Urban Design in Pompeii

First comprehensive study on the atmosphere of an ancient city has been published.


Inviting, cosy, relaxed, but also forbidding, cramped, oppressive – cities can convey very different atmospheres. From the municipalities' point of view, atmosphere is an important location factor, for example, to attract tourists. Urban planning and city marketing therefore try to create certain atmospheres, preferably positive ones.

This is already a very old phenomenon. However, how were urban design strategies implemented in earlier eras to create certain atmospheric effects? Prof. Dr. Annette Haug and her team from the Institute of Classical Archaeology at Kiel University, funded by the European Research Council, investigated this question using the example of Pompeii. The results of this work are now presented in their book Öffentliche Räume in Pompeji (Engl. ed.: Public Spaces in Pompeii), which is now freely available online. Both the research and the publication were additionally supported by the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS at CAU. 

“The concept of atmosphere is able to represent urban experience holistically. Among others, it goes back to the Kiel philosopher Hermann Schmitz," the author explains the basic idea. However, she says, atmospheres in this philosophical understanding were very open and highly changeable depending on factors and perspectives. “For practical application in the study of an ancient city, we therefore focused on the question of how certain forms of design were used to create certain atmospheres,” says Prof. Dr. Haug.

The book focuses on the last decades of the city before its destruction by Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE Because of the special situation in Pompeii, the condition of the city for this period are more tangible here than in almost any other ancient city. 

The book presents streets, the forum with its adjacent buildings, sanctuaries, theatres, the amphitheatre, the thermal baths, food stores, snack bars, bars and restaurants as well as the brothel with regard to their design strategies, their range of activities, and their atmospheric effects. 

In just under 500 pages, it thus presents the first comprehensive study of the atmosphere of an ancient city. “The project shows that the concept has great potential to better convey the experience of a pre-modern city. I hope that the book will stimulate further studies in this direction,” concludes the author. 

Annette Haug _The Study
The study investigates how certain forms of design were used to create certain atmospheres in Pompeji. Photo: Annette Haug.

Background information: 
The book Public Spaces in Pompeii: The Design of Urban Atmospheres by Annette Haug in collaboration with Adrian Hielscher and Simon Barker has been published by De Gruyter as an open access publication: https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110988383
The creation and printing of the publication was funded by the ERC Consolidator Grant DECOR (No. 681269), the Cluster of Excellence "ROOTS - Social, Environmental, and Cultural Connectivity in Past Societies" (EXC 2150), and the Collaborative Research Group "Religion and Urbanity. Reciprocal Formations" (FOR 2779).

New interpretation of a 4000 year old cemetery

ROOTS doctoral students provide new insights into the chronology and social structure of the Early Bronze Age Nitra culture with C14 dating.

Bronze and bone finds from the cemetery of Výčapy-Opatovce (Slovakia) from the collections of the Archeologický ústav SAV in Nitra.

(Eine deutsche Version dieser Pressemitteilung finden Sie auf den Seiten des Informationsdienstes Wissenschaft idw)

Fundamental technological changes often also cause profound social shifts. This is not only evident in the current case of digitalization, but also in the case of industrialization in the 19th century or the introduction of bronze as a work material about 4000 years ago. Understanding such transitional periods in the past can therefore also help to better classify current processes.

Two archaeologists from the ROOTS Cluster of Excellence at Kiel University have now published a study in the journal Slovenská archeológia that sheds new light on the chronological sequence and social structure of the Early Bronze Age Nitra culture in present-day Slovakia. The new research on the Výčapy-Opatovce cemetery 75 kilometers northeast of Bratislava questions earlier assumptions that different areas of the cemetery were laid out consecutively. "We were able to show with new natural scientific dating that the investigated burials were laid out more or less simultaneously. Different grave goods are therefore more likely to be explained socially, not temporally," explains Fynn Wilkes, one of the two authors. His colleague and co-author Henry Skorna adds, "The study thus opens up new interpretive possibilities for this important cemetery, that is crucial for understanding the earliest Bronze Age in Southeastern Europe."

The burial ground of Výčapy-Opatovce has been known to archaeologists since the 1950s. More than 300 graves have been archaeologically investigated - most of them can be assigned to the so-called Nitra culture. This is the earliest Bronze Age culture on the northwestern edge of the Carpathian Basin. Výčapy-Opatovce is one of the largest cemeteries that can be assigned to this archaeological culture.

The Early Bronze Age in southwestern Slovakia, about 4000 years ago, was characterized by intense social and economic changes. Due to its location on the northern edge of the Carpathians and near the Moravian Gate, the region also plays an important mediating role between Central and Southeastern Europe. Despite this importance, very little dating based on the measurement of the carbon isotope C14 is available for the Early Bronze Age in Slovakia.
An earlier study of the Výčapy-Opatovce cemetery therefore classified various grave groups into several chronological stages based only on the grave goods and the costume tradition reconstructed from them.
In 2021, the two authors of the current study had samples from the cemetery dated using the C14 method and evaluated the results. They clearly show that the burials with different costume traditions are very close in time.  

"We can conclude that different social groups were buried here in clusters," explains Fynn Wilkes. Henry Skorna adds, "This grouping of graves around particularly richly furnished ones in each case can also be observed at other prehistoric cemeteries and is therefore actually not surprising."

The two authors, who conducted the study as part of their doctoral theses in the ROOTS Cluster of Excellence, hope to open up new discussions and further interpretive insights around the Early Bronze Age, and thus an exciting and very dynamic period of European prehistory.

Wilkes, F., Skorna, H. 2022. The Dawn of the Early Bronze Age in South-Western Slovakia. A Re-Evaluation of the Social Structure and Chronology of Výčapy-Opatovce. In Slovenská archeológia, vol. LXX, no.1, pp. 63-80. 1335-0102. DOI: https://doi.org/10.31577/slovarch.2022.70.3

dokumentiert einige Funde aus Výčapy-Opatovce. Foto: Henry Skorna
Fynn Wilkes, PhD student in the ROOTS Cluster of Excellence, documents some finds from Výčapy-Opatovce. Photo: Henry Skorna

The two authors of the study
The two authors of the study, Fynn Wilkes and Henry Skorna. Photo: Katharina Kaczmarek

How people in ancient Thamugadi fostered collective memory trough everyday urban practices

The Ruins of ancient Thamugadi in modern day Libya. Photo: Dan Sloan via flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A new article by former ROOTS member Nicolas Lamare published in the international peer-reviewed journal "Libyan Studies" draws on the notion of collective memory to address the experience of urban space in antiquity. Lamare focuses on the Roman city Colonia Marciana Ulpia Traiana Thamugadi (today: Timgad in modern day Algeria) in the Severan period as a case study. The author mainly engages with the city plan and its streets, the public buildings that lined them, and their honorific inscriptions. He highlights how the built landscape was staged to create a memory of the urban space and its development. His study also reveals how the inhabitants themselves were able to contribute to fostering this memory through everyday urban practices. The article was partly written at Kiel University with funding from the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS.

Lamare, N. (2022). Memory and the urban environment: Experiencing the streets of Severan Timgad. Libyan Studies 53, https://doi.org/10.1017/lis.2022.12

Urban Dynamics in the Middle Ages - Conference Report Available Online


 Urban Dynamics in the Middle Ages - Conference Report Available Online

The European Middle Ages are characterized not only by a large number of city foundations, but also by many city expansions. However, the causes of these extension processes, the actors involved, and the forms of expansion differ greatly from city to city. What can these expansions tell us about urban life in the Middle Ages? The conference "Urban Expansion and Urban Dynamics in the Middle Ages" ("Stadterweiterung und urbane Dynamik im Mittelalter"), funded by the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS, 6-9 June 2022, brought together different research perspectives on medieval urban expansions and led to an interdisciplinary exchange on topics such as urban morphology, architecture, legal and economic history, and everyday culture. Now the detailed conference report has been published on the historiographical information and communication platform H-Soz-Kult.

