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Is Kalkriese the Varus Battle Site?

A Major Research Project in Kalkriese
The research project „Kalkriese als Ort der Varusschlacht? – Eine anhaltende Kontroverse“ (“Is Kalkriese the Varus Battle Site? – An Ongoing Controversy”) will analyze the cultural and historical context of archaeological finds from the antique battlefield at Kalkriese. Volkswagen-Stiftung (Volkswagen Foundation) has agreed to finance the three-year research project, which will be conducted at Museum und Park Kalkriese as part of the funding initiative „Forschen in Museen“ (“Researching at Museums”). Cooperation partners of the project are Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum (German Mining Museum Bochum) and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich).

A Project with Many Facets
In a joined effort, researchers will try to assess the historical context of Kalkriese’s collection of archaeological finds, using different approaches. They also wish to identify the Roman military units which met their demise here. Four research modules are dedicated to the attempt of categorizing the assemblage of finds from Kalkriese. New examinations aim at a cultural and historical interpretation of this archaelogical site. A metallurgical fingerprint will be taken, among the use of other methods, to identify the Roman legions who died in Kalkriese. Two other project branches are going to focus on two unusual groups of finds – that of the glass eyes and that of folded metal strips. The public will be informed effectively and continuously about the project’s progress via its own website and a research blog. Moreover, a web-based database will be created, granting open access to everyone who is interested. A comprehensive special exhibition is planned in the coming years to present the research results to visitors in an accessible, commonly understood way. In the context of this project, two positions for postgraduate students were created.

Tracing the Battle with Modern Technology
The focus of the entire project’s first module is the cultural and historical categorization of the finds from Kalkriese. Its aims at reaching a better understanding of the former function of artifacts from the antique battlefield, which are extremely fragmented and often measure just a few centimeters. The second module is dedicated to the question of whether individual legions left behind a distinctive, so-called metallurgical fingerprint. This new approach could reveal the origin of the Roman military units that were destroyed in Kalkriese by comparing the results with those from other archaeological sites like Xanten and Vindonissa. To this end, modern analysis methods will be applied. About 600 finds consisting of non-ferrous metals will be closely examined via mass spectrometry, electron probe microanalyzer (EPMA) and laser ablation (removing of material by irradiating it with a laser beam). A third module is dedicated to the extraordinary group of glass eye finds. The function of these smaller-than-life eyes is unknown. Did they embellish furniture? Or were they placed on deathbeds, so-called klines, in the context of burial rites? And why were they brought to the battlefield in Kalkriese? In the course of a major comparison project, the chemical composition of a total of 23 glass eyes discovered so far in the region that used to be Germania, ie. glass eyes from Kalkriese, Haltern, Oberaden, Anreppen, Xanten and Augusta Raurica (Switzerland), will be analyzed. On the one hand, researchers wish to learn how these unusual objects were produced, on the other hand they wish to find out to which other items these glass eyes were originally attached by analyzing materials adhering to them.

Also subject to review will be the metal strips found in Kalkriese. They have been folded several times, and until today their function in the context of the assemblage of finds is unknown. Using a digital 3D reconstruction technique, the small “metal parcels” will be virtually unwrapped, i.e. transformed into their original shape. Here key questions are: Did victorious Germanic people recycle the metal in this way or did Roman soldiers – as it was customary – collect the precious scrap metal to save it for reuse? To answer these questions, finds from Kalkriese’s collection will be compared to similar finds from the Roman camp in Haltern.

Besides Mining Museum Bochum and Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich (LMU), the following institutions also support this project: German museums LVR-LandesMuseum Bonn, LWL-Archäologie für Westfalen, LWL-Römermuseum Haltern am See, LVR-Archäologischer Park Xanten, Archäologisches Landesmuseum Baden-Württemberg, as well as Musée Gallo-Romain (France), Augusta Raurica (Switzerland) and Kantonsarchäologie Aargau (Switzerland).