Category Archives: GERMANY

archaeologists discover almost complete 300,000-year-old elephant skeleton

Archaeologists discover almost complete 300,000-year-old elephant skeleton

300,000 years ago in Lower Saxony elephants spread around Schoningen. In recent years there were the remains of at least ten elephants at Palaeolithic sites situated on the edges of the former opencast lignite mine.

Eurasian straight-tusked elephant died by the shores of a lake in Schoningen, Lower Saxony

In cooperation with the National Saxony State Office for Heritage, archeologists at the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tubingen have collected for the first time in Schoningen an almost complete skeleton of the Eurasian straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon Antiquus).

The species has died in what had been the western shore of the lake — what exactly happened and what the biotope surrounding the area was like 300,000 years ago is now being carefully reconstructed by the team. The preliminary study will be published in Archaologie in Deutschland and will be first presented at a press conference in Schoningen on Tuesday the 19th of May.

“The former open-cast mine in Schoningen is the first-rate archive of climate change, as stated by Bjorn Thumler, Lower Saxony’s Science Minister: This must be made even clearer in the future. This is a place where we can trace how humankind went from being a companion of nature to a designer of culture.”

Head of the excavation, Jordi Serangeli, wipes sediment away from the elephant’s foot

The elephant skeleton lies on the 300,000 years old lakeshore in water-saturated sediments. Like most of the finds at Schoningen, it is extraordinarily well preserved as Jordi Serangeli, head of the excavation in Schoningen explains. “We found both 2.3-meter-long tusks, the complete lower jaw, numerous vertebrae and ribs as well as large bones belonging to three of the legs and even all five delicate hyoid bones.”

The elephant is an older female with worn teeth, as archaeozoologist, Ivo Verheijen explains. “The animal had a shoulder height of about 3.2 meters and weighed about 6.8 tonnes—it was, therefore, larger than today’s African elephant cows.”

Pictured above is a composite photograph of the find. Archaeologists suggested the elephant had died due to old age, although they didn’t rule out human hunting

It most probably died of old age and not as a result of human hunting. “Elephants often remain near and in the water when they are sick or old,” says Verheijen. “Numerous bite marks on the recovered bones show that carnivores visited the carcass.” 

However, the hominins of that time would have profited from the elephant too; the team found 30 small flint flakes and two long bones which were used as tools for knapping among the elephant bones. Barbara Rodriguez Alvarez was able to find micro flakes embedded in these two bones, which proves that the resharpening of stone artifacts took place near to the elephant remains. She also refits two small flakes, this confirms that flint knapping took place at the spot where the elephant skeleton was found.

“The Stone Age hunters probably cut meat, tendons and fat from the carcass,” says Serangeli. Elephants that die may have been a diverse and relatively common source of food and resources for Homo heidelbergensis. Serangeli says that according to current data, although the Palaeolithic hominins were accomplished hunters, there was no compelling reason for them to put themselves in danger by hunting adult elephants. Straight-tusked elephants were a part of their environment, and the hominins knew that they frequently died on the lakeshore.

Several archaeological sites in the world have yielded bones of elephants and stone artifacts, e.g. Lehringen in Lower Saxony, Bilzingsleben in Thuringia, Grobern in Saxony-Anhalt, Benot Ya’aqov in Israel, Aridos 1 and 2 as well as Torralba and Ambrona in Spain, Casal dei Pazzi in Rome, Cimitero di Atella, Poggetti Vecchi in Italy and Ebbsfleet in England. Some of these sites have been interpreted as examples of elephant hunts in the Lower or Middle Palaeolithic. 

Reconstruction of the Schöningen lakeshore as the humans discovered the carcass of the straight-tusked elephant.

“With the new find from Schoningen we do not seek to rule out that extremely dangerous elephant hunts may have taken place, but the evidence often leaves us in some doubt. To quote Charles Darwin: ‘It is not the strongest that survives, but the one who can adapt best’. According to this, the adaptability of humans was the decisive factor for their evolutionary success and not the size of their prey.”

The fact that there were numerous elephants around the Schoningen lake is proven by footprints left behind and documented approximately 100 meters from the elephant excavation site. Flavio Altamura from Sapienza University of Rome who analysed the tracks, tells us that this is the first find of its kind in Germany.

“A small herd of adults and younger animals must have passed through. The heavy animals were walking parallel to the lakeshore. Their feet sank into the mud, leaving behind circular tracks with a maximum diameter of about 60 centimeters.”

