSA), Schloss Gottorf, and the Institute of Latvian History of the Latvian University of Riga (LVI), has now discovered the genome of the plague pathogen in the remains of a man who lived in what is today Latvia around 5000 years ago. The analyses provide insight into the very early stages of the evolution of Y. pestis. Contrary to what was previously assumed, the results show that the bacteria already infected people at the beginning of the Neolithic Period, but probably had only a limited potential for infection, so that they could not yet spread in epidemic proportions. The team published their results today in the scientific journal Cell Reports.

The researchers examined the remains of four individuals who were all buried in the same place in Riņņukalns, Latvia, around 5000 years ago. "Previously, little was known about the hunter-fisher-gatherers who lived in north-eastern Europe at the time, and about their exposure to infectious diseases," explained coordinating author Professor Ben Krause-Kyora, biochemist and archaeologist at the Institute of Clinical Molecular Biology (IKMB) at the CAU and member of the Clusters of Excellence "Precision Medicine in Chronic Inflammation" (PMI), "ROOTS – Social, Environmental, and Cultural Connectivity in Past Societies“ as well as in the Collaborative Research Centre 1266 „Scales of Transformation“ (CRC 1266). Using special analysis methods established in Kiel, the team investigated the ancient DNA from the human remains, such as teeth and bones, for bacterial and viral pathogens. They identified parts of the genome of Y. pestis, the plague pathogen, in a male individual.

Since after so many years the DNA in the bones is only present in small pieces, the scientists had to reassemble the genome of the bacterium from the individual fragments. They analyzed the reconstructed genome along with genetic information from more recent plague strains to find out where the Latvian strain comes from, and how and when it evolved. They dated the origin of this pathogen strain to the beginning of the Neolithic Period around 7000 years ago. The strain investigated is thus the earliest to date in the evolution of the plague pathogen. "Our estimate is around 1000 years earlier than previously assumed," said co-initiator Dr. Harald Lübke, researcher at the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology, Schloss Gottorf, and member of the CRC 1266.

The starting point for the work was the scientific assumption that plague epidemics did already occur during the Neolithic Period. "We were looking for factors that enable pathogens to trigger epidemics in general. We wanted to investigate this in more detail, based on the plague pathogen," explained Krause-Kyora. "However, contrary to expectations, our data does not support the previous hypothesis of a pneumonic plague pandemic during this period. In contrast, our analyses suggest that this very early form of the plague pathogen was probably less transmissible, and possibly also less virulent, than later strains," added Krause-Kyora. Rather, the geographical and temporal distribution of the few prehistoric plague cases reported so far suggests individual so-called zoonoses, i.e., infections in which the pathogen was passed directly from animals to humans. The pathogen only later developed the potential to trigger an epidemic or even a global pandemic. "From an archaeological perspective, this finding is important because it suggests that infections with the plague bacterium did not lead to large-scale transformative social or political changes in the Neolithic," said Professor Johannes Müller, spokesperson of the CRC 1266, the ROOTS Cluster of Excellence, and director of the Institute of Pre- and Protohistory at Kiel University.

"The results contribute also to a better understanding of how zoonoses have arisen and continue to arise, and how this in turn can develop into epidemics and pandemics," said Professor Stefan Schreiber, spokesperson of the Cluster of Excellence PMI, director of the IKMB and also director of the Department of Internal Medicine I at the University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein (UKSH), Campus Kiel.

Research into ancient human DNA and old pathogens in general can also provide more information about modern diseases, such as chronic inflammatory diseases. While infections were a major challenge to the human immune system in the past millennia, due to living conditions such as hygiene and nutrition, nowadays it is more common for a dysregulated immune system to cause chronic inflammations. There could very well be an evolutionary link between the two aspects. "We can better understand modern diseases of the immune system and their origins, if we know more about the pathogens that used to be particularly challenging for the human immune system. Therefore, their research has long been an important focus in the Cluster of Excellence PMI," said Schreiber.

The project was supported by the Cluster of Excellence "Precision Medicine in Chronic Inflammation" (PMI), the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS, the Collaborative Research Centre 1266 "Scales of Transformation"; the archaeological research on the Riņņukalns site is part of the research project "Riņņukalns, a Neolithic freshwater shell midden site in northern Latvia and its significance for cultural development of the Eastern Baltic Stone Age" of the ZBSA in cooperation with the LVI; all funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

ancient DNAJawbone of the man who was buried in Riņņukalns, Latvia, around 5000 years ago. The research team has discovered the DNA of the plague-causing pathogen in this material (photo: Dominik Göldner, BGAEU, Berlin).

ancient DNA
The Ancient DNA Lab which is the specialized laboratory for ancient DNA, is part of the Institute of Clinical Molecular Biology at Kiel University (CAU). Its core is the cleanroom, which is needed to process the tiny amounts of highly degraded DNA that are typically found in ancient skeletal remains (photo: B. Krause-Kyora, Kiel university).