Tagungsbericht: Stadterweiterung und urbane Dynamik im Mittelalter, In: H-Soz-Kult, 15.10.2022, http://www.hsozkult.de/conferencereport/id/fdkn-130133

Between Plague and Typhoid Fever – the Hanseatic City of Lübeck in the 14th Century

Ancient DNA A look into the late medieval mass burial site at the Hospital of the Holy Ghost in the city of Lübeck (photo: Dirk Rieger, Hansestadt Lübeck).

Research team uses ancient DNA to gain insight into the development and history of epidemics in historical Lübeck

A team of researchers at Kiel University (Christian-Albrechts-Universität, CAU), Germany, gained insights into the development and history of epidemics in historical Lübeck by means of ancient DNA (aDNA) analysis.

In the Late Middle Ages, urban Europe often fell victim to rampant epidemics. Local disease outbreaks as well as global pandemics were increasingly described in historical sources. Perhaps the most notorious epidemic in human history was the plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which spread throughout Europe's major cities between 1346 and 1353 CE. It became known as the "Black Death". Two-thirds of the European population succumbed to the disease. Thus, the plague has become the eponym for the expression "pestis" or "pestilentiae", which was often used in historical records to describe disastrous epidemics of unknown cause. Also Lübeck was struck by at least six "pestilences" in the 14th century alone, as recorded in the city chronicles. To date, there is no evidence of the pathogens responsible for these diseases.

During construction work at the Holy-Ghost-Hospital (Heiligen-Geist-Hospital) in Lübeck in the early 1990s, several mass burials were discovered next to the outer hospital walls. Scattered over various pits of different sizes, a total of more than 800 skeletons of all sexes and ages were recovered from the site. The pits could be dated to the second half of the 14th century using the radiocarbon dating technique. The large number of people who had died within a short period of time without signs of violence suggested an infectious disease as the cause of death.

Salmonella identified as the trigger

An interdisciplinary team led by Prof. Ben Krause-Kyora from the Institute of Clinical Molecular Biology (IKMB) at CAU has been investigating the cause of death for the people in the mass graves. For this purpose, the aDNA from a total of 92 skeletons was isolated, sequenced and analyzed. "Our initial aim was to determine whether it is at all possible to use aDNA analyses to identify the pathogen responsible for this unknown epidemic," emphasizes Prof. Almut Nebel, also affiliated with the IKMB. "Being able to successfully demonstrate this is an important methodological milestone." The team was able to detect the bacterial pathogen Salmonella enterica subsp. enterica Paratyphi C in the human remains from two pits. "From the city chronicles we know that for the year 1367 CE an unknown "pestilentia" is recorded, which claimed many lives among all social strata, but was confined to Lübeck only", remarks Prof. Gerhard Fouquet from the Historical Seminar at Kiel University. This finding provided the researchers with the earliest evidence to date of an epidemic caused by Salmonella.

S. Paratyphi C is an invasive Salmonella species. The causative agent spreads rapidly and is transmitted to the human host via the consumption of contaminated water or food. Once contracted, the disease manifests itself as continued high fever, abdominal pain and nausea, at times also diarrhea. Without medical treatment, the disease course can be fatal.

The molecular biologists from Kiel further succeeded in fully reconstructing three of the S. Paratyphi C genomes. "Our results indicate a close relationship among the Paratyphi C strains in the Middle Ages," explains first author Magdalena Haller. It can be assumed that the pathogen has spread along commercial routes of the time, including those of the Hanseatic League. The analyses thus provide insights into the origin and evolution of the bacterium S. paratyphi, about which little is yet known. "Paratyphi C is virtually absent from Europe today. However, our results suggest that the pathogen was fairly common in the past. Recurrent outbreaks of paratyphoid fever must have severely affected people back then," explains Haller.

The Lübeck mass burial site represents a unique scientific resource for the study of past epidemics. "Through the close cooperation of molecular biology, history and archaeology, we have not only opened a door to the Middle Ages, but also built a bridge to our Corona era", emphasizes Dr. Dirk Rieger, head of the department of archaeology of the Hanseatic City of Lübeck.

The results of the study were recently published in the international journal iScience. The study was supported by the Collaborative Research Centre 1266 "Scales of Transformation“, the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS, and research funding from the CAU Medical Faculty.
Original publication:

Haller, M., Callan, K., Susat, J., Flux, A., Immel, A., Franke, A., Herbig, A., Krause, J., Kupczok, A., Fouquet, G., Hummel, S., Rieger, D., Nebel, A., Krause-Kyora, B. (2021) Mass burial genomics reveals outbreak of enteric paratyphoid fever in the Late Medieval trade city Lübeck. iScience 24, 102419.

Ancient DNA
The study conducted at Kiel University identifies the earliest evidence to date of an epidemic caused by Salmonella. (Figure: Carina Lange, Kiel University).

Scientific contact:
Prof. Dr. Ben Krause-Kyora
Institut für Klinische Molekularbiologie
Kiel University
 +49 (0)431 500 15142

Angelika Hoffmann
Research focus officer SECC/JMA

+49 (0)431/880-5924 to the website

For German version click here

Deportationen im Perserreich in teispidisch-achaimenidischer Zeit / Chiara Matarese

Chiara MatareseThis study by Chiara Matarese investigates the phenomenon of deportations in Persia in the period before Alexander the Great. This challenging topic has long escaped scholarly scrutiny. On the one hand, the source situation is problematic: while indigenous documents are lacking, the available Graeco-Roman sources are characterised by numerous clichés that must first be dispelled. On the other hand, the phenomenon of deportation must be theoretically grasped and distinguished from other migration processes.

Through a detailed and critical analysis of the sources, Chiara Matarese succeeds in clarifying the triggers and the goals of the Persian deportations and in presenting the complexity of this multifaceted phenomenon. The author also answers crucial questions, e.g. about whether the deportees were enslaved or on their understanding of identity after resettlement. Thanks to this study, it becomes clear that in practice and in their conception of rule, the Persians proved in many respects to be learned successors of the rulers of the New Assyrian and New Babylonian Empires. The practice of deportation was no exception.

Chiara Matarese completed her PhD thesis in the framework of the Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ (GSC 208).

Matarese, Chiara, 2021.
Deportationen im Perserreich in teispidisch-achaimenidischer Zeit. Classica et Orientalia 27, XII. Wiesbaden: Harassowitz, 318 pages.

For more information about the book here (Harassowitz)

Rare Diseases in the Bronze Age

A new study examines the phenomenon of Rare Diseases in ancient societies

rare diseases
The excavated grave of the male skeleton from the North Caucasus foothills. A healed fracture of the right thigh bone is visible.
© B. Atabiev, Institut für die Archäologie des Kaukasus, Naltschik

Rare diseases are a special field in medical-pharmaceutical research and treatment today. "Rare" means that no more than five in 10,000 people suffer from a particular disease. Patients affected by a rare disorder are often severely restricted, both physically and in their social life, and require a high level of social and medical care.

But what do we know about Rare Diseases in the past, so-called Ancient Rare Diseases, and above all how can we define and diagnose them in skeletal human remains?
This question was investigated by Dr Katharina Fuchs who works as physical anthropologist at the the Institute of Clinical Molecular Biology at Kiel University. Using the disease history of a male individual from the North Caucasus Bronze Age (ca. 2200 to 1650 BC), she came to the conclusion that the criteria for Rare Diseases used today cannot simply be transferred to the past. The recently published study in the International Journal of Paleopathology shows that not only the diagnosis of Rare Diseases and the calculation of incidences and prevalence, i.e. frequency, are challenging for the researchers. Individual impairment and the degree of social integration and support are also difficult to reconstruct.

