Germany's first community excavation provides evidence for a long settlement tradition in Schenefeld

The project initiator Claus von Carnap-Bornheim presents the archaeological finds in Schenefeld
The project initiator Claus von Carnap-Bornheim presents the archaeological finds in Schenefeld. Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster Roots. 

Citizen science project "Schenefeld excavates" ends with a presentation of the results  

  • Evaluation of Germany's first participatory community excavation shows great enthusiasm among citizens.
  • The pilot project in Schenefeld (Schleswig-Holstein, Germany) provides evidence for a settlement tradition of more than 1000 years in the town.
  • Participating archaeologists and community volunteers are committed to continuing the research and further community excavations in Germany.

To work with volunteers from outside academia is common practice in archaeology. These enthusiastic people often support excavations or provide information about possible archaeological sites. However, the project "Schenefeld gräbt aus" ("Schenefeld excavates"), in which more than 100 adults, young people and children from the Schleswig-Holstein municipality of Schenefeld largely independently explored their town's past with the help of spades, trowels and brushes in May and June 2022, is so far unique in Germany. Today, the final event took place in the Community Hall, where the organising team from the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS (Kiel University), and the Center for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology in Schleswig (ZBSA) presented the evaluation of the finds.

Ilka Rau and Dr Katrin Schoeps
Ilka Rau (ZBSA, left) and Dr Katrin Schöps (IPN) from the Schenefeld digs organising team, project initiator Professor Claus von Carnap-Bornheim (back right) and Mayor Johann Hansen during the presentation event in Schenefeld.

Citizens excavate more than 1000 years of settlement history

The community excavation was based on the assumption that Schenefeld could be one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein. Correspondingly old structures of Schenefeld’s St. Boniface Church as well as individual, earlier archaeological finds had indicated this. On 18 November 2022, Ilka Rau of the ROOTS/ZBSA organising team could confirm that the excavations earlier this year unearthed traces of extensive settlement activity in Schenefeld already in the later 1st millennium CE. "However, in contrast to these older pottery finds from the Early Middle Ages, very few to no pottery sherds were found from the first half of the second millennium, i.e. from the High Middle Ages. The majority of the pottery finds are modern," adds Ilka Rau.

The extent to which Schenefeld has been continuously settled since the first millennium and exactly where people settled in the Middle Ages cannot yet be clearly determined on the basis of the excavations to date. Further investigations would be necessary.
"We have been able to confirm that people lived in Schenefeld more than 1,000 years ago. This is a great result for our community," says Mayor Johann Hansen. "At the same time, we are experiencing that science is a lengthy process. New results often raise new questions. That is also an important insight. And, of course, we would like to continue our research to close the gap in finds from the High Middle Ages."

Survey shows great enthusiasm among participants

Katrin Schöps from the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education (IPN) in Kiel also confirms that participants are not only enthusiastic about the results but also about the scientific work itself. Since "Schenefeld gräbt aus" was a first in Germany, the IPN is using questionnaires to examine the impact of the project on the community and the people in the town.

"The evaluation is still ongoing, but a preliminary analysis shows that participation in the excavation has had a positive impact on people and the sense of community. Seventy percent of the respondents would participate again and almost 90 percent would advise their friends to participate in such a project," reports Dr. Schöps. This is confirmed by similar studies in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Poland or the Czech Republic, where such participatory, community archaeological projects have been practiced for many years.

Transferring experience from Great Britain to Germany

One of the leading experts for community excavations in Great Britain is the archaeologist Prof. Dr. Carenza Lewis from the University of Lincoln. A meeting between her and Prof. Dr. Claus von Carnap-Bornheim (Cluster of Excellence ROOTS and former director of the ZBSA) in 2019 provided the impetus for the German pilot project. After delays due to the Corona pandemic, concrete preparations started in 2021. For this, Kiel University, the Schleswig-Holstein State Archaeological Office and the IPN, also part of the ROOTS network, were brought on board.

After appropriate introductions by the experts, the volunteers from Schenefeld opened a total of 31 one-square-meter test pit excavations in gardens, on meadows and at public spaces throughout the municipality on two weekends in May and June 2022. Numerous archaeologists from the participating institutes were on hand to help the volunteers fill out excavation protocols or record their finds. More than 2,000 individual finds were thus precisely recorded and could subsequently be scientifically analysed.
"This was a very successful premiere for a community excavation in Schleswig-Holstein. The people of Schenefeld contributed a lot to this. Thank you very much for this from the entire team. I can only hope that the findings from this premiere, both in terms of Schenefeld's settlement history and the advantages of citizen science excavations, will make many similar projects in Germany possible," summarises Prof. Dr. Claus von Carnap-Bornheim, who has since retired.

On the ROOTS YOUTUBE channel, a video shows a summary of the project.

Link zum Youtube-Kanal: Youtube Link
Links: the Center for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology in Schleswig (ZBSA) the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education (IPN) German press release on the website of Kiel University

Schenefeldt graebt aus
Volunteers Swea Scholle, Volker Schade and Maike Beer-von Aspern work on their testpit excavation in June 2022. Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS

Schenefeldt graebt aus
Volunteers meticulously document each find so that it can be included in the scientific evaluation. Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS

Schenefeldt graebt aus
How old is the shard? Archaeologist Sebastian Schultrich (Cluster ROOTS) advises volunteer Marei Küppers on how to classify a find. Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS

Schenefeldt graebt aus
Just like experienced archaeologists, the volunteers work their way into the past, layer by layer, with spatulas and brushes. Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS

Schenefeldt graebt aus
A total of 100 adults, young people and children took part in the "Schenfeld digs out" campaign on two dates. Photo: Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS


Fieldwork + Activities


Participating Institutions