Case Studies

Watchtowers / Bremen Shipwreck / Govan Old / Prague / Munich / Make Up of the City / CORS / Borgund / Santa Maria

All Along the Watchtowers! Balancing Heritage Protection, Development, and Scientific Research on Buried Archaeology at European Castles

Dr Rowena Banerjea, University of Reading

Castles are iconic monuments from the Middle Ages, a period which shaped the cultural geography and shared heritage of modern Europe. The buried or below-ground archaeology at castle sites can be exceptionally well preserved because of its burial under masonry, but it is often overlooked in conservation and management plans in favour of any standing remains. It provides an important lens through which we can examine important phases and hiatuses in the developmental history of these monuments. The project developed a framework for geoarchaeological research at European castles to target archaeologists, castle curators and heritage management policy-makers, so that our guidance can influence their future excavation strategies and conservation plans. Soil micromorphology is a geoarchaeological technique that reveals the dynamic histories within the buried archaeology at these monuments and it identifies potential threats (eg. human, faunal) to the buried archaeology and the processes by which materials in the ground decay.

The excavation in the outer ward at Castillo de Molina de Aragón, Spain, in autumn 2017.

Micromorphology samples were collected from well-preserved ash layers that were sealed below the rubble from the collapse of a tower further upslope. The ash layers were compare with deposits in samples that were collected from exposed profiles within the citadel and in the church of Santa Catalina or Cristo de las Murallas, which have less well-preserved calcitic materials such as ash and plaster. Photo credit to Guillermo García-Contreras Ruiz, University of Granada, Spain.

Soil micromorphology sampling of turf that was used to rebuild or cap the stone castle wall at Dunyvaig Castle, Islay, Scotland. The sample was collected to understand the factors affecting the preservation of the material in comparison with the turf material that was used to block off the sea gate at the castle.
Soil micromorphology sampling of turf that was used to rebuild or cap the stone castle wall at Dunyvaig Castle, Islay, Scotland. The sample was collected to understand the factors affecting the preservation of the material in comparison with the turf material that was used to block off the sea gate at the castle.

The sample was collected to understand the factors affecting the preservation of the material in comparison with the turf material that was used block of the sea gate at the castle.

Website: https://research.reading.ac.uk/castle-geoarchaeology-heritage/


Bremen shipwreck

Dr Natascha Mehler

Teerhof is a peninsula in the River Weser near the city of Bremen, Germany. A rather well preserved shipwreck of the late 17th century was discovered where shipbuilding has been going on for centuries; it was subsequently excavated by the ‘Landesarchäologie Bremen’ (the Bremen State Office for the Preservation of Archaeological Remains). The shipwreck is preserved to a length of about 17 m (originally it was 20 to 25 m long) and is that of a river barge, a flat-bottomed boat to transport bulk goods across and along rivers. The barge is made of oak, and it had frequently been repaired during its life time.

A 17th-century river barge from Teerhof on the River Weser being excavated by the “Landesarchäologie Bremen” Such vessels provided a vital transportation link in a global trade networks which linked Bremen to the wider world.

Dendrochronology has revealed that the oak used for the barge was felled in 1683, and in 1714 the arm of the river in which it lay was back-filled and the barge buried. The barge served for the transport of heavy loads, most probably „Bremen sandstone“ quarried nearby. This rock type was very much sought after in many parts of the world at the time, due to its weather-resistance and its easy processing. From the 16th century onwards, Bremen sandstone was shipped down River Weser to Bremen for transshipment and exported globally. During the 17th century, the Dutch East India Company, for example, used Bremen sandstone for building activities in their overseas colonies, such as the citadel of Batavia (present-day Jakarta).


Govan Old/Govan Young

Stephen Driscoll, University of Glasgow

Govan Old church provides a rare example where archaeology has directly contributed to the social and economic regeneration of a socially deprived community. The sharp decline of industrial shipbuilding on the River Clyde in the 1970s placed the community on the edge of collapse. Since the 1990s Govan’s largely unknown collection of early medieval royal burial monuments (www.thegovanstones.org.uk) have helped to reshape local perceptions about local historical and cultural significance. Making the rich archaeological resources accessible to the community, not just to academics, has empowered local people to construct a more positive and constructive urban narrative for themselves. 