There are many conclusions that the anthropologist K. Fuchs can draw from the skeleton of the man from the Caucasus that she examined as part of the study: Since his youth, he suffered from a rare hip disorder, the Legg-Calvé-Perthes Disease, and he had a limping gait due to this inwards twisted leg. Moreover, as an adult he survived severe fractures of his skull and thigh. Apart from this, the wear patterns of his teeth show that he used them as tools during working processes, as was customary. Also, from the objects that he was buried with can be inferred that he did not hold a particularly high social position.
"Taken together, the results show that this man was important to society. The fractures he endured required a high level of care. He probably survived his injuries because his fellow human beings took care of him. This gives us an idea of how people in the North Caucasus treated each other 4,000 years ago and how they treated someone who was physically limited for most of his life", Fuchs explains. Such considerations go beyond the topic of Ancient Rare Diseases, but illustrate the social dimension of their investigation.

Another result of the study is that the criterion of "rarity" in relation to Ancient Rare Diseases cannot be defined by rigid thresholds. The fact that a disease is rare today does not necessarily mean that it was rare in the past. Depending on the causes for the emergence of a disease, the aetiology, the occurrence, disappearance and, most interestingly, the change from a rare to a common disease pattern are subject to social and human ecological dynamics. This is a finding of modern medicine, which identifies lifestyle and external influences as important components.

Research into Rare Diseases of the past is therefore also relevant for our understanding of today’s diseases. One of the co-authors of the study, Dr Julia Gresky from the German Archaeological Institute, stresses: "Since its foundation in 2019, the research of the ‘Ancient Rare Diseases’ workgroup also has the task to reach people who are affected today. We hope to contribute to public awareness by pointing out that humankind has always been confronted with Rare Diseases – but also that being affected does not have to mean social isolation".

The study was supported by the Cluster of Excellence ‘ROOTS’ and the Collaborative Research Centre ‘Scales of Transformation’ at Kiel University. Both projects focus on the research of human environmental interactions in past times and societies.  

You can find the German version of this news here

Original publication:

Fuchs, K., Biaslan, A., Witzmann, F., Gresky, J., Towards a definition of Ancient Rare Diseases (ARD): Presenting a complex case of probable Legg-Calv´e-Perthes Disease from the North Caucasian Bronze Age (2200-1650 cal BCE). International Journal of Paleopathology 32 (2021) 61-73. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpp.2020.11.004


Scientific contact:
Dr. rer. nat. Katharina Fuchs
Institut für Klinische Molekularbiologie

Press contact:
Angelika Hoffmann
Research focus officer SECC/JMA


In addition, you can find a video on this topic here

rare diseases
Right and left femoral bones of the male individual from the North Caucasus. The bones exhibit pathological changes examined in the study.
© Katharina Fuchs, Institut für Klinische Molekularbiologie

rare diseases
The North Caucasus Mountain Range in what is today the Kabardino-Balkaria region. Bronze Age societies inhabited these landscapes.
© Katharina Fuchs, Institut für Klinische Molekularbiologie

Why did the European oyster disappear from the North Sea?

Historical oyster shells from the collection at the Zoological Museum in Kiel, created between 1868 and 1885 by the natural scientist Karl August Möbius (© Jutta Drabek-Hasselmann, Zoologisches Museum, Uni Kiel).

For the first time, an interdisciplinary research team decodes the historical genetic diversity of the European oyster with the aid of museum collections.

The European oyster was fished in abundance and eaten with gusto and therefore a major economic factor for the northern German region in the 19th century. In 1868, with the aim of boosting its population in the shallow coastal waters, the Prussian government commissioned a detailed study of the mollusc species led by Karl August Möbius, Professor of Zoology in Kiel. For this purpose, Möbius created an extensive collection of oyster shells, which contained around a thousand specimens from the North Sea, from along the Atlantic coast and from the Mediterranean. With his investigations into how oysters develop in mutual dependence on other animals and plants in their habitat, Möbius became a founding father of modern ecology.

The new study emphasizes the importance of Möbius’ oyster collection for current biodiversity research. “The carefully documented collection offers unique research material, especially for modern scientific methods,” stressed Dr Dirk Brandis, Director of the Zoological Museum and lecturer at Kiel University. It was one of the first museums ever to examine historical collections with regard to their genetic information. "Thanks to proper storage, the extensive material and the experience of the IKMB, with whom we collaborated on the genetic analysis, we were able to trace the relationships of the European oyster," says marine biologist Sarah Hayer, first author of the study and a doctoral student at Brandis at the Zoological Museum.

Surprising regional differences in genetic material

“These type of historical sequencing involves a lot of effort because a large amount of the historical DNA decomposes over the years. With these oyster shells, however, we were able to achieve amazingly good results,” said Professor Ben Krause-Kyora, Director of the Ancient DNA Laboratory at the IKMB. The research team was surprised at how different the oysters from individual regions were genetically. “Because normally the sea current in coastal regions enables exchange between populations and so their genetic structure ought to be relatively similar,” said marine population geneticist Dr Christine Ewers-Saucedo from the Zoological Museum, who is leading the study.

According to one finding from the study, the oyster specimens from the Wadden Sea were genetically significantly different from those in other areas. The research team regarded this as an indication of how well the European oyster adapted over the course of time to the extreme living conditions in the Wadden Sea with its heavily fluctuating water levels, temperatures and salt contents. But this appears to have been the cause of its downfall, too, they assume. It seems it was no longer able to adapt flexibly to climatic changes and novel pathogens and finally died out in the Wadden Sea, accelerated by the heavy overfishing in the 1930s. “This also explains why later attempts at establishing a population there from other areas of Europe were not successful – these oysters did not have the right genetic requirements,” said Ewers-Saucedo.

Taking genetic factors into consideration in current re-establishment projects

Möbius' oyster collection not only enables extraordinary insight into the past, but also provides new findings for current re-establishment projects. “Oyster beds offer unique habitats and they secure loose sediment or slow the current,” said Ewers-Saucedo, highlighting the importance of oysters for marine ecosystems. The research team recommends that if the European oyster is to be re-established in the Wadden Sea, genetic factors need to be considered too.

“With the decoding of the genetic diversity of the European oyster, this study also demonstrates the unique scientific value of the museum’s natural history collections,” said Brandis. He and the team at the Zoological Museum are currently preparing an exhibition to show how museums are conducting research with the aid of their collections. This will also include examples from Möbius’ oyster collection.

In the clean room at the IKMB, Sarah Hayer, a PhD student in marine biology, prepares oyster shells up to 150 years old for genetic analysis (© Ben Krause-Kyora).

Unterwater image oysters bed (© Stephane Pouvreau; Ifremer
. https://doi.org/10.24351/48842)

The study was supported by the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS “Social, Environmental, and Cultural Connectivity in Past Societies” from Kiel, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). It was developed within the framework of the research project “Historical collections of marine organisms – a window into the beginnings of Global Change in the North and Baltic Seas”, which was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Alongside Kiel University’s Zoological Museum and the Ancient DNA Laboratory, Senckenberg – Leibniz Institution for Biodiversity and Earth System Research (SGN), the German Primate Center and the Verbund der deutschen Nord- und Ostseesammlungen (NORe e.V.) (association of German North Sea and Baltic Sea collections) are also involved in the joint project.

