Archaeology, excavations and science
20 years of archaeology in Kalkriese
The history of archaeology in Kalkriese begins in the year 1987 when the enthusiastic amateur archaeologist J.A.S. Clunn found Roman coins. In 1988 he found three catapult lead-stones. In coordination with the archaeologist in charge of the town and the Rural District Osnabrück – Mr W Schlüter – more successful finds were made until 1989. Then, systematic excavations began in the land parcel called »Oberesch«. A. S. Clunn.
It soon became evident that the place of discovery was not only in the open field, but also in the nearby forest. There was a spectacular find in 1990. It was a 15 m (49.2 ft) wide and about 40 cm (16 inch) high discolouration in the ground. This turned out to be the remains of a rampart which previously could not be seen from above the surface. Consequently, more work was done at this place. The rampart had apparently been built with sod. There were drainage ditches on its southern side. Under the collapsed debris of the rampart were Roman coins and fragments of military equipment which proved that it dated from the time of Augustus.
Something very special was found in the year 1990. The misshapen and corroded find was found to be a cavalry mask of a Roman cavalry helmet, which was once covered with silver.
Both underneath the rampart and in the surrounding area were traces of prehistoric settlements. There were relics from the Stone Age and postholes of storehouses dating back to the pre-Roman Iron Age.
A lot of finds were made in those areas where parts of the rampart had already eroded in ancient times. For example, the skeleton of a mule and the remains of its bridle were found there. There were also some bones of horses and an amulet which was attached to a horse’s harness and was supposed to protect against any kind of harm.
The first and largest pit containing skeleton remains of both human and animal origin had already been found north of the rampart in 1994. Seven other such pits were found in the following years which may have been used for makeshift burials. Tacitus describes that such kind of burials took place in 16 AD.
In 1999 and 2000 the land on which the Museum and Park were to be built needed to be examined. In the course of this examination further remains of the rampart were discovered. Surprisingly, another skeleton of a mule was found, virtually intact. The animal had broken its neck, and shortly after its deadly fall, was buried under parts of the rampart.
In the years 2003/2004, two more pits containing skeleton remains, located in front of the rampart, have been examined. Underneath these pits, the excavators discovered older pits that were probably exposed at the time of the battle, because they also contained Roman artifacts, among them two gold coins and one silver coin. It is possible that these pits served as pitfalls built by the Germanic people in order to hamper the Roman troops’ advance. In the course of further excavations, the Eastern and Western ends of the rampart were also examined in closer detail.
The excavations near the rampart yield new facts regarding the strategic significance of the Germanic entrenchment and regarding the distribution of Roman finds in the examined area.
A report covering the first 15 years of excavations was published in 2007 in the »Kalkriese 3« volume.
Immediately following the end of the big events of the »2000 Years Varus Battle« anniversary, the excavation campaign 2009 started. Two new excavation sections were dug: one West of the »landscape section«, and one in the assumed course of the wall construction, a bit further to the Southwest. Whereas the larger section in front of the wall served to examine the distribution of Roman finds as well as the traces of a settlement dating to the pre-Roman Iron Age discovered in the early 1990s, the section running through the wall served to assess the exact course of the wall and both the distribution and types of Roman finds in this sector of the battlefield. Another highlight of 2009 was the International excavation camp. 20 young people from all over Europe, Turkey and the United States participated in the excavations.
In the year 2010, the archaeological team moved from the excavation site to the desk: Maps of the latest excavation sections were edited, finds assessed, and a new publication summarizing the past years’ results was prepared.
In 2011 and 2012, in the course of two excavation campaigns, archaeologists tried to investigate the military conflict at Kalkriese in the context of the larger landscape. How had it been used agriculturally around 9. A.D.? How dense was its Germanic population? What did their traffic routes look like? What happened to the spoils of war from the Varus Battle? These pivotal questions shall be analyzed further. Besides considering infrastructural aspects, scientists also assign great importance to the interpretation of Roman finds. They try to learn whether the objects ended up in the settlement as spoils of war or whether they point at possible battles in these places. This research approach is summarized under the name »Conflict Landscape«.
In this year, Kalkriese’s and Osnabrück’s archaeologists will focus on researching a Germanic settlement area, located about two kilometers West of the Oberesch, the main find spot of the battle and the site of today’s museum park. The layout of a Germanic house has already been unearthed here. According to the first results, it existed around the time of the Varus Battle. In addition, several Roman copper coins and a Roman fibula have been discovered. How these artifacts ended up in the settlement – whether as trade goods or abandoned by the Roman army – remains an exciting question that will keep scientists at Kalkriese and Osnabrück busy for some time to come.
»Kalkriese 6«, which will be published in the near future, focuses on an interpretation of the finds’ distribution as well as on the events during and in particular after the battle.
We are very much looking forward to these research results!