Enthusiasm, Excellence and Elections: the 2020 ROOTS Plenary Meeting

ROOTS Plenary Meeting 2020On Friday, December 11, the annual ROOTS Plenary Meeting took place. Due to the current SARS-CoV-2 situation, the meeting convened virtually. With the participation of up to 110 attendees, the ROOTS development of 2020 was reflected. In his report, the ROOTS speaker, Johannes Müller, illustrated how, despite the difficult situation, field and laboratory work took place as well as workshops, colloquia and other public events, which were held hybrid or virtually under the changed conditions. Furthermore, both popular and scientific publication formats were established and printed. He especially thanked the ROOTS PhDs, PostDocs and Young Research Group Leaders for the high level of their commitment and engagement. The interlinkage groups and the joint discourses on social, environmental and cultural connectivity are being pushed forward with full steam. The highlight reports of the individual Subclusters, Platforms, Reflective Turn Forum and Young Academy were enthusiastic. A true palette of diverse activities emerged, ranging from material analyses in the technical laboratories to palaeoenvironmental reconstructions in the Alps.
In the second part of the general meeting, the members elected the new speaker team and the members of the board for the next two years (see below). With an overwhelming majority, Ilka Parchmann and Wolfgang Rabbel were respectively elected and re-elected as the co-speakers as well as Johannes Müller as the speaker of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS. The individual board members were confirmed in their positions or newly elected.
During the third part of the plenary meeting, the introduction of the new members and their perspectives for ROOTS followed with enthusiasm and impressive research inputs.
Longer than expected, the meeting ended after more than 4 hours, with best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year!
Many thanks are extended to Romy Plath and Andrea Ricci for organising the virtual event in such a fine manner.

The results of election can be viewed here.

ROOTS Plenary Meeting

ROOTS Doodle

Gerda Henkel Grant awarded to ROOTS members Marta Dal Corso and Stefan Dreibrodt

Tall Zirā'aAerial view of Tall Zirā'a in 2004 (Photo: D. Vieweger, German Protestant Institute of Archaeology in the Holy Land in Jerusalem/Amman)

Congratulations to Marta dal Corso and Stefan Dreibrodt, members of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS and of the Subcluster ‘ROOTS of Socio-Environmental Hazards’ (link) and ‘Dietary ROOTS’ (www.cluster-roots.uni-kiel.de/en/about_roots/subclusters/diets), for their new project grant from the Gerda Henkel Foundation (link) on high-resolution palaeoecological studies at Tall Zirā'a, Jordan (ENVHIST I@Tall Zirā'a).

Tall Zirā'a is a key archaeological site in northwest Jordan, located where the Wādī al-'Arab descends to the great depression of the Jordan Valley and the Sea of Galilee. As a consequence of uninterrupted settlement activity over the last 5000 years, from the Early Bronze Age until the Islamic Period, a 20 m-thick archaeological stratigraphy accumulated at Tall Zira'a. In the centre of the tell, a spring-fed travertine sequence is preserved. The analysis of this archive is the focus of this new project that combines the study of the archaeological record with high-resolution palaeoenvironmental data.

The project ENVHIST I@Tall Zirā'a has been developed in collaboration with Dieter Vieweger, director of the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology in the Holy Land in Jerusalem/Amman (link). This institute is in charge of excavations at the site. A field campaign is planned for spring 2021. This will focus on drilling the travertine sequence and searching for palaeoenvironmental archives in the surrounding landscape. Overlapping sequences of the travertine deposition and additional samples from the tell layers and the surrounding landscape will be the objects of multi-proxy analyses in the labs of Kiel University. Here the samples will be dated and investigated with palaeobotanical methods and stable isotope analyses.

The presumed continuity of the travertine deposition and its proximity to the settlement makes it an excellent archive of Holocene Levant environmental history. Palaeobotanical analysis of plant remains (pollen/NPPs, phytoliths, macroremains) from the travertine sequence is expected to deliver a high-resolution record of settlement activity and Holocene vegetation history at Tall Zirā'a. Stable isotope analysis combined with facies studies of the travertine sequence is expected to result in a high-resolution palaeoclimate record concerning the precipitation for the region. All records, which can be directly connected to existing palaeoenvironmental data from the surroundings, will provide promising data to yield a better understanding of the environmental history since late prehistory in a landscape known as the Holy Land in the bible.