Original publication:

Hayer, S., Brandis, D., Immel, A., Susat, J., Montserrat Torres-Oliva, M., Ewers-Saucedo, C., Krause-Kyora, Ben  et al. Phylogeography in an “oyster” shell provides first insights into the genetic structure of an extinct Ostrea edulis population. Sci Rep11, 2307 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-82020-x

Read more:
Recently, the Kiel researchers ruled out the American slipper snail as the cause of the oyster mortality: https://www.uni-kiel.de/en/university/details/news/365-oyster-deaths

Scientific Contact:
PD Dr. Dirk Brandis brandis@zoolmuseum.uni-kiel.de

You can find the german version of this press release here

Societies in balance

Members of ROOTS publish a study on the social significance of stone monuments in Northeast India

MegalithsMegaliths line the paths from the villages to the fields in Nagaland, commemorating their builders. (Photo: Maria Wunderlich)

The construction of stone monuments, or megaliths, is a tradition in Nagaland, Northeast India, which, although no longer continued today, is still deeply embedded in the collective memory of the communities concerned. Megalithic construction has been abandoned in large areas of Northeast India in the course of the severe transformation processes that have taken place within the last 100 years. It can now only be comprehensively reconstructed through the memories of older village members, as well as the stones themselves. Thus, the study represents an important reference point for a chain reaction in which transformative impulses led to the transformation of further interwoven social aspects. In the course of ethnoarchaeological fieldwork in cooperation with the University of Nagaland in 2016 and 2018, it was possible to visit Angami and Chakhesang-Naga villages and document the memories there of the construction of megalithic structures, as well as the Feasts of Merit, i.e. complex merit festivals, in their social embeddedness.
The recently published article "Societies in Balance: Monumentality and feasting activities among southern Naga communities, Northeast India" presents the manifold social, economic and political aspects of megalithic building traditions in a recent context. It showed the intertwining of complex but permeable social hierarchies, the attainment of social prestige through feasting activities, the importance of solidarity and cooperation, and megalithic construction. The article thus makes an important contribution to a holistic and differentiated understanding of possible socio-political meanings of megalithic monuments. This opens up points of departure not only for further ethnoarchaeological studies, but also for an expansion and diversification of the interpretation of prehistoric megalithic monuments and their significance within phases of social transformation.

Click here for the press release on the CAU Newsportal.

The published results have already been picked up by the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Original publication

Wunderlich M., Jamir T., Müller J., Rassman K., Vasa D. (2021) Societies in balance: Monumentality and feasting activities among southern Naga communities, Northeast India. PLOS ONE 16(3): e0246966.  https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0246966


MegalithsSouthern Nagaland (northeast India) is characterized by mountains and agricultural terraces. The tall standing stones also dominate the landscape. (Photo: Maria Wunderlich)

MegalithsThe research trip and documentation of the monuments took place in close cooperation with colleagues from the University of Nagaland. (Photo: Johannes Müller)

MegalithsThe three-dimensional modeling of the monuments using methods incorporating Structure from Motion (SfM) allows a realistic and vivid representation of the stones. (Photo: Sara Jagiolla)

Holism in Ancient Medicine and Its Reception / Chiara Thumiger (ed.)

ThumigerThis new volume, edited by Chiara Thumiger, a ROOTS research associate in the subcluster Knowledge ROOTS (link), aims at exploring the ancient roots of ‘holistic’ approaches in the specific field of medicine and the life sciences, without overlooking larger theoretical implications of these discussions. The project expands the perspective and includes larger cultural discussions and, in a comparative spirit, reaches out to some examples beyond Graeco-Roman medical cultures. As such, it constitutes a fundamental contribution to the history of medicine, the philosophy of medicine, cultural studies, and ancient studies more generally. The wide-ranging selection of chapters offers a comprehensive view encompassing an exciting new field: the interrogation of ancient sources in the light of modern concepts in the philosophy of medicine, as a justification of the claim for their enduring relevance as an object of study as well as a means to enable a more adequate contextualisation of modern debates within a long historical process.


Thumiger, Chiara (ed.): Holism in Ancient Medicine and its Reception. Brill (2021), 448 pages.
The book can be viewed here (Brill).

Zwischen den Welten / Jens Schneeweiß

Zwischen den WeltenThis new book by Jens Schneeweiss focuses on the Höhbeck/Elbe area along the border between Lower Saxony and Brandenburg. This area lays “between the worlds” of the Viking Age. In the Early Middle Ages, the Vikings were the “global players” of the north. The west was determined by Charlemagne and his empire, followed by the Ottonians, whereas Eastern Europe was populated by the Slavs. From the 8th to the 11th century, these people clashed in this border region. Here, European history was condensed exactly at the location where the Iron Curtain divided Europe in the 20th century.

From 2005-2009, the Department of Prehistory and Early History of the Georg-August-University of Göttingen carried out extensive archaeological excavations in this border region on the Elbe. They were largely funded by the DFG. The results of this research form the basis of the book, which ranges from the first appearance of Slavs on the Elbe in the 7th and 8th centuries to the beginning of High Medieval land development during the 11th and 12th centuries.

At the Höhbeck, the defunct Carolingian border trade control town of Schezla was located with Charlemagne’s castellum hohbuoki. Here, Henry I defeated the Slavs in a crucial battle in CE 929. At that time, long before the construction of dikes, the development of settlements was closely linked to the dynamics of the river landscape. This can be interpreted as an expression of sensitive man-environment relations, which contributed to the fact that history reached an impasse at Höhbeck. The subsequent loss of importance of this region paradoxically makes it a treasure trove for archaeology, because it provides us today with a surprisingly unobstructed insight into the Early Middle Ages.

An interdisciplinary approach allows Jens Schneeweiss to illustrate different scientific perspectives on the history of settlements and events. In addition to a traditional archaeological analysis of finds and features, the volume contains geoarchaeological, historical, and theoretical approaches, opening up new levels of interpretation. They shed new light on early European history far beyond the immediate Elbe region.

Zwischen den Welten: Archäologie einer europäischen Grenzregion zwischen Sachsen, Slawen, Franken und Dänen by Jens Scheenweiß. Göttinger Schriften zur Vor- und Frühgeschichte 36. Kiel: Wachholtz Verlag 2020, 792 pages (in German).

The book can be viewed here (Wachholtz Verlag).

3400 BC – The earliest documentation of the wheel and wagon comes from Northern Germany

Publication by Doris Mischka
We draw attention to the recent publication "The Neolithic in Flintbek. A fine chronological study of the settlement history based on graves" by Professor Doris Mischka. Besides other things, she documents the earliest known example of the use of the wheel and wagon.

Doris Mischka, now a professor at the Institute for Prehistory and Early History at the Friedrich Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, habilitated at Kiel University in 2012. The publication is her habilitation thesis. Here, she documents the entire genesis and development of the Neolithic and Bronze Age burial field in Flintbek, near Kiel. By using 14C analyses, the age of organic materials can be determined. With this, she dated the genesis and development of the burial field in detail.

Around 3800 BC, the first burials appear in the area. People started building long mounds, which they steadily enlarged with successive additions. Moreover, they erected burial mounds with small stone chambers, so-called dolmens. 500 years later, around 3300 BC, they built passage graves, which served as collective burial places for many centuries. Doris Mischka assumes that families from different areas each had their burial place here. Thus, the Flintbek area was a ritual centre for the entire region.

Two initially inconspicuous brown lines in the soil turned out to be traces of wheels. This is clear proof that for the building of the monuments, this new technology was used around 3400 BC. The technology was thus probably not invented in the Near East, as previously assumed.

The book is the 20th volume of a publication series coordinated by the Institute of Pre- and Protohistoric Archaeology at Kiel University, which presents the research results of the priority program "Early Monumentality and Social Differentiation".

We congratulate Doris Mischka for this detailed study, which will effectively enhance scientific discourse.

Mischka, Doris, 2022. Das Neolithikum in Flintbek. Eine feinchronologische Studie zur Besiedlungsgeschichte anhand von Gräbern. Frühe Monumentalität und soziale Differenzierung 20. Verlag Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH (Bonn 2022).

Decor-Räume in pompejanischen Stadthäusern. Ausstattungsstrategien und Rezeptionsformen / Annette Haug

A Haug

This new book by Annette Haug, PI of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS, examines the decorative principles at work in the city houses of Pompeii for the time between the end of the second century BC and the beginning of the imperial period. For the first time, the decorating phenomena are analysed not only individually, but they are also examined in relationship to their spatial and social context.

Das Buch von Annette Haug, PI des Exzellenzclusters ROOTS, untersucht die decorativen Prinzipien, die in Stadthäusern Pompejis zwischen dem ausgehenden 2. Jh. v.Chr. und der beginnenden Kaiserzeit wirksam werden. Dabei werden erstmals nicht nur einzelne Decorphänomene isoliert, sondern in ihrem räumlichen und sozialen Wirkungszusammenhang untersucht.

