Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Aerial view of Heuneburg and the Danube River

Guest post by Manuel Fernández-Götz

Thanks to extensive research projects carried out in recent years, we now know that the first urban and proto-urban of centers Temperate Europe developed between the end of the 7th century BC and the 5th century BC in an area stretching from Závist in Bohemia to Bourges in central France. Amongst these ‘centers of power’ that preceded the Late Iron Age oppida by several centuries, the most intensively investigated site is the Heuneburg in southern Germany (Fig. 1). In the mid-5th century BC, the Greek historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus wrote in his famous work Histories (II, 33): “The Istros [Danube] river arises among the Celts and the polis of Pyrene, cutting Europe across the middle.” It has been suggested that Pyrene, the polis mentioned here, is Heuneburg, and that this is the first time that a city in Central Europe is mentioned by name.

Greek pottery from Heuneburg excavations

While this reference cannot be proved, archaeologist have shown that the Early Iron Age Heuneburg was a substantial settlement that flourished politically and economically. Its residents had extensive connections with areas as far away as Etruria and the Greek colonies (Fig. 2). The most striking feature was the discovery of a mudbrick wall based on Mediterranean prototypes and probably erected in about 600 BC.

Artists reconstruction of the Heuneburg urban center

Burial mound at the site
For a long time it was thought that the settlement at Heuneburg was mainly confined to the 3 hectares of the central hilltop. However, new work in the last 20 years has radically changed this picture. More than just a small hillfort, in the first half of the 6th century BC we are looking at an enormous settlement of 100 hectares with an