For further information, please contact Dr. Marta dal Corso mdalcorso@ufg.uni-kiel.de or PD Stefan Dreibrodt sdreibrodt@ecology.uni-kiel.de by email.  
Additional details about the project can be found here

Tall Zirā'aPotential of prospected archives of human-environmental interrelation at Tall Zirāʿa

Tall Zirā'aAerial view of Tall Zirā'a (Photo: D. Vieweger, German Protestant Institute of Archaeology in the Holy Land in Jerusalem/Amman)

Radio Interview with Bente Majchczack on the Archaeology in Wadden Sea

Bente Majchczack

Bente Majchczack, member of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS and of the subcluster ROOTS of Socio-Environmental Hazards, will present his Wadden Sea Project in an interview during the radio program “Moin! Schleswig-Holstein - Von Binnenland und Waterkant“, NDR 1 Welle Nord (link), on Tuesday, November 24, between 7 and 10pm.

You can follow the program online here

3rd North German Stone Age Round Table

Stone ageStudying lithic artefacts together

On November 27th from 10am-3pm, the 3rd North German Stone Age Round Table organised by members of ROOTS subcluster Knowledge ROOTS and the B1 and C1 projects of the CRC 1266 will take place in a BigBlueButton room hosted by Kiel University.
The North German Stone Age Round Table brings together about 20-30 experts every year on the Friday before the 1st Advent weekend. Young and experienced scholars from higher education, research, museum, and government departments who are interested in Stone Age topics or work on current research projects, theories, museum projects, and theses related to the Stone Age of Northern Germany (Lower Saxony, Bremen, Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Brandenburg, Berlin) meet here. In particular, this informal meeting is intended to provide an opportunity for discussion, exchange, and networking, which is why the lectures are explicitly kept short in order to provide sufficient time for questions and thoughts.

After Rostock (2018) and Wilhelmshaven (2019), the Stone Age Round Table was supposed to take place at Kiel University in 2020. However, due to the current provisions for containing the pandemic, the meeting had to be converted to an online format. At present, 10 lectures (see programme) covering topics from the Palaeolithic to the Bronze Age and 22 participants from seven institutions are registered. Interested colleagues are welcome to attend and may contact Sonja B. Grimm (sonja.grimm@zbsa.eu) or Moiken Hinrichs (mhinrichs@roots.uni-kiel.de) for further details.

The program of the Round Table is available here

DFG grant awarded to ROOTS member Chiara Thumiger

Celio Aureliano, De morbis acutis et chronicis, Amsterdam, Wetstein, Rudolph & Gerard, 1722

Congratulations to Chiara Thumiger, member of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS and research associate in the Subcluster “Knowledge ROOTS” (link), for her new project grant from the German Research Foundation (DFG) on ‘Mental Health in Late Antique Medicine: Caelius Aurelianus on Mental Disorders’.

The investigation that Chiara will conduct as a PI in the next three years concentrates on the history of concepts, representations and methods of management of mental health and mental disorder in Antiquity. This research is pursued by focussing on the work of Caelius Aurelianus, a fifth-century AD North African (Numidian) medical writer belonging to the Methodist tradition. Caelius Aurelianus produced a major nosological work in Latin, which contains extremely rich material for a history of ancient medical thought on mental health.

The aim is to comprehensively analyse the development of medical ideas about mental health in the work of this important author, who has not yet received the focused scholarly attention that he deserves. The project will explore the diseases of mental import that Caelius Aurelianus describes (the classic ones – phrenitis, mania, furor and melancholia – as well as those that rather show his innovative approaches) and highlight the larger theoretical questions that he poses when it comes to mental and bodily health, to the causation of mental diseases, and to therapeutical possibilities. It is expected that this research will decisively contribute to current historiographies of ancient medical cultures, filling an important gap in the studies of ancient medicine.