Decor-Räume in pompejanischen Stadthäusern. Ausstattungsstrategien und Rezeptionsformen (Decor spaces in Pompeian town houses. Furnishing strategies and forms of reception) by Annette Haug, De Gruyter (2020), Series: Decor 1, 620 pages, 427 illustration (in German)

The book can be viewed here (De Gruyter)

Other recent volumes edited by Annette Haug include:
Urban Practices. Repopulating the Ancient City, by A. Haug – S. Merten (eds.), Brepols (2020). Link
Hellenistic Architecture and Human Action. A Case of Reciprocal Influence, by A. Haug – A. Müller (eds.), SideStone (2020). Link

Stymphalos: Das Bild einer arkadischen Landschaft und ihrer Menschen in der antiken Literatur / Saskia Hoffmann

HoffmannThe Arcadian landscape and the town of Stymphalos mainly (and often uniquely) evoke an association with the myth of Heracles and his fight against the Stymphalian birds, who polluted Lake Stymphalia. This place on the Greek peninsula Peloponnese was not only mentioned by ancient authors because of the famous myth, as one of the twelve deeds of Heracles, but also due to other interesting aspects. For instance, Lake Stymphalia has particular hydrological features due to the karstic geology of the Peloponnese. As the result of a ponor (katavothre or sink hole), Lake Stymphalia varies in size seasonally. The lake water disappears through the sink hole in the ground, continues its course for a while and rises as the “new” river Erasinos near Argos.

This hydrological phenomenon is mentioned by the Greek historian Herodotus for the first time. There are several myths, for example, Herakles and the Stymphalian birds; Artemis, the hunter and the deer; or Arethusa and Alpheios, which refer to certain features of the hydrological “behaviour” of the Lake. The latter two are connected with the goddess Artemis, who was worshipped as the deity of the polis Stymphalos in her own temple there, which is described by Pausanias. Furthermore, an extraordinary Hera cult, in which Hera was venerated in three aspects of a woman´s life: as an unmarried maiden (gr. Pais/Parthenos), as a wife (gr. Teleia) and as a divorced woman or widow (gr. Chera), was located and only existed at Stymphalos. Last but not least, the river cult of Metope, the main water suppliant of Lake Stymphalos, is worth mentioning.

Ancient Stymphalos, which is already referred to in the Homeric catalogue of ships among the Arcadian troops, who fought the Trojan War together with the other Greeks, was also the home town of two victors in the Olympic Games: Dromeus and Hagesias. Hagesias´ victory was eulogised by Pindar in a victory ode (epinicion), in which a frame of characteristic items of Stymphalos is elaborated along with his praise of Hagesias. This is why this ode, the Sixth Olympian, can be seen as a major text answering the question how the Stymphalos landscape is represented in its physiogeographic and human-geographic aspects.

The book by Saskia Hoffmann illustrates a mental picture of Stymphalos that can be deduced from the ancient literary sources that refer to this place. Methodically, this objective is achieved by the combination of philological text analysis and interpretation as well as its application to categories and criteria of geography and geology.

Saskia Hoffmann completed her PhD thesis in the framework of the Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ (GSC 208).

Hoffmann, Saskia: Stymphalos: Das Bild einer arkadischen Landschaft und ihrer Menschen in der antiken Literatur. Schriftenreihe altsprachliche Forschungsergebnisse 16. Hamburg: Verlag Dr. Kovaç, 2020. 322 pages.

For the link to the publication please click here (Verlag Dr. Kovaç)

Northern Networks. An Analysis of Three Neolithic Enclosures from the Jutland Peninsula / Tobias Torfing


Recently, Tobias Torfing’s dissertation entitled “Northern Networks. An Analysis of Three Neolithic Enclosures from the Jutland Peninsula” was published. Amongst other things, he found out that the idea of enclosures spread far earlier to this northern area as we assumed hitherto.
During his PhD investigations from 2013–2016, Tobias Torfing was financed by the Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ (link), the forerunner of ROOTS. He finished his PhD in 2018. Now he works as a museum curator for the Museum of Southwest Jutland (link). His book is the 19th volume of a series that has been published as part of the DFG Priority Programme 1400 ‘Early Monumentality and Social Differentiation’, which has been based at Kiel University since 2008. The series includes final theses and conference proceedings, whose topics are closely linked to the priority programme and therefore deal primarily with topics on Funnel Beaker societies in Europe.
His book offers comprehensive analyses of three causewayed enclosures in Northern Denmark. The enclosures were introduced around 3700 BC, a time when the landscape and society of Northern Europe changed significantly. These massive sites, encircled with ditches and palisades, seem to have only been intended for short-lived or periodic usage, but they changed society for the centuries to follow. Each site is studied in relation to its history, chronology, and its impact on social development. It is argued that they – although not central places in a traditional sense – still created centres and an ordered landscape with clearings and pathway networks. They facilitated interaction for a scattered population and solidified connections to other networks around Northwestern Europe.
To explore these venues, this book also reworks the chronology of the Jutlandic part of the Funnel Beaker complex through the systematic use of typology and the modelling of radiocarbon dates.
We congratulate Tobias upon the completion of this extremely good study!

Torfing, Tobias, 2021. Northern Networks. An Analysis of Three Neolithic Enclosures from the Jutland Peninsula. Frühe Monumentalität und soziale Differenzierung 19. Verlag Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH (Bonn 2021).

Find further information about T. Torfing here


Holz vom Helikon. Die Musen und ihre Landschaft in Kult, Mythos und Literatur / Kleoniki Rizou

RizouParnassus, Pieria and above all Helicon – the landscapes of the Muses – have been, like the goddesses themselves, topoi of European literature from antiquity until today. The study by Kleoniki Rizou explores the peculiar connection between the Muses and ‘their’ landscapes not only as an illustrative accessory, but also as a systematic conceptualisation of the Muses´ function.
For this purpose, a comprehensive inventory of the available sources was compiled, with a special focus on Mount Helicon. From this perspective, three key texts from three epochs come into focus anew: the proemium to Hesiod’s Theogony, Euripides’ Heracles and Corinna’s song about the contest between Helicon and Cithaeron. The detailed interpretations of these texts provide a better understanding of the specific function of the connection between the Muses and Mt. Helicon. This newly gained systematic understanding creates the starting point for the fresh interpretation of the seemigly well-known works.

Kleoniki Rizou completed her PhD thesis in the framework of the Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ (GSC 208).

Rizou, Kleoniki: Holz vom Helikon. Die Musen und ihre Landschaft in Kult, Mythos und Literatur. Kalliope – Studien zur griechischen und lateinischen Poesie 19. Heidelberg: Winter Verlag, 2020. 756 pages.

Find the link to the publication here (Winter Verlag)

Landscapes of Difficult Heritage by Gustav Wollentz

Landscapes of difficult heritage

The book Landscapes of Difficult Heritage presents the research that Gustav Wollentz carried out at the Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’. The book addresses how people negotiate difficult heritage within their everyday lives, focusing on memory, belonging, and identity. The starting point for this examination is that temporalities lie at the core of understanding this negotiation and that the connection between temporalities and difficult heritage remains poorly understood and theorised in previous research. In order to fully explore the temporalities of difficult heritage, the book investigates places in which the incident of violence originated within different time periods. The volume examines one example of modern violence (Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina), one example where the associated incident occurred during medieval times (the Gazimestan monument in Kosovo), and one example of prehistoric violence (Sandby borg in Sweden). The book presents new theoretical perspectives and provides suggestions for the development of sites of difficult heritage, and will thus be relevant for academic researchers, students, and heritage professionals.   

