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First municipal community excavation in Germany proves long settlement tradition in Schenefeld

November 18th, 2022

Citizen science project "Schenefeld excavates" concludes with presentation of results:

  • Evaluation of Germany's first participatory community excavation shows great enthusiasm among citizens.
  • The pilot project in Schenefeld, district of Steinburg, reveals evidence of a settlement history of more than 1000 years in the area.
  • Participating archaeologists and community volunteers are committed to continuing the research and conducting more community excavations in Germany.


The use of volunteers is not new in archaeological research. Enthusiastic individuals who do not hold a full-time job in science support excavations or provide information about possible sites time and again. But the project "Schenefeld gräbt aus" ("Schenefeld digs up"), in which more than 100 adults, teenagers and children from the Schleswig-Holstein municipality largely independently delved into their town's past with the help of spades, trowels and paintbrushes in May and June 2022, is so far unique in Germany. Today, the final event took place in the village's official building, where the organizing team from the ROOTS Cluster of Excellence at Kiel University (CAU) and the Center for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology in Schleswig (ZBSA) presented the evaluation of the finds.


Citizens excavate more than 1000 years of settlement history

The municipal excavation was based on the assumption that Schenefeld could be one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in Schleswig-Holstein. This was indicated by individual, earlier archaeological finds and old components of the Schenefeld St. Boniface Church. Project coordinator Ilka Rau from the ROOTS/ZBSA Cluster of Excellence was able to announce today that the excavations in spring confirmed extensive settlement activity in Schenefeld as early as the later 1st millennium AD. The extent to which Schenefeld was continuously settled since the first millennium and where exactly people settled in the Middle Ages cannot yet be clearly clarified on the basis of the excavations. This requires further investigations.


Survey shows great enthusiasm among participants

Dr. Katrin Schöps, a staff member at the Kiel Student Research Laboratory run by Kiel University and the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education (IPN), can also confirm the participants' enthusiasm not only for the results but also for the scientific approach. Since "Schenefeld gräbt aus" was a first in Germany, the IPN is using questionnaires to examine the impact of the project on the community and the people in the town.

"The evaluation is still ongoing, but a preliminary analysis shows that participation in the excavation has a positive effect on people and the sense of community in the community. Seventy percent of those surveyed would participate again and almost 90 percent would advise their friends to take part in such a project," reports Dr. Schöps. This is confirmed by similar studies in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Poland or the Czech Republic, where such participatory, community archaeological projects have been practiced for many years.

Transferring experience from Great Britain to Germany

One of the leading experts for so-called community excavations in Great Britain is the archaeologist Prof. Dr. Carenza Lewis from the University of Lincoln. A meeting between her and Prof. Dr. Claus von Carnap-Bornheim (Cluster of Excellence ROOTS and former director of the ZBSA) in 2019 provided the impetus for the German pilot project. After delays due to the Corona pandemic, actual preparations started in 2021. The CAU, the Schleswig-Holstein State Archaeological Office and the IPN, also part of the ROOTS network, were brought on board for this.

After appropriate introductions by the experts, the people of Schenefeld then proceeded to open a total of 31 one-square-meter search excavations in gardens, meadows, and public spaces throughout the municipality on two weekends in May and June 2022. Numerous archaeologists from the participating institutes were on hand to help the enthusiastic volunteers fill out excavation protocols or record their findings. More than 2,000 individual discoveries were precisely recorded and then scientifically analyzed.

"This was a very successful premiere for a municipal excavation in Schleswig-Holstein. Not least the people of Schenefeld have contributed to this. A huge thank you from the entire team on this. I can only hope that the findings from this premiere, both in terms of Schenefeld's settlement history and the advantages of citizen science excavations, will make many similar projects possible in Germany," summarizes Prof. Dr. Claus von Carnap-Bornheim, who has since retired.

 A total of 100 adults, teenagers and children participated in the "Schenfeld digs out" campaign on two dates. (© Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS)

A total of 100 adults, teenagers and children participated in the "Schenfeld digs out" campaign on two dates. (© Jan Steffen, Cluster ROOTS)


A video about the action "Schenfeld gräbt aus" is available on YouTube.