Lettland
The Riņņukalns site, a Stone Age shell midden on the banks of the Salaca River near the outflow from Lake Burtniek (photo: Harald Lübke, ZBSA, Schloss Gottorf).

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Find the German version here

Contact:
Prof. Dr. Ben Krause-Kyora b.krause-kyora@ikmb.uni-kiel.de
Institute of Clinical Molecular Biology (IKMB)
Kiel University (CAU) and University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein (UKSH)

Original publication:
Susat et al.: A 5,000-year-old hunter-gatherer already plagued by Yersinia pestis. Cell Reports (2021). https://www.cell.com/cell-reports/fulltext/S2211-1247(21)00645-8 DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2021.109278

Oliver Nakoinz, new Professor for Quantitative Archaeology at Kiel University

NakoinzThe Kiel archaeologist, Oliver Nakoinz, has been appointed to a professorship of quantitative archaeology at Kiel University (photo: private).

Appointment strengthens research area at the Kiel Institute for Prehistory and Early History

The Kiel archaeologist and member of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS, Dr. Oliver Nakoinz, has been appointed to an "außerplanmäßige" professorship for quantitative archaeology at Kiel University (Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel). In addition to his merits in archaeological research and teaching, his international reputation in the field of spatial-statistical archaeology was particularly decisive for the appointment.

As a scientist in the Johanna Mestorf Academy of the Kiel Institute for Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology, Nakoinz is responsible for numerous projects. Among other things, his ground-breaking studies on spatial communication patterns in Celtic Southern Germany, which deal with the formation and networking of fortified Iron Age settlements, are to be highlighted. In addition, he heads the Integrated Research Training Group (IRTG) as well as a modelling project in the Kiel Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) 1266 and, together with the University of Cambridge, a CRC project on the interaction between Northern Italy, Southern Germany and Northern Germany in the 1st millennium BCE. The renowned book series “Quantitative Archaeology and Archaeological Modelling”, published by Springer, was developed by Nakoinz.
“The appointment as a professor of quantitative archaeology strengthens the development of this research area”, remarks Nakoinz happily. Quantitative archaeology addresses the structures, which are more or less concealed in archaeological data. These structures are made visible with mathematical and statistical concepts and, together with archaeological theories, generate new knowledge about the past.

One area of quantitative archaeology is pathway research. In this context, terrain data is used to calculate how a route between two locations should be theoretically conceived. “If you compare these theoretical paths with empirical evidence, such as burial mounds that can indicate paths, you can validate how well different models are adapted to reality. From this, one can infer which aspects were considered in prehistory when selecting a route,” explains Nakoinz. The models can convey the meaning of the empirical results. “This enables us to more easily understand why people in prehistory acted in a certain way,” explains the archaeologist.

For decades, quantitative archaeology has been implemented at Kiel University and, in the meantime, Kiel has developed into a leading location in this field, which is reflected, among other things, in the Initiative for Statistical Analysis in Archaeology Kiel (ISAAK) and in the newly founded Center for Interdisciplinary Data Science (CIDS). The participation of quantitative archaeology was also decisive for the approval of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS and the SFB 1266, two scientific collaborative research projects funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

NakoinzA Bronze Age tumulus at Danish Wahld in Schleswig-Holstein. Such burial mounds, which are assumed to be located in the vicinity of prehistoric paths, can serve as criteria for theoretical models in pathway research (photo: Oliver Nakoinz).

Nakoinz
Simulation of prehistoric settlement sizes, which illustrates different developments for different locations (photo: Oliver Nakoinz).

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Find the German version here

Scientific contact:
Prof. Dr. Oliver Nakoinz oliver.nakoinz@ufg.uni-kiel.de (Institute for Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology)

Press contact:
Angelika Hoffmann ahoffmann@roots.uni-kiel.de (Research focus officer SECC/JMA)

2021 ROOTS Retreat

retreat

The 2021 ROOTS Retreat took place in digital form on 27 and 28 May 2021 with the participation of more than 80 members of the cluster. The purpose of this meeting was to strengthen communication between the research units by focusing on the interlinkage groups and the overall research questions of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS. The six exciting interlinkage groups address overreaching themes, defined as “Mobility and Migration”, “Routes and Networks”, “Resources and Economy, “Ideology and Identity”, “Waste/Abfall”, and “Past-Past & Past-Present”. The intensive discussions, which took place during the retreat, enabled the participants to undertake joint research and plan co-authored papers or other publications, including booklets on specific topics. We expect that these discussions will lead to cutting-edge approaches to unveil and reconstruct past socio-cultural-environmental connectivities.

