From Work in the Field to Work at the Desk
Evaluation of the Excavation Results
After the vast number of diverse activities in the year 2009, things have quieted down for the archaeology department at Museum und Park Kalkriese, but only regarding the actual field work. Now it is time to evaluate the results of excavations conducted in the last few years. In particular the distribution of Roman artifacts in the Oberesch area must be analyzed and entered into a final report which will be published to document the five-year work period sponsored by VW Stiftung.
While excavation assistant Johannes Füchtenbusch inventories, washes, labels, packages and stores away the prehistoric finds in the new storage room at the visitor center, excavation technician Axel Thiele busies himself with the organization of charts and photographs of the last excavation campaigns on the Oberesch, which must be checked, edited and archived systematically. The almost exclusively digitally stored excavation data of finds and find spots are needed by geophysical technician Klaus Fehrs, so that he can create the maps required for their scientific evaluation. Information about the Roman finds from sections 23 to 39 will also be incorporated in the evaluation. In the meantime, these finds have been identified and catalogued by Dr. Joachim Harnecker.
Many observations and questions already cropped up during the mapping of various groups of finds from sections 1-22, which have been presented in the Kalkriese 4 catalogue published by Joachim Harnecker. For example, remarkable distribution patterns of metal shield rims have been discovered: These can exclusively be found near the wall, and we suspect that the shields were piled up here by the Germanic people when they looted the battlefield to scrap the metal parts. This observation we made for a part of the Oberesch area has also been made in most other sections as well.
Numerous silver-plated iron nails with mushroom-shaped heads show comparable distribution patterns. They apparently underwent similar looting and scraping processes. In this context the question can be raised whether these nails also used to belong to shields where they possibly served to hold the shield boss in place. However, until today, parallel distribution patterns from Roman camps and settlements are missing, and therefore a conclusive evaluation is not possible yet, but maybe the Kalkriese finds will contribute to resolving this and similar questions, because the preservation conditions of this battlefield are different from those of settlements or burial sites.
Besides the distribution of certain groups of finds, the history of the wall construction is of special interest during the current mapping. The goal here is to gain a better understanding of the decay processes of various sections of the wall and to find out whether the wall was already torn down by the Romans during the battle in attempts of breaching it. The thin-layered material remains in some wall sections sometimes constrict interpretation attempts, but the detailed mapping of the finds and their projection onto the profile drawing has already yielded several answers. For example, as a matter of fact, the wall construction was determined to have been about 3.5 m wide at its base.
Areas with high numbers of finds clearly indicate that artifacts were moved from their original positions to upper soil layers due to agricultural activities in Medieval times. This observation underlines the assumption that Roman artifacts that were found in the Plaggenesch layer were probably hardly moved at all and not brought to their recent find spots together with Plaggen soil from other locations. This is an important aspect in the evaluation of surface finds, because until recently it was difficult to assess whether they actually point to a primary find spot in the battle’s context or whether they are just materials that were relocated into a secondary position the course of fertilizing the ground with Plaggen soil.
A detailed mapping of finds in section 30, which was excavated as early as in 1999/2000, brought to light new information regarding findings in a ditch located in front of the wall’s end. Here the lid of a crate could be identified based on 28 large iron nails and four corner fittings. The lid had probably ended up in the ditch in one piece, where the wooden parts decayed, whereas the iron parts remained in situ in their original position after the ditch had filled up. If one takes into consideration the geometrically correct leveling of each find, one can conclude that the lid was deposited in the ditch in a slightly slanted position. However, an accumulation of stones, mostly on one side of the lid, does raise various questions: The first impression that these stones slid across the lid due to its angle and came to rest against its bottom rim could not be confirmed, because the stones were located underneath the iron parts of the crate’s lid. It is most likely that the found artifacts were deliberately thrown into the ditch, together with the stones, to fill it. In close proximity to the lid, a significant number of further nails was discovered. They had probably been attached to organic substances before. We still don’t know if the Romans filled in the ditch because it constituted an additional obstacle, i.e. in order to gain easier access to the wall for launching their attacks. It is also feasible that after the battle the Germanic people wanted to eliminate the danger the deep ditch presented; possibly as early as in the course of the lootings. A slow filling of the ditch with eroded soil material can be excluded for the most part.
These examples show the importance of a meticulous documentation of finds during the actual excavation. It is the only way to successfully address questions regarding details that emerge in the course of the evaluation.