In the framework of this project, a call for a doctoral research position (m/f/d) has just been posted (deadline: 31 Dec 2020): link
An interview with Chiara is available here: link and you can contact her at: cthumiger@roots.uni-kiel.de

Ignacio Mundo, JMA Chairholder (Nov 2020-Feb 2021)

Ignacio MundoIgnacio Mundo is the holder of the JMA chair of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS for the next three months until February 3, 2021. He comes from Argentina, where he is an Adjunct Professor in plant biology at the Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences of the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo at Mendoza as well as an Adjunct Researcher of CONICET (National Scientific and Technical Research Council of Argentina) at the dendrochronology lab IANIGLA (Argentinean Institute of Snow, Glaciers and Environmental Sciences).
Ignacio studied forestry at the Faculty of Agronomical and Forestry Sciences of the Universidad Nacional de La Plata (Argentina). After completing his forestry degree and during his PhD and post-doc at the dendrochronology lab IANIGLA, he focused on the application of dendrochronological techniques for the study of disturbances in Patagonian forests of Southern Argentina. He has been mainly interested in studying fire regimes related to human influence and climate variability and its consequences on forest dynamics. He has used dendrochronological methods to reconstruct the occurrence of disturbances over the last 500 years, implementing annual resolution from scars and other wood traits. In addition, dendrochronological methods have allowed him to better understand the influence of climatic variability on the growth of Patagonian species and forest decline processes.
Ignacio MundoIgnacio Mundo

Furthermore, he also participated in regional reconstructions of temperature, river streamflow and the Southern Annular Mode (SAM), a climate forcing that plays a major role in climate variability in the higher latitudes of South America. During recent years, he has been interested in developing an innovative dendrochronological technique called blue light reflectance (blue intensity) in tree rings as a proxy of wood density. In the framework of this research effort, he has collaborated with European colleagues in an inter-comparison and calibration density study, also adjusting the technique for Patagonian conifers.
In parallel, he has developed interdisciplinary research with Argentinean archaeologists since 2009, developing dendroarchaeological studies on shipwrecks for the first time in Argentina. The purpose of this interdisciplinary research is to provide dendrochronological dating for the construction and provenance of wooden shipwreck remains from the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries found on the South Atlantic coast in the Buenos Aires, Chubut and Tierra del Fuego provinces.
As the holder of the JMA chair of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS, Ignacio will offer classes on dendrochronology for PhD candidates and he will also collaborate in research activities within the Hazards subcluster during the next months.Ignacio Mundo


You can contact him at: iamundo@mendoza-conicet.gob.ar

Is our visual sense manipulated? ERC Synergy Grant awarded to Johannes Müller

Together with scientists from the universities of Santiago de Compostela, Spain, and Brighton, Great Britain, Professor Johannes Müller, archaeologist at Kiel University (CAU) and speaker of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS, has been awarded a grant for an innovative research project, which will be funded by the European Research Council (ERC) of the European Union over the next six years with around ten million euros.

Under the title "Material Minds", the scientists want to investigate the link between material culture and human activity from the Paleolithic Age to the Middle Ages in different forms of society. They assume that "materiality", i.e. everyday objects and the built environment, plays a role in our knowledge processing that is comparable to that of language.

"Through their design and effect, objects embody standards and ideas, but also our traditions," explains Müller. "Seeing" is not something objective, but rather changeable. It depends on the contexts in which we live, but also on the power relations that determine us. Standardized visualization determines the mind and can serve as a means of exercising power".

The basis of the project is a database that depicts visual and perceptual behavior in different social and historical contexts. In a pilot study, the researchers investigated the visualization of ceramics and monuments of prehistoric European societies with the help of so-called eye-trackers, among other things, which are used to capture the gaze. They found that obviously very different, standardized eye movements are generated, depending on what is socio-ecologically constitutive for societies. In fact, they recognized neurological changes that not only influence 'seeing', but normalize it. From this observation, the relevance of the project for contemporary societies can be deduced. It examines material culture and representationalism as areas of danger and opportunity and explores the question: Is our vision manipulated and if so, how?