Stay tuned for more developments of the interlinkage groups.

Classical Archaeology at Kiel University launches new Master's programme in the winter semester

Classical Archaeology MasterThe Temple of Hercules (2nd century AD) in the heart of modern Amman is the most impressive remnant of the ancient city of Philadelphia (photo: Patric-Alexander Kreuz, Kiel University).

The material culture of antiquity is the subject of the new single-subject Masters programme "Classical Archaeology" at Kiel University. With the start of the coming winter semester, students will receive a theoretically and methodologically reflected, contextual approach. The aim of the new Master's programme offers to students the opportunity to build a profile in the breadth of research and knowledge transfer in the subject of Classical Archaeology by deepening their knowledge of monuments, applying sophisticated analytical methods and interpretative research approaches, as well as in expanding their practical skills and experience.
This single-subject Master's programme complements the already established two-subject Master's programme in Kiel. With its orientation, it considers the central focal points of classical archaeological research in Kiel and ensures a close interlocking of research and teaching.
With several sub-projects, Classical Archaeology is also involved in the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS as well as in the Collaborative Research Centre TransformationsDimensions. Students can thus gain insights into or actively participate in research activities at various stages of their careers. `

More information on this new Master´s programme can be found in the press release (in German) here

Classical Archaeology Master
Villa dei Misterii, Pompeii (photo: Annette Haug, Uni Kiel).

Johannes Müller awarded with Humboldt Fellowship for Swedish-German Cooperation

Swedish-German Science Cooperation
Johannes Müller from the Institute for Prehistory and Early History at Kiel University, Germany. Prof. Müller is speaker of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS and the Collaborative Research Center "Scales of Transformation". (Photo: Sara Jagiolla UFG Kiel)

Award for Johannes Müller

The Swedish Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (RJ) has awarded Johannes Müller, Speaker of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS, the 30th Humboldt Fellowship for outstanding German researchers. The award is granted annually on the recommendation of Swedish universities to researchers who have fostered the research cooperation between Scandinavia and Central Europe and presented excellent scientific results on topics of Swedish and German research. The RJ is an independent Swedish foundation with the aim of promoting the humanities and the social sciences.

Müller was nominated for the award by the University of Gothenburg, with whose Institute of Historical Sciences the Kiel researcher maintains scientific contacts on the archaeology of the Scandinavian and European region. Archaeological research in Gothenburg is characterized by projects on past societies that use novel methods to investigate the human-environment interaction of past societies. It thus has a similar focus to the successful Kiel archaeological collaborative projects.

"Archaeology in its holistic and long-term historical perspective, especially as a humanities and natural science, offers the opportunity to better understand the challenges of the modern world," Müller explains the scientific context. "Especially in collaboration with Gothenburg, we have shown that modern historical and archaeological research must answer questions about the sustainability of societies, conflict resolution and social inequality in an interdisciplinary way. We know that awareness of the past always has a political dimension. Instead of focussing on foreignness, violence, and disintegration, it is precisely the new results of archaeological research that make us aware that diversity, integration, and the desire for peace have always been crucial to human beings and human societies."

Since the beginning of April, Johannes Müller has now been at Gothenburg University to intensify the joint research work within the framework of the existing Swedish-German cooperation and to participate in several working groups. The research fellowship covers all costs of his six-month stay.

Swedish-German partnership with tradition

The University of Gothenburg is a partner in the Cluster of Excellence "ROOTS – Social, Environmental, and Cultural Connectivity in Past Societies" and in the Collaborative Research Center 1266 "Scales of Transformation: Human-Environmental Interaction in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies." The collaboration will also extend to Müller's project on the archaeology of vision, funded by the European Research Council under an ERC Synergy Grant, which closely cooperates with the Gothenburg ERC Synergy project "From Correlation to Interpretation of Prehistoric Societies."

How close the cooperation between German and Swedish archaeological and anthropological research has always been is also demonstrated by the CV of the name bearer of the Kiel Johanna Mestorf Academy. The Kiel archaeologist Johanna Mestorf (1828-1909), one of the first museum directors in Germany and the first woman in Prussia to be awarded the title of honorary professor at Kiel University, had become acquainted with essential aspects of scientific archaeology in Sweden and had worked in both Scandinavian and German-speaking countries.

Indeed, structural aspects of science systems are important to Müller in addition to issues of content. "In Germany, around 92 percent of scientists and scholars at universities currently work on fixed-term contracts. This two-tier society in science is the major deficit in Germany's otherwise positive development as a science location. I am curious to see whether Scandinavian universities offer possible solutions on this issue," says Müller. Overall, the stay in Gothenburg is intended to be a window to further develop institutional and scientific networking between Kiel and Gothenburg.