"Wollentz’s study is very impressive in its intellectual breadth and depth, combining acute insights in the theory of heritage and memory with detailed empirical observations derived from heritage ethnographies in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Sweden." (Cornelius Holtorf, UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures, Linnaeus University, Sweden)

“Gustav Wollentz’s book is a refreshing read that enters into the intense debate on difficult heritage and invites us to rethink some of the analytical tools we use for the study of spaces marked by violent events, starting from the very notion of ‘temporality’. The book’s analyses of Mostar, Gazimestan, and Sandby borg are not mere applications of the concepts discussed in the theoretical chapters, but are a remarkable way of “doing theory” empirically, moving from the specific features of each case study.” (Francesco Mazzucchelli, University of Bologna, Italy)

Landscapes of Difficult Heritage by Gustav Wollentz, Palgrave Macmillan (2020), 297 pages, 41 illustrations (in English).

Pernil Alto: Transition to early agriculture in Southern Peru / Hermann Gorbahn

In his dissertation, now published as a book, Hermann Gorbahn presents the results of his research at the site of Pernil Alto in Southern Peru. The site dates to the sixth millennium cal BP and is located on the Andean foothills of the Peruvian coastal desert. It was a small village of 18 huts, where people were also buried. The investigations of the site were carried out within the project ‘Andean Transect’ of the Commission for Archaeology of Non-European Cultures of the German Archaeological Institute (link). They documented that a transition from a low-level food- production subsistence economy to a subsistence economy based on agriculture occurred around 5300 cal BP. Pernil Alto is thus one of the oldest agricultural villages in the Central Andes known to date. These results are relevant in order to reconstruct the emergence of early complex societies on the Peruvian central coast at the beginning of the fifth millennium BP, which subsequently formed the nucleus of later cultural developments of the Central Andes.

Hermann Gorbahn completed his PhD thesis in the framework of the Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ (GSC 208). In addition to his position within the Graduate School, he was also supported by Graduate School research funds.

Gorbahn, Hermann: Pernil Alto. An agricultural village of the Middle Archaic period in Southern Peru. Forschungen zur Archäologie Außereuropäischer Kulturen 17. Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz Verlag 2020. ISBN: 978-3-447-11417-2 (link)

GorbahnThe site of Pernil Alto on the right margin of the Rio Grande, Southern Peru (Photo: Project "Andean Transect"/KAAK, DAI/Johny Isla).

Umweltgeschichte Deutschlands (Environmental History of Germany) / Hans-Rudolf Bork

Umweltgeschichte DeutschlandsIn his new book Umweltgeschichte Deutschlands (Environmental History of Germany), Hans-Rudolf Bork, PI of the ‘Cluster of Excellence ROOTS’ at Kiel University and member of the subcluster ‘Socio-Environmental Hazards’ (Link), illustrates the manifold relationships between people and their environment. This book consists of 260 stories, ranging from Roman lead pollution in the Eifel to the “Fridays for Future” movement. The volume presents diverse narratives from numerous fields of research and epochs, including, for example, an explanation of how aurochs, bear and wolf disappeared in Germany and corn, tobacco and potatoes arrived. The reclamation of the large bogs from Lower Saxony to Bavaria and the large floodplains of the Rhine and Oder with the subsequent unexpected negative effects on the environment and the people living there is also addressed. One account describes how whale oil from bowhead whales illuminated Hamburg and how these giant mammals have almost become extinct. The era of oil, which continues until today, follows.

Illustrated with 182 figures and supported by a large glossary, the book addresses selected environmental histories of Germany, spanning from the storm tides that made the occurrence of malaria in the North Sea marshes possible to the locusts that destroyed harvests or farmers who colonised the last near-natural landscapes of Central Europe under great hardship: bogs disappeared.

This volume presents a cross-section on the environmental history of Germany from a wide perspective, discussing significant developments in the human-environmental relationship from many different angles. For instance, while the coal and steel industry darkened the cities over the Ruhr and Saar, the structure and use of the landscapes changed, also due to the division of the commons. Ever larger canals were built in order to be able to ship goods more efficiently, while in February 1784, Ludwig van Beethoven fled from the great winter flood of the Rhine. Germans also studied the environment abroad: Alexander von Humboldt explored Latin America and Amalie Dietrich hunted plants and animals in Australia for Johann Caesar Godeffroy.

Scientific advancements, economic development and the industrialisation of Germany are impressively described in this anthology, highlighting their influence on nature and society. For example, industrial enterprises with high pollutant emissions became unpopular in the cities and had to move, only to subsequently pollute suburbs and rural areas. Many discoveries, for example in medicine and biology, provided advancement for human society. For instance, spotted fever and cholera were rampant in urban contexts. Scientists, such as Robert Koch, helped to determine the pathogens of such infectious diseases, whereas Carl Sprengel and Justus von Liebig discovered the importance of plant nutrients. Other advancements in agricultural chemistry reformed agriculture once again, for example, the synthesis of ammonia and mineral fertilisation by Fritz Haber in the early 20th century, making harvest yields explode. Synthetic insecticides were also developed. In light of improper use, some of these seminal developments also resulted in detrimental effects for nature.

Further narratives in Bork’s book also deal with the expansion of transport systems. New railroads and road networks both connected and divided the land, whereby the sealing of soil surfaces continues incessantly. Early on, Carl Benz applied for a patent for the first carriage without horses, while Theodor Lessing founded an anti-noise association. In the course of the First and Second World Wars, Germans devastated many landscapes, Otto Bayer synthesised polyurethane and Kok-Saghys was intended to replace natural rubber, for which “research” was carried out in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

After the Second World War, fields in the West were reallocated and in the East collectivised. The post-war West German economic miracle was based on oil and gas, but air and water pollution had serious consequences for both German states, while highly toxic chemicals were let into the Rhine and caused the death of fish. These detrimental effects on the environment led to subsequent laws that have been passed to improve water, air and later soil quality, to preserve biodiversity and reduce noise.

Scientists continued to study and warn society about the exploitation of nature by humans. Bernhard Grzimek denounced cruelty to animals through factory farming, whereas Bernhard Ulrich vehemently warned about forest decline (Waldsterben). Consequently, air pollution control measures have been installed to prevent further forest dieback, and on a social level, the Green party was founded in West Germany.

During recent decades, Klaus Hasselmann identified man-made climate change. Further current incidents effecting landscapes and society are mentioned as the outcome of human-environment exploitation. For example, large floods on the Oder, Elbe and Danube, which were only made possible by changes in the landscape and its utilisation by humans, aggravate people living on the banks of these rivers. Trees are snapped over by storms en masse because forest officials planted tree species in monocultures – mainly for economic reasons – that are not very stable against extreme weather events. Further negative effects resulting from environmental and species exploitation are mentioned in this volume, for example, that cattle are affected by BSE and birds by the H5N8 virus, free bisphenol is found in the blood of mothers, antibiotics have been verified in groundwater and surface waters, and a disease threatens to cause ash tree distinction. Despite such developments, diesel-powered vehicles (still) transport Germans through the landscape.

Why do we often not react, act wrongly or (too) late? What is to be done? How can a future with healthy people and even better social conditions be achieved? For people who decide to assume environmental responsibility and live in an “intact” environment, a deep understanding of the past is necessary, and thus of the diverse human-environment relationships and their driving forces. Once this has been achieved, we can turn the existing uncertainty about human impact and environmental change into confidence. Moreover, we can look forward with joy into a future that is characterised by respect, precaution, empathy and a deep positive knowledge of human-environmental relationships.

You can find a detailed review of the book by Udo E. Simonis (in German) here: link

Umweltgeschichte Deutschlands (Environmental History of Germany) by Hans-Rudolf Bork, Springer (2020), 408 pages, 182 illustrations (in German).

Historical case studies on pandemics

Pandemics and Crisis Reloaded

The German version of this text can be found here

Learning from the past: new publication by Kiel University’s Cluster of Excellence ROOTS

Whether it’s the plague, cholera or currently COVID-19: epidemics are part of human history. Long before there were vaccinations or microscopes for the investigation of pathogens, societies had to develop coping strategies. These are described in the brochure "Distant Times so Close: Pandemics and Crises reloaded", published by the Cluster of Excellence "ROOTS – Social, Environmental, and Cultural Connectivity in Past Societies" at Kiel University (CAU), which is the first in a series of historical-archaeological publications on current topics.