The Schoningen sites have already provided a great deal of information about plants, animals and human existence 300,000 years ago during the Reinsdorf interglacial. The climate at that time was comparable to that of today, but the landscape was much richer in wildlife.

About 20 large mammal species lived around the lake in Schoningen at that time, including not only elephants but also lions, bears, sabre-toothed cats, rhinoceroses, wild horses, deer and large bovids. “The wealth of wildlife was similar to that of modern Africa,” says Serangeli.

The discoveries in Schoningen include some of the oldest fossil finds of an auroch in Europe, of a water buffalo, and three saber-toothed cats. In Schoningen archaeologists also recovered some of the world’s oldest and best-preserved hunting weapons: ten wooden spears and at least one throwing stick.

Stone artifacts and bone tools complete the overall picture of the technology of the time. “The lakeshore sediments of Schoningen offer unique preservation and frequently provide us with detailed and important insights into the culture of Homo heidelbergensis,” says Nicholas Conard, head of the Schoningen research project.

Further detailed analyses of the environmental and climatic conditions at the time of the elephant’s death are taking place at the Technische Universitat Braunschweig, the University of Luneburg, and the University of Leiden (The Netherlands). The excavations in Schoningen are financed by the Ministry of Science and Culture of Lower Saxony.

Fashionable 2,000-Year-Old Roman Shoe Found in a Well

Fashionable 2,000-Year-Old Roman Shoe Found in a Well

We all know the ancient Romans were skilled engineers, constructing vast highways to cover the enormous lands they conquered.

But did you know they were also fashionable? In the Empire, footwear was used as a status symbol in addition to providing warmth and protection.

And with Italy’s reputation for shoes, it should come as no surprise that their Roman ancestors were also good cobblers.

A stylish shoe on display at The Saalburg in Germany shows just how fashionable women in ancient Rome could be.

The Saalburg is a Roman fort located on the ridge of the High Tanus mountain and was part of ancient border fortifications in the area.

Enormous in scale, the fort and its surrounding village were home to around 2,000 people at its peak.

It was constructed in 90 AD and stayed in operation until around 260 AD when a political and economic crisis caused it to go out of use.

Since 2005, The Saalburg has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a museum that displays items found in the area.

This includes a 2,000-year-old shoe discovered in a well before going on exhibit for the world to see. Typical of certain types of ancient Roman footwear, they have a leather upper and a hobnailed sole.

Shoes were often modeled after caligae—heavy-soled military boots with lots of open areas.

This 2000-year-old Roman shoe features heavy-duty leather and exquisite craftsmanship

For women, decorative embroidery and patterns were often added to the shoes in addition to laces. Not only demonstrating the craftsmanship of the maker, but these shoes also helped display the wealth and status of the women wearing them.

These thick-soled shoes would have been worn outdoors, with lighter sandals used indoors.

Their destiny to be discovered in Germany shows just how much craftsmanship and style traveled within the Ancient Roman Empire.

It’s incredible to see that the fashion choices made aren’t far off from the modern shoes we wear ourselves.

Archaeologists Reveal the Hidden Horrors of Only Nazi SS Camp on British Soil

Archaeologists Reveal the Hidden Horrors of Only Nazi SS Camp on British Soil

One of the British Channel Islands has a German concentration camp which has been a location for terrible atrocities, which have been downplayed in official reports after the end of World War II. Now, a new investigation reveals details that were kept hidden from the public for decades. 

Photograph of the Sylt concentration camp taken in 1945.

The only German concentration camps on British soil existed during WWII on the island of Alderney — part of an archipelago in channel waters between France and the United Kingdom

There, inmates endured brutal treatment, including hard labor, beatings, and starvation; but the full extent of what they suffered was not widely known even after the war ended. 

Recently, archaeologists pieced together the story of Alderney’s Sylt camp by examining declassified satellite images and exploring ruined buildings at the site.

They created the first map of the camp, which was built by the Nazis in 1942 and used first as a forced labor camp for political prisoners and then as a concentration camp, researchers reported.

The northernmost of the British Channel Islands, Alderney measures about 3 miles (5 kilometers) long and1.5 miles (2.4 km) wide. Sylt was originally constructed there to house 100 to 200 prisoners, about 20% of which died of poor treatment during the first year, according to a study published online on (March 30) in the journal Antiquity. 

Approximately 1,000 more people were transferred to the camp in 1943 — far more than Sylt was built to accommodate. 

Around that time, prisoner supervision was handed over to a Nazi paramilitary group called “Totenkopfverband” (Death’s Head Unit). Testimonies from Sylt survivors described 12-hour days of heavy construction work and little food, and guards who would beat the prisoners “with everything they could lay their hands on,” according to the study. 