An example of the process can be seen in Govan Young, a documentary film about inspiring children through Viking Age archaeology, which explores how film and archaeology can shape children’s historical consciousness.


Prague the City of Archaeology – Integrate Information System of Archaeological Sources of Prague (IIS_APP)

Dr Jan Hasil

The main goal of the project was to create an internet portal Prague – the City of Archaeology which aims to make the archaeological sources of Prague available to professionals as well as to the wider public. For the professional archaeologists, it gives access to information from the Archaeological Map of the Czech Republic, Heritage Catalogue as well as archival data from the long-term historical archaeological research of the core of the city. Among others portal allows to browse map of Prague with layers of different data such as the information on archaeological excavations or the reconstruction of former buildings.

The presentation part of the portal is aimed at the wider public, providing the possibility to further explore the map for thematic browsing of presentations compiled by archaeologists and their collaborators from the research institutions in Prague. Some of the presentations expand the information of professional data layers while others invite thematic walks around the archaeological sites of Prague, visits to archaeological sites, exhibitions and lectures dealing with archaeology.   The Praha-archeologicka.euportal along with published Guide to Archaeology of Prague is the main outcome of the project Integrate Information System of Archaeological Sources of Prague (IIS_APP) which is a joint project of the Institute of Archaeology of the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS), Prague, v.v.i. and the National Heritage Institute, Regional Office in Prague.  

Website: http://www.praha-archeologicka.cz


Munich Archaeology

Dr Natascha Mehler

“Munich Archaeology” (Archäologie München) is a research and community project brought to life by the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection and the city of Munich in 2014. Its aim is to investigate, preserve and mediate the archaeological remains of the city – from the Neolithic period to the Modern Age. The project is a clear signal from Munich citizens that they value their cultural heritage and that political hurdles can be circumvented. In contrast to many other cities in Germany, there is no department of urban archaeology in Munich. Therefore, the city, together with the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection, the Bavarian State Office for the Preservation of Monuments, the Ludwig-Maximilians-University and other institutions joined forces to get this project off the ground, which is strongly supported financially by the city of Munich.

One of their major sites is that of Marienhof. Marienhof is located in the city centre near the town hall and the excavations revealed the remains of several buildings, wells, latrines, alongside countless numbers of artefacts such as pottery, leather, wooden objects, animal bones, and iron objects. Thanks to this project, large excavations such as the one at Marienhof can be investigated at least in parts. Lectures, guided tours, exhibitions and events for children round off the project´s activities which have been very well received by the people of Munich. The publications on the archaeology of Munich are made available for free on the project´s website. 

Website: http://www.archaeologie-muenchen.de/de/aktuelles/

Excavations at Marienhof in the medieval city centre revealed well-preserved buildings, including wells, and a wealth of domestic and industrial artefacts. These Archäologie München sponsored excavations created opportunities for archaeologists to engage with the people of Munich through guided tours, exhibitions and special events

The Make-Up of the City

Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Dries Tys, Bart Lambert, Steven Provyn, Philippe Claeys, Christophe Snoeck, Thyl Snoeck, Veronica Jackson, Rachel Spros  

Between 1000 and 1800, the Low Countries were among the most densely urbanised regions of Europe.  Cities developed precociously in this region, representing a continuously increasing share of its population. Urban communities in the Low Countries were economic powerhouses, were at the forefront of political strife and acted as engines for cultural and social innovation. Yet, we still know very little about the origins, composition and living conditions of these urban populations, particularly during the earliest stages of urban development. This problem can be overcome by adopting a transdisciplinary investigative approach.