Over the next six years, the international team of researchers will conduct numerous case studies for prehistoric and ethnoarchaeologically ascertainable contemporary societies of different character. They expect fundamental results on questions of social research, historiography and art appreciation. Archaeologist Müller explains: "The project focuses on the potential for action of reification in world history. This is of great relevance, especially in today's world, where communication takes place less and less via writing and where perception plays a key role in digital technologies, as we can see from the current pandemic debate".

The interdisciplinary research project, which is funded by an ERC Synergy Grant and involves not only archaeologists but also a philosopher and a neurologist, combines the life, cultural and natural sciences in a new way. "With archaeology, a science is integrated which, like no other, explores material culture also in its temporal dimension. With neurology, the connections between visualization and brain development can be investigated. And with modeling philosophy, an implementation of both paths of knowledge with a socially comprehensive claim is envisaged", notes archaeologist Müller from the Kiel Institute for Pre- and Protohistoric Archaeology.

The proposal entitled: "XSCAPE: Material Minds: Exploring the Interactions between Predictive Brains, Cultural Artifacts, and Embodied Visual Search" has successfully passed a three-stage review process and is the first ERC Synergy Grant for Schleswig-Holstein ever. A total of 438 applications were submitted, 35 of which were selected for funding, corresponding to an approval rate of eight percent. Four scientific teams are involved in this project, which will be funded with almost ten million euros over six years, including 2.2 million euros for the CAU. Two of the teams are from the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas Spain. They are led by Luis M. Martinéz and Felipe Criado-Boado, who is also responsible for coordinating the project. The other two teams are located at the University of Sussex, Great Britain, under the leadership of Andy Clark, and at the CAU under Prof. Johannes Müller.

ERC Synergy Grants are the only funding instrument of the EU that allows collaborative research without thematic restrictions. Together with the relatively long funding period of six years and a generous budget of ten million euros for a maximum of four teams, it makes it one of the most sought-after funding instruments in Europe and worldwide. However, only outstanding researchers who jointly devote themselves to a project that leads to discoveries at the interfaces between established disciplines and to substantial progress at the frontiers of knowledge are eligible for funding. Only very few applications fulfill these requirements, which is why ERC Synergy Grants are among the most prestigious awards in science.

You can read the German version of this press release: here

  The ERC is linked to field research in different parts of the world. For example, investigations in the Indian-Burmese border region are being continued, which have already been conducted by Kiel University in recent years. The picture shows archaeologist Johannes Müller, one of the principal investigators of the proposal, during an interview (photo: Sara Jagiolla).

ERC also investigates the visualization of architecture. The picture shows the door of a house in a village in the southeast Indian mountain region. The scientists want to decipher the effect of coded abstraction, here originally combined with elements of "head hunting" (photo: Sara Jagiolla).

  Objects from prehistoric times, such as these rich furnishings from the Bronze Age, are examined for their visual impact using eye-trackers (photo: Sara Jagiolla).

Eye tracking will play a central role in the ERC project. In a pilot study, corresponding processes were applied to the so-called Bell Beaker ceramics (approx. 2400 BC) Eye tracking processes will play a central role in the ERC project. In a pilot study, corresponding methods were applied to the so-called Bell Beaker ceramics (ca. 2400 BC). (Photo: Felipe Criado-Boado, Santiago de Compostela).

To the press release of the European Research Council (ERC): here

Additional information on this project can be found also here


Presentation by Henny Piezonka on long term hunter-gatherer histories in Siberia

Hunter gatherer histories in Siberia

Prof. Henny PIezonka, PI of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS and professor of Anthropological Archaeology at Kiel University and will present the results of her work on long term hunter-gatherer histories in Siberia at the University College Dublin “Hunter Gatherer Research Group” Autumn Seminar Series 2020.

Her presentation “Hunter-gatherers in N Eurasia: Transcontinental connectivities from the deep past to the present” will take place on Wednesday, November 4, 1-2pm (GMT).

The seminar will be hosted via ZOOM.
To register or for further information, email ucdhuntergatherers@gmail.com

All are welcome!