Swedish-German Science Cooperation
It is inherent to archaeology that it is anchored in the cultural and the natural sciences alike. Excavations, such as that of a 5300-year-old megalithic tomb in Wangels, Schleswig-Holstein, form the basis for the database that major projects in both Gothenburg and Kiel work with. (Photo: Sara Jagiolla UFG Kiel)

Scientific contact:
Prof. Dr. Johannes Müller
Institute for Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology
johannes.mueller@ufg.uni-kiel.de

Find the German version here

Let's get digging!

Exciting discoveries in the earth: schoolchildren will be able to carry out experiments on all aspects of archaeology at Kiel University's new archäo:labor.

Lets get diggingYoung archaeologists find real pottery shards in the archaeo:lab's excavation site. For this purpose, the team has recreated vessels with patterns from the Neolithic and destroyed them (photo: Kieler Forschungswerkstatt).

How did people live in the Neolithic Age and the Bronze Age? What did they eat? What did their houses look like? And where were the toilets? Schoolchildren from fifth to seventh grade can find the answers to these and many other questions at Kiel Science Factory's archäo:labor, a laboratory for schoolchildren run jointly by Kiel University and the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education (IPN). After the Easter holidays, the new specialist laboratory team will begin conducting its archaeological experiments in collaboration with the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS.

"Ab in die Grube" (let's get digging) is the name of the project on the grounds of the Botanic Gardens at Kiel University. Next to the Kiel Science Factory building, an excavation site is ready and waiting for the school classes. School children will go on a discovery tour of the earth set out under a tent roof to protect the young researchers and any finds from the weather. They will use trowels, sieves and planning frames just like Kiel University's experts on their digs. "We have buried a series of finds in the excavation site for the schoolchildren to discover and identify," explained IPN researcher Dr Katrin Schöps, who is responsible for the archäo:labor. The team has filled the excavation site to the brim with detailed finds. The experts made their own Stone Age-style ceramic vessel and then smashed it to create fragments that are as authentic-looking as possible for the specialist laboratory.In one corner of the excavation site, a fireplace was filled with charred plant remains, while in another the fabric remains of pieces of clothing were placed, worn by Bronze Age people who lived in imaginary moorland close by.

"By conducting experiments on all the finds, the school children will be able to draw conclusions about life in the Neolithic Age and the Bronze Age, so between around 4,100 and 500 BCE. In the Neolithic Age, hunters and gatherers became settled farmers and herders," explained archeobotanist Dr Walter Dörfler of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS at Kiel University. In the Cluster of Excellence, researchers from the humanities and natural sciences as well as the life sciences and engineering work closely together. They are studying the social, cultural, ecological and economic aspects of past societies.

"The results of our interdisciplinary research form the basis of the content and structure of the archäo:labor," said Dörfler. Five modules were created covering the basic human needs of housing, food, clothing, environment and social interaction, which the school classes will work through in small groups. "The module on social interaction considers the fragments of pottery and the function of ceramics in the past and present," explained Dörfler. The unearthed pottery pieces not only reveal the types of vessels people used in Schleswig-Holstein, they are also evidence of interaction with other regions.

Pollen samples are analysed in the module on the environment. As explained by pollen expert Dörfler, schoolchildren can draw conclusions about certain plant species from these analyses. What did the landscape look like at that time? Was the house in a forest, heathland or arable land? And what does that signify for the food people ate?

Schöps is particularly excited about the module on housing. For this module, the team printed a large-scale outline plan of a Stone Age house found during an excavation. Dark marks on the ground are indications of pillars and walls, fireplaces and waste pits. "The children will have no luck finding a bathroom here," laughed Schöps. "The bathroom question always comes up."

Documentation is the most important task for any young archaeologist. "Regardless of whether this is during the dig, during the experiments or when working under the microscope: observation notes are the be all and end all for experts," said Dörfler and Schöps. "Of course, primarily our work is about making exciting discoveries, but we also document, scrutinise and critically analyse the finds." This is what the everyday life of the university researcher entails. The modules have already been tried and tested within the framework of teacher training sessions and now await the arrival of the schoolchildren.

For the time being, the programme offered by archäo:labor is geared towards the fifth to seventh grades of community and grammar schools. Programmes for higher grades are currently being developed.

Author: Jennifer Ruske

Information and contact:
www.forschungs-werkstatt.de
Tel. 0431 / 880-5916
info@forschungs-werkstatt.de

 

This article appeared on the Uni Zeit #106. You can find the link to the German version of this article here

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