Archaeological and osteological analysis of human remains in urban sites provides essential information about a city’s gender and age distribution. The analysis of the strontium and oxygen isotopes in human tissue (bone collagen, tooth enamel) can reveal people’s regions of origin, while carbon and nitrogen isotopes give insights into their diets. Osteological study of human bone material tells us about their pathologies and their cause of death.   Our focus is the city of Ieper (Belgium, West-Flanders), one of the most important textile-producing centres of Europe in the 13th century. In 2018, about 1,200 human skeletons were excavated in its St Nicholas parish, dating from the 13th to early 17th centuries. The size of the cemetery, allows for the transdisciplinary study of a significant cross-section of the city’s population, and investigate the city’s gender and age distribution, the origins of its inhabitants and their migration patterns, as well as their diets, living conditions and life expectancies.  


Currently Occupied Rural Settlement (CORS)

Prof Carenza Lewis, University of Lincoln

The Currently Occupied Rural Settlement (CORS) project aimed to advance knowledge and understanding of the medieval development today’s villages, small towns, hamlets and farms. Inhabited places are often overlooked as historic sites and had been under-researched, but since 2005 the CORS project has completed more than 2500 small ‘test pit’ excavations in 75 different English settlements. The data have shown how each of these settlements evolved over nearly 2000 years and revealed how turbulent this development often was, while syntheses are illuminating phenomena as diverse as early medieval settlement discontinuity and the impact of the Black Death plague pandemic. Inherently publicly engaged from the outset, 10,000+ members of the public living in and around the excavated settlements have taken part, and this itself has thrown valuable new light on the societal benefits of public participation in medieval archaeological research. The CORS project outcomes are now inspiring similar work across Europe.

Website: www.cors.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk

A 1m square test pit under excavation in the currently occupied rural settlement of Coddenham (Suffolk, England) by local residents and teenagers working under professional archaeological supervision.

Fundación Catedral de Santa María

Catedral de Santa Maria Fundacion

The Foundation “Catedral Santa María” led the restoration and promotion of the Old Cathedral of Vitoria-Gasteiz, one of the provinces of Euskadi (Pays Basque), in Spain. About 25 years ago, the cathedral was found to be at risk of collapse. The restoration plan adopted a pioneering “Open for Works” approach which holistically integrated archaeological, architectural and historical research with educational, social, urban and economic factors. This has enabled members of the public to observe the site and the restoration activities undertaken ‘in action’, rather hiding the works behind tarpaulins and scaffolding. This approach has brought important economic benefits for the local community. The new motto “Open for Works” became an innovative and exciting way of dealing with heritage projects that puts its public dimension and value in the front line.

In recognition of this commitment and success in the year of the 25th anniversary of the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA), the 21st European Archaeological Heritage Prize was awarded to the Pays Basque ‘Fundación Catedral Santa María in Vitoria-Gasteiz’ in the institutional category.

Website: https://www.catedralvitoria.eus/

The Old Cathedral of Vitoria-Gasteiz  has been restored and re-invigorated by the Foundation Catedral Santa María , for which it was awarded the 21st European Archaeological Heritage Prize by the European Association of Archaeologists in 2019.

The Borgund Kaupang Project

Prof Gitte Hansen, University of Bergen

Borgund (outside of Ålesund in Møre og Romsdal County) was one of medieval Norway’s only towns. Sources suggest that the place dates back into the Viking Age and prospered until its late medieval abandonment. Known from literary sources and twenty seasons of archaeological excavations, little research has been carried out on the extensive datasets available. This material lays the foundation for the Borgund Kaupang project, whose team of national and international experts approach a broad spectrum of sources with multidisciplinary and pluralistic approaches to address the economic and cultural prerequisites of Borgund from emergence to abandonment. This approach adds new insights about life in small communities on the periphery of Europe, and the roles they played on the world stage.

Website: https://www.uib.no/en/rg/borgund-kaupang

https://www.uib.no/en/rg/borgund-kaupang/134757/excavating-borgund : The archaeological site in Borgund after Herteig arrived, 1954 Photo: Asbjørn Herteig © 2019 Universitetsmuseet i Bergen / CC BY-SA 4.0
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