"In a situation like the present, it is worthwhile to look in the past, and remind ourselves of the strategies used by earlier cultures in order to deal with epidemics and/or pandemics," said the cluster spokesperson, archaeologist Professor Johannes Müller, regarding the motivation behind the publication. If modern technologies have reached their limits, for example, if there are still no vaccines or appropriate treatments available, then people of today essentially in the same position as the people centuries ago. The interdisciplinary-oriented brochure, which appears in German and English, contains snapshots ranging from the Neolithic Age, through classical antiquity and to the Middle Ages. The authors are relevant experts from a wide spectrum of subjects represented in the cluster, which equally involves scientists from the natural sciences, life sciences and humanities. In short, easily comprehensible, richly illustrated articles describe significant cases of epidemics, their origins, their developments, surprisingly diverse strategies to cope with them, and last but not least, the culturally enshrined knowledge drawn from contemporary reflections.

Not modern phenomena: social upheavals and zoonoses

The contributions aim to provide unexpected insights into what is partly considered well-known. "For example, it is hardly remembered that in his epic poem, the Iliad, the Greek poet Homer constructed his narrative of the Trojan War around the outbreak of an epidemic," reported Professor Lutz Käppel. "The root of the tragedy in the Iliad, all of the pointless killing and dying, ultimately lies in the failure to tackle the epidemic on a socially-equitable basis, and not in the medical situation itself." The real danger for a community – according to this work from the beginnings of European literary history – lies in the internal social distortion of interests, rather than the actual epidemic. In his new interpretation of the work, Käppel shows how this approach applies to the present situation.

Learning from history

"The underlying idea within the cluster is that it’s always connectivities which significantly shape the development of human societies: connections and interactions between humans and the environment, groups and other groups, and in the broader sense also between various domains of action, such as ways of life, social orders, knowledge cultures, economic strategies, diets or disease patterns. This could also serve as the starting point here," summarised Lutz Käppel.
The articles do not provide a panacea for dealing with the current pandemic. "However, they make an indispensable contribution to dealing with such a threat in a historically enlightened manner, in which the historical experience together with modern medical knowledge must be part of an overall strategy to overcome it," concluded Johannes Müller.


Original publication:

Distant Times so Close: Pandemics and Crises reloaded. With contributions by V.P.J. Arponen, Martin Furholt, Lutz Käppel, Tim Kerig, Ben Krause-Kyora, Cheryl Makarewicz, Johannes Müller, Almut Nebel, Henny Piezonka and Chiara Thumiger, ROOTS Booklet Series No. 1, published by Lutz Käppel, Cheryl Makarewicz and Johannes Müller, 64 pages, numerous images, Sidestone Press, Leiden 2020.
Download PDF (english version)

Download PDF (german version)

Past societies. Human development in landscapes.

Past Societies

Two years after the publication of “Past Landscapes”, the sequel “Past Societies” has now been published. This book presents research projects mainly by former PhD students of the Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ at Kiel University. The authors conducted research in different disciplines within the humanities and natural sciences. Their common research interest focuses on past societies.
The Kiel Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ has conducted research on socio-environmental issues of past societies during the last years. From the North Atlantic to the Persian Gulf and from Peru to the Near East, different attempts on the interfluve of environments and societies in landscapes describe certain historical moments and processes in which the interplay of ecological and societal factors is entangled. Events, processes and structures are described on local, regional and global scales as well as methodological developments on ecological and societal archives.
The selected case studies are linked by the general idea of the ability to integrate discovery, documentation, description and interpretation within the scope of analyses and synthesis. Thus, the interdisciplinary framework of the Kiel Graduate School formed the agenda for a holistic approach. ‘Landscapes of power’, transitions during neolithisation processes, maritime and other networks, site formation dynamics, ‘landscapes of identities’ and the ‘making of heritage’ are only a few topics included in this book.

The Kiel Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ constituted the major pioneering institution of the interdisciplinary research focus at Kiel University, from which the CRC 1266 – Scales of Transformation – Human-Environmental Interaction in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies, the Johanna Mestorf Academy and the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS – Social, Environmental, and Cultural Connectivity in Past Societies, emerged. Hence, several members of the CRC 1266 and ROOTS also contributed to this volume.

Müller, Johannes; Ricci, Andrea (eds.) 2020: Past societies. Human development in landscapes. Leiden: Sidestone Press. ISBN: 9789088909245

To the publisher: Sidestone Press

Maidanets’ke: Development and decline of a Trypillia mega-site in Central Ukraine

In his recently published dissertation, René Ohlrau presents the development and decline of Maidanets'ke, which represents a Trypillia 'mega-site' in Central Ukraine" that dates to the end of the 5th millennium BCE. Maidanets’ke is the most complex example of these enormous sites and is also among the best investigated ones.
Based on new excavations by an international team, the author examines the history and structure of this settlement and its regional context. Results on pottery kilns, the ditch work and several houses are presented in detail. Due to extensive radiocarbon dating and modelling from different parts of the settlement, a phase model for the development of a 'mega-site' could be generated for the first time. Furthermore, calculations on population size and development provide information on the mega-site phenomenon.
Targeted geophysical surveys in the main distribution area of mega-sites verify a uniform structure of small and large settlements. The results on population density and settlement structure are used to reassess the urban character of Trypillia mega-sites.

René Ohlrau completed his PhD thesis in the Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ (GSC 208). In addition to his position within the Graduate School, he was also supported by Graduate School research funds.

Ohlrau, R. 2020. Maidanets’ke: Development and decline of a Trypillia mega-site in Central Ukraine, Scales of Transformation in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies 07. Leiden: Sidestone Press. ISBN: 9789088908484

To the publisher Sidestone Press

The Power of Urban Water


With the volume “The Power of Urban Water”, the Subcluster Urban Roots presents its first results. The two core themes of the Subcluster – Urban Agency and Urban Perception – are questioned in relation to a particularly central urbanistic aspect: water. The contributions examine the fundamental cultural significance of water in the city and water for the city from various perspectives. Symbolic, aesthetic and cultic aspects are addressed as well as the role of water in politics, society and the economy. Chronologically, the spectrum ranges from antiquity to early modern times.

Chiarenza, N., Haug, A., Müller, U. (eds.) 2020. The Power of Urban Water. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter.
ISBN: 978-3-11-067664-8 doi: https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110677065

To the publisher: De Gruyter

Marks on the Rocks. Rock and mobile art as an expression of the hunter-gatherers groups Weltanschauung in the Sicilian landscape from Lateglacial to Early Holocene.


This newly published research investigation by Gianpiero Di Maida (winner of the Johanna Mestorf Award 2019) deals with a complete re-evaluation of the late glacial rock and mobile art record of Sicily. The highlights of this volume include a detailed theoretical overview, up-to-date links to the most recent research investigations of the coeval European record, and a fresh chronological perspective.
For the first time, absolute dates in direct connection with the art record of Sicily and a new framework regarding the first habitation of the island are presented together, thus providing a stimulating starting point for any future research in this field and region.
Finally, alongside the available traditional documentation, a new digital-based documentation of the most relevant specimens in the record is presented to the reader, thus updating the records of Sicilian art of the final Pleistocene/Early Holocene in light of the so-called digital turn that has recently stormed archaeology as a discipline.

Gianpiero Di Maida completed his PhD thesis in the Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ (GSC 208). In addition to his position within the Graduate School, he was also supported by Graduate School research funds.