But as Germany’s hold on Europe weakened, the Nazis began systematically destroying their own records regarding Sylt and other concentration camps, to hide the evidence of their crimes.

Sylt closed in 1944, and after the war’s end, British authorities on Alderney and the mainland conducted approximately 3,000 interviews with camp survivors, witnesses, and German officers. Their official report wasn’t released publicly until 1981, and it softened the worst of the details to quell rumors about the “death camp” in the British Channel, the scientists wrote in the study.

Aerial view of the site of the former labor and concentration camp of Sylt, and the memorial plaque installed on the camp gateposts in 2008, by a survivor.

Experts returned to Sylt in 2010 to evaluate the site and create the first reconstructions of the camp using archaeological methods, to better understand the inmates’ living and work conditions.

They visited the island, clearing vegetation and examining the camp’s few remaining structures; they also used a remote-sensing method known as light detection and ranging, or lidar, to survey the former camp from above and map differences in elevation that would indicate where buildings once stood and how they were constructed.

Their maps and 3D digital models showed that the prisoners’ barracks were poorly built and unable to keep out the wind and cold. The buildings would also have provided only about 5 feet (1.5 meters) of living space per person, resulting in severe overcrowding.

These findings corroborate witness testimony about outbreaks of lice and typhus, which would have spread quickly among people who were living in uncomfortably close quarters under unhygienic conditions, the authors said.

By comparison, according to the research, the Nazi guards lived comfortably, in buildings made of reinforced concrete surrounded by stone walls “to protect them from the weather and air raids,” the study authors wrote. 

Images from Sylt: A) The toilet block; B) prisoner kitchen cellar; C) stable block; D) the SS orderly room.

According to Nazi records, only 103 people died at Sylt of “faulty circulation” or “heart failure,” according to preprinted death certificates that the camp provided to Alderney doctors. But the recent discovery of mass graves on the island suggests that at least 700 people perished at Sylt; these new findings will help to ensure that their stories won’t be forgotten, the study authors wrote.

“This work has shed new light on the German occupation of Alderney and, crucially, the experiences of the thousands of forced and slave laborers who were sent there,” said lead study author Caroline Sturdy Colls, a professor of conflict archaeology and genocide investigation at Staffordshire University in the United Kingdom. 

“Historical, forensic and archaeological approaches have finally offered the possibility to uncover new evidence and give a voice to those who suffered and died on Alderney so many years ago,” Colls said in a statement. 

Silver Roman dagger is restored to its former glory

Roman dagger uncovered by the teenage archaeologist on work experience is restored to former glory

A Roman knife, 2000 years old, that a teenage boy had discovered during his work has been spectacularly restored to its former glory.

The old weapon is believed to have used in a battle against the Germanic people in the 1st century by a soldier from the Roman army.

It was found in a burial ground in Haltern am See near Munster, north-west Germany by 19 years old Nico Calman last year.

An elaborate silver Roman dagger has been painstakingly restored to its original glory after it was unearthed by a teenager on work experience in Germany.

It was believed to be the most remarkable artefact of its kind to have been discovered – at a burial ground in Haltern am See, near Münster. 

It is so well preserved that red enamel and glass, as well as silver and brass, handles decorated with ornate patterns of foliage and leaves survived for 2,000 years.

The dagger is believed to have been used by a legionary fighting a Germanic tribe in the 1st century, according to The Times. 

An elaborate silver Roman dagger has been painstakingly restored to its original glory after it was unearthed by a teenager on work experience in Germany

Unearthed along with the fascinating decorated dagger were bronze and brass plates, the remnants of a leather belt and a lime-wood sheath and flaxen twine.       

The ornate dagger is set to be displayed in Haltern’s Roman history museum in 2022.

When the weapon was dug from the ground, it was completely encased in rust before being restored over the span of nine months to reveal its previous state

Michael Rind, director of archaeology at the local Westphalia-Lippe council, told The Times: ‘This combination of a completely preserved blade, sheath, and belt, together with the important information about precisely where they were found, is without parallel.’ 

Roman soldiers are said to have carried ornate daggers as a sign of prestige – and  Haltern was a large military camp established by troops, according to local media.

Despite archaeological excavations taking place in the German district for 200 years, this discovery is bound to shed new light into Roman activities east of the Rhine. 

It was thought that the camp had been abandoned following a severe defeat as up to 20,000 men were wiped out.

In the 1990s, a new burial ground not far from the site of the battle was discovered – with several graves were discovered, including 25 skeletons in a pottery furnace.