Steinzeitlive Arche Warder, Sunday, October 11, 2020

Steinzeit Live

On Sunday, October 11, it is “Steinzeit Live” and the Stone Age settlement of Arche Warder comes to life again. The culture and life of the first farmers in Northern Germany more than 5,000 years ago will be recreated in the Stone Age Village with many exciting activities. Archaeologists and researchers from Kiel University will present and offer insights into their archaeological research. Scientists of archaeozoology and isotope research, environmental archaeology and archaeobotany from the Excellence Cluster ROOTS and the Institute of Pre- and Protohistoric Archaeology will be happy to answer your questions. How did the people of Northern Germany in the Neolithic period live? How did they feed themselves 5,000 years ago? Which plants did they used? Questions are to be investigated both playfully and scientifically at various stations. The Kiel research workshop with the archaeo:laboratory will also be displaying facial urns. 

Tours to the Stone Age houses will start at 12 and 14 o'clock. Please register in advance: registration is possible for time between 11 and 13 o´clock and between 13.30-17 o´clock. Simply send an email to klingel@arche-warder.de

For more information (in German): Link

People in ROOTS: Guillermo Torres

Guillermo Torres

The People in ROOTS series proceeds with an interview of Guillermo Torres, one of the associate researchers of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS

Guillermo, you began your postdoctoral work in the framework of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS in 2020. Can you tell us something about your planned research in Kiel?
My research within ROOTS focuses on the study of a human niche and modifications of the human gene-pool introduced by alterations in diet and lifestyle along the construction of this niche. Over the last 15,000 years, humans have passed through important transitions that significantly contributed to the construction of their own niche. One of these major transitions was the Neolithic Period which occurred about 10,000 to 6,000 years ago. This period was marked by the beginning of agriculture and the domestication of animals as food sources and, in turn, by the consumption of a diet rich in cereals as well as milk and meat. This dietary transition from the (non-cereal-eating) hunter-gatherer lifestyle to the Neolithic lifestyle occurred in a short lapse of time (~500 generations), and it introduced a tremendous selection pressure on our ancestors who had not yet been genetically adapted to the new diet. Additionally, when the nomadic hunter-gatherers turned into sedentary farmers, their lifestyles were characterised by overcrowded settlements, close contact with domestic animals and a lack of hygiene. Such dramatic and rapid changes in lifestyle, a rather unbalanced and pro-inflammatory nutrition together with an increased exposure to infectious agents contributed substantially to the shaping of our modern gene-pool.

More specifically, what are your main lines of research?
With the transition from nomadic to sedentary lifestyles, humans were exposed to dietary and immunological challenges. Therefore, one line of my research aims to investigate shifts in diversity patterns of immunological stressors. This is done by analysing metagenomes from human bones, dental-calculus, and other environmental sources (e.g. soil, birch pitch, fossilised biofilms). The second research line aims to investigate human genetics to discover signatures of selection related to shifts in dietary patterns and/or immunological stressors. This is done by comparative genomics using whole genome sequencing and customised genotyping arrays.

Career life before ROOTS: what were the main stations and milestones of your career path so far?
In 2009, I completed my Bachelor of Science in Biology at the Institute of Geneticsof the National University of Colombia. My bachelor thesis focused on the evolution of proteins playing a role in coral’s immunity to pathogens. In 2014, I received my Master of Science in Biology from the Institute of Biotechnology with a major in genetics. For my thesis, I developed a bioinformatic tool that creates an in-silico microarray to analyse soil metagenomics and metatranscriptomics from sequencing libraries. In 2015, I moved to Germany and started my doctoral studies at the Institute of Clinical Molecular Biology of Kiel University. In 2019, I completed my PhD thesis, which was titled “From hydra to humans – Insights into molecular mechanisms of aging and longevity”.

Life beyond ROOTS: what do you like to do beyond your research?   
I like to spend time with my family. In my free time, I enjoy playing football, visiting historic places, and taking landscape photographs. Besides these activities, I never say no to a cup of coffee with cookies.  

Guillermo Torres is a research associate with the ROOTS subcluster “Dietary ROOTS” (link).