Di Maida, G., 2020, Marks on the Rocks. Rock and mobile art as an expression of the hunter-gatherers groups Weltanschauung in the Sicilian landscape from Lateglacial to Early Holocene. Universitätsforschung zur prähistorischen Archäologie, Vol. 343. Graduate School Human Development in Landscapes, Vol. 16. Bonn: Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH. ISBN 978-3-7749-4238-7

To the publisher: Link

Embracing Bell Beaker. Adopting new ideas and objects across Europe during the later 3rd millennium BC (c. 2600-2000 BC)

Embracing Bell Beaker

The newly released volume of the CRC series “Scales of Transformation in Prehistoric and Historic Societies” presents the results of the research completed by Jos Kleijne on settlement evidence from the Bell Beaker period. Kleijne indicates that local communities adopted new ideas and objects in different ways during the second half of the 3rd millennium BC. While some prehistoric communities adopted the Bell Beaker phenomenon rapidly and as a whole package, other communities adopted it more slowly or reshaped ideas to adapt them to their own cultural sphere. The study demonstrates that these varying strategies and tempi related to existing social networks of information exchange between Bell Beaker communities. These emerging networks were based on long-distance mobility of a limited number of individuals, who spread new technologies and practices.

This research was completed with the support of the Graduate School Human Development in Landscapes (GSC 208).

Kleijne, J.P., 2019. Embracing Bell Beaker. Adopting new ideas and objects across Europe during the later 3rd millennium BC (c. 2600-2000 BC). Scales of Transformation in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies 2. Leiden: Sidestone Press. ISBN:987-90-8890-755-5

To the publisher Sidestone Press

Face urns – Images of humans in the past

Face Urns

Faces fascinate, especially those of the past. Face depictions attracted the interest of collectors and museums early on.

Jutta Kneisel, prehistorian archaeologist, co-PI of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS and project leader of the CRC 1266 subproject D3, published a vivid volume on the latest results of her research on anthropomorphic vessels, which were mainly used as grave urns during both the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. This richly illustrated volume provides an insight into the life of a society that lived almost 3000 years ago. The book provides answers to questions such as: who was an important woman and what role did an old man play in this society? In addition, the reader gets to know children and warriors and also learns about trade and exchange networks, which were already established across Europe. Face recognition and the significance of the face play a pivotal role for the investigations.

This research was completed with the support of the Graduate School Human Development in Landscapes (GSC 208).

Kneisel, J., 2019. Gesichtsurnen, Menschenbilder der Vergangenheit. Bonn: Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH.

To the publisher: Habelt Verlag


Socio-Environmental Dynamics along the Historical Silk Road

The edited volume ‘Socio-Environmental Dynamics along the Historical Silk Road’ discusses socio-environmental interactions in the middle to late Holocene, covering specific areas along the ancient Silk Road regions. The 22 chapters provide insight into this topic from various disciplinary angles and perspectives, ranging from archaeology, paleoclimatology, antiquity, historical geography, agriculture, carving art and literacy. Versions of most of the chapters were initially prepared for the international workshop entitled “The Rise and Fall: Environmental Factors in the Socio-Cultural Changes of the Ancient Silk Road Area”, which was convened by the Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ (GSHDL) at Kiel University during September 27-28, 2017.

The Silk Road is a modern concept for an ancient network of trade routes that for centuries facilitated and intensified processes of cultural interaction and goods exchange between West China, Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. Coherent patterns and synchronous events in history suggest possible links between social upheaval, resource utilization and climate or environment forces along the Silk Road and in a broader area.

Studies in the volume indicate both that climate conditions significantly influence human socio-cultural systems and that the socio-culture systems are certainly resilient to climate impacts. The cross-cutting theme has been to reach beyond simple explanations of environmental or human determinism, but social resilience under environmental impacts.

Both the workshop and the volume were jointly sponsored by the Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ at the Kiel University (GSC 208/2) and the Past Global Changes project (PAGES).

The publication is freely accessible online via the publishing house Springer, but can also be purchased as printed versions: here

Yang, L., Bork, H.-R.,  Fang, X., Mischke, S., 2019. Socio-Environmental Dynamics along the Historical Silk Road. Springer-Nature, Cham, Switzerland. 535 Pages. ISBN 978-3-030-00727-0

'Past Landscapes': New edited volume by the Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’

The edited volume ‘Past Landscapes. The Dynamics of Interaction between Society, Landscape, and Culture’ presents theoretical and practical attempts of scholars and scientists, who were and are active within the Kiel Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ (GSHDL) at Kiel University. It comprises 18 papers dealing with central issues of interdisciplinary research on past landscapes, inhabiting societies and the development of socio-environmental interaction, with special focus on the definition and application of the term ‘landscape’:Landscapes are understood as products of human-environmental interaction. At the same time, they are arenas, in which societal and cultural activities as well as receptions of environments and human developments take place. Thus, environmental processes are interwoven into human constraints and advances.

This book presents theories, concepts, approaches and case studies dealing with human development in landscapes. On the one hand, it becomes evident that only an interdisciplinary approach can cover the manifold aspects of the topic. On the other hand, this also implies that the very different approaches cannot be reduced to a simplistic uniform definition of landscape. This shortcoming proves nevertheless to be an important strength. The umbrella term ‘landscape’ proves to be highly stimulating for a large variety of different approaches.

The GSDHL makes the major pioneering institution of this interdisciplinary research focus at Kiel University, from which the CRC 1266, the Johanna Mestorf Academy and the excellence cluster ‘ROOTS - connectivity of society, environment and culture in past worlds’ emerged. Hence, several members of the CRC 1266 and ROOTS contributed to different papers of this volume.

The publication is freely accessible online via the publishing house Sidestone Press: Link

  Haug, A., Käppel, L., Müller, J., 2018. Past Landscapes. The Dynamics of Interaction between Society, Landscape, and Culture. Sidestone Press, Leiden.
ISBN: 9789088907319.

Enigmatic pit structures in Mongolia identified as permanent settlements from the Qing era

Lost Cities in the Steppe project publishes first results in the international journal Antiquity

Lost Cities in the Steppe project publishes first results in the international journal Antiquity
Kiel University students excavating a test trench at one of the pit structure (photo: S. Jagiolla, Kiel University).

Non-sedentary lifestyles are a typical feature of Mongolia–even today. However, cities have been an integral part of Mongolian nomadic society for more than a millennium. Abandoned urban sites from various periods dot the land. They testify to a colorful history of lost empires and alliances.

A collaborative project between the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Dresden University of Applied Sciences and the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS at Kiel University, is studying these abandoned urban sites. The project named "Abandoned Cities in the Steppe: Roles and Perception of Early Modern Religious and Military Centres in Nomadic Mongolia" is funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation and the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS. It combines archaeological, geographical, historical and ethnographic approaches to identify facets of urban life in early modern Mongolia. The project also examines how their physical and mental traces continue to impact the modern landscape and shape cultural memory.

Preliminary results of the project's first research campaign in 2019 have now been published in the international journal "Antiquity". As the team of authors around Henny Piezonka from the Institute for Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology at Kiel University and Cluster ROOTS writes, the excavations revealed for the first time that pit structures in the central Mongolian Khangai Mountains close to the Orkhon Valley were at least partly permanent settlements or garrisons of the Qing Dynasty (1636–1911) era.
These pit structures—unusual, large settlement forms with structured layouts hidden in secluded mountain valleys—were discovered by a survey programme 2008 to 2011. They were initially interpreted as short-lived, seasonal marching stations. The analysis of the 2019 excavation has now corrected this assumption.

The Orkhon Valley, part of the UNESCO World Heritage since 2004, and the adjacent mountain regions preserve traces of various urban centres that include Karakorum, the capital of the Mongol Empire in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries AD. Much less is known about the period of the Qing Dynasty, when Mongolia had fallen under Manchu dominance. This is the era in which most modern Mongolian cities are rooted, but subsequent political developments led to the abandonment or destruction of many of these urban sites.

Further interdisciplinary research at the investigated sites is planned.  


Piezonka, H., Ethier, J., Ahrens, B., Chadraabal, E., Oczipka, M., Ressel, C., & Sampildondov, C. (2023). Lost cities in the Steppe: Investigating an enigmatic site type in early modern Mongolia. Antiquity, 1-9. https://doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2023.8


The Lost-Cities programme of the Gerda Henkel Foundation
The project on the website of the Cluster ROOTS


Fieldwork + Activities


Participating Institutions