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Survey of the Terrain

In the past few years it became clear that we are not dealing with a battle limited to a small space in Kalkriese, but one that covered an extensive terrain in which Roman troops were attacked repeatedly on their march. This terrain spans more than 30 square kilometers, and it is roughly located between the rivers Hase and Hunte and between Kalkrieser Berg and Großes Moor (Big Moor). This information has mainly been derived from surveys of the terrain conducted by employees of the Kalkriese Research Project since 1987. These surveys were inspired by findings of the late Tony Clunn, who passed away in the summer of 2014.

While in the early stages of the surveys two persons scanned the fields with metal detectors (always with the approval of the respective land owners and tenants), geophysical technician Klaus Fehrs alone has been in charge of the surveys for many years now. Given the immense size of the area to be surveyed, this is not only the task of a lifetime for a single person, but a systematic survey also means that each square meter must be searched carefully, detected finds must be unearthed, measured and identified. Only then the artifacts are entered in maps and databases, the data are evaluated and then submitted to the respective office for the protection of ancient monuments. Nowadays many fields are agriculturally used during all seasons of the year – a fact that severely limits the survey periods. If winters (the best time of the year to survey a terrain) are rainy, snowy or extremely cold, this season can hardly be used to continue working on these tasks.

To determine the exact size of the battlefield as precisely as possible, many square kilometers must still be surveyed. Moreover, already known sites must be inspected again, because occasionally further finds surface when the fields are ploughed. It is also important to survey areas that are unlikely to yield any, let alone many finds, since the information that finds are missing in certain locations is also important for a scientific evaluation. In the context of the project researching the so-called Conflict Landscape – a project dedicated to researching, among other aspects, Germanic settlement patterns and infrastructure and their impact on the battle as well as on the march of the Romans – it was necessary to extend surveys to the slope and summit of the Kalkriese Hill. In this task, Klaus Fehrs was generously supported by volunteering metal detectorists. In spite of adverse weather conditions, not only did they help to reinspect known sites and detect new ones in the battle’s context, but they also searched fields and the hill near Venne for Roman artifacts, as well as for ceramic and stone artifacts indicating prehistoric settlements to determine whether domestic settlements existed in this region at the time of the Varus battle and whether traces of military conflicts, as we so far only know from the lower slope and the edges of the moor, could be found. This is a time-consuming process, as the fields are often quite large, and of course it is more rewarding to make a »real« find. Even though Roman artifacts are scarce and prehistoric finds are largely missing from many fields, the volunteers remained loyal, thus making a substantial contribution to the ongoing archaeological research. Now we can be almost certain that no Germanic settlement existed on the Kalkriese Hill and that no big battles took place here either.

However, the success of the terrain’s survey does not depend on the number of finds alone. It is also important to survey the area systematically, even though a lack of finds may seem disappointing. To answer scientific questions and to evaluate the overall context of historical events, an area devoid of finds can be just as important. Therefore, we especially wish to thank our volunteers first and foremost for their unfailing commitment instead of for the number of finds.