You can contact him at: g.torres@ikmb.uni-kiel.de

On the trail of pandemics. NDR SH Magazine reportage and studio talk with Johannes Müller


Researchers of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS have followed the tracks of pandemics with investigations on what caused diseases to break out more than ten thousand years ago and, above all, how people dealt with them in order to overcome pandemics. On Thursday, October 1st, NDR Schleswig-Holstein Magazine reported on the results of this research with interviews with researchers of Kiel University, including historians, archaeobotanists, anthropologists and experts in genetic research, as well as in a studio discussion with Professor Johannes Müller, archaeologist and speaker of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS. On Saturday, October 3rd, a second reportage on this topic was broadcasted.

The two videos can be viewed following the links below.

Watch here:


And here:


ROOTS members at the “Ground Check – Cultural Heritage and Climate Change” Conference.

Ground Check

The ROOTS PIs, Hans-Rudolf Bork and Henny Piezonka, are presenting results of their research on the subject of cultural heritage and climate change at the online conference “Ground Check – Cultural Heritage and Climate Change”. The formerly postponed conference is now being carried out as an online event series.

On six dates between September 23 and October 29, 2020, the discussion topics will be presented by the speakers in a 3-5 minute keynote speech and then discussed with the other participants.

You can find more information and a detailed program (including registration form and links) at: Link.

People in ROOTS: Bente Majchczack

Bente Majchczack

The ‘People in ROOTS’ series proceeds with an interview of Bente Majchczack, one of the associate researchers of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS.

Bente, you recently began your work in the framework of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS. Can you tell us something about your planned research in Kiel?
My project focuses on geophysical and archaeological settlement research in the North Frisian Wadden Sea and is part of the subcluster ‘ROOTS of Socio-Environmental Hazards’. The Wadden Sea landscape is a very special archaeological and geological archive due to its highly dynamic nature. Throughout prehistory and into modern times, settlers were always compelled to adapt to rising sea-levels and the forces of the sea. While the area was mostly visited to gather resources during the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, first settlers started to inhabit the favourable elevated marshes during the Roman Iron Age. It was not earlier than the High Medieval period that large-scale colonisation set in to reclaim all the marshes and fenlands for agriculture, protecting the efforts with dykes and drainage systems. It all came to naught when catastrophic storm surges destroyed large parts of the cultivated land and the settlements in 1362 and 1634, turning previously inhabited marshes into tidal flats. The remains of the lost settlements are now covered and protected by sediment. My research aims to prospect these settlement remains and understand how the people living in this demanding environment tried to counter the natural hazards.

More specifically, what are your main lines of research?
Knowledge on the lost settlements in the Wadden Sea area is very limited, since archaeological findings only occur when the geological dynamics in the tidal flats uncover something. During the last years, geophysical prospection methods have proven their potential to uncover both settlements, dykes and field systems in large areas. We will conduct geophysical and archaeological prospections in promising areas to get a better picture of the settlement systems in different times of prehistory and the settlers’ efforts to protect their homes and cultivated lands against the sea. Especially useful are geomagnetic prospections to map remains covered by sediments and drone photography to map the visible remains. Based on the prospection data, we will employ corings to verify the settlement structures and collect and analyse find material for the datings. I am mostly interested in the currently little-known settlements of the Roman Iron Age and the Early Medieval period and we will compare them with the more systematic High Medieval settlement landscape. I think that the early settlers primarily adapted on a local scale by finding protected spots for their settlements, while the High Medieval settlers changed the entire landscape to their needs, facing the challenges of the natural environment. Nevertheless, through their dyke building, large-scale drainage and peat quarrying they produced additional hazards adding to the risks of rising sea-levels and changing climatic conditions. But socio-economic hazards, such as the plague pandemic of the 14th century or the Thirty Years’ war, also weakened the populations’ resilience and contributed to the decline of the Wadden Sea settlements.

Career life before ROOTS: what were the main stations and milestones of your career path so far?
I studied Pre- and Protohistoric Archaeology with a minor in Geosciences at Kiel University and some Numismatics at the University of Vienna. In my master’s thesis, I analysed combined prospection data from aerial photography and several geophysical methods to shed light on settlements from the first millennium AD on the North Frisian island of Föhr. Afterwards, I joined the State Archaeological Department of Schleswig-Holstein and worked for the site register and conducted excavations.
From 2015 to 2018, I conducted my PhD project within a project on harbours of the first millennium AD along the North Sea coast at the Lower Saxony Institute for historical coastal research (NIhK) in Wilhelmshaven (link). We explored Early Medieval trading sites with a similar array of methods as implemented in the Wadden Sea project in close collaboration with my colleagues from the Institute of Geosciences at Kiel University. We found the sites through aerial photography, LiDAR-Scanning, systematic metal detecting and archive studies, mapped the overall settlement structures with geomagnetic prospections and gathered further details with ground penetrating radar, geoelectric and electric induction methods as well as corings. The prospection data formed the basis for targeted archaeological excavations. It was possible to excavate exactly those settlement areas and buildings needed to verify the prospection data, characterise the settlement layout and gain find material to date the settlements and gain insight into trade and craft activities. I finished my dissertation in early 2020 and joined ROOTS shortly thereafter.

Life beyond ROOTS: what do you like to do beyond your research?    
I live in Kiel and enjoy spending time with my family and friends very much. Travelling and meeting people are currently somewhat limited due to the ongoing pandemic, so I find great joy in outdoor and home-activities such as bike tours in the Kiel area, reading, cooking and spending time with my family.


Bente Majchczack is a research associate of the ROOTS subcluster ‘ROOTS of Socio-Environmental Hazards’ (link ).
You can contact him at: bmajchczack@roots.uni-kiel.de

“Wellerholz” wanted!


Medieval half-timbered houses characterise the townscapes of many communities in Central Europe. As cultural monuments, they are highly valued. It is little known that, in addition to the wooden skeleton in half-timbered houses, numerous other parts of plants were used in the construction of these houses. Traditionally, linen slivers are added to plywood in order to make it flexible. Poppy and flax capsules as well as pea shells were also used as natural insulation material in false floors. Grain stalks were wrapped around oak stakes and fastened with loam to be used as so-called “Wellerholz” in the ceilings. The half-timbered houses are thus also excellent archives for old plant remains, which have been preserved in dry conditions over the centuries and provide insights into the history of cultivated plants.

Within the framework of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS, a group of researchers from the fields of archaeobotany, archaeology, ancient DNA and molecular evolutionary biology reconstructs and studies the history of the domestication of rye. The material starting point is the “Wellerholz” from medieval and early modern half-timbered houses. So far, we have been able to analyse rye stalks from “Wellerholz” originating from Göttingen and Lüneburg, determining stem lengths of 1.80 cm for medieval rye. For present-day agriculture, which aims at high grain yields with machine harvesting, such stalk lengths are unthinkable. However, different parts of the plant were valued in past times and, in the case of cereal stalks, they were used as insulating material and as roof covering.
By analysing “Wellerholz”, we now want to carry out first investigations on the genetic code of the plant remains (the old DNA) in order to understand how rye developed from an undesirable weed to the most sought-after medieval bread cereal. The breeding of frost-hardy varieties, for example, plays an important role in winter cereal farming. For our research, we are dependent on the support of owners of traditional half-timbered houses, who could provide us with research material.

Are you planning to renovate your traditional timbered house? Are you interested in contributing to the cultural plant history of your region in Germany or abroad? We invite you to support us by providing a small sample of the original insulation of your house: every type of “Wellerholz” is welcome!

Download: PDF for Göttingen, PDF for Einbeck, PDF for Northeim

Dr. Sonja Filatova, Cluster of Excellence ROOTS, Kiel University, Johanna-Mestorf-Strasse 2-6, 24118 Kiel, phone: 0431/8806706, mail: s.filatova@ufg.uni-kiel.de

Prof. Dr. Wiebke Kirleis, Environmental Archaeology/Archaeobotany, Institute of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology, Kiel University, Johanna-Mestorf-Strasse 2-6, 24118 Kiel, phone: 0431/880-3173; mail: wiebke.kirleis@ufg.uni-kiel.de


Fieldwork + Activities


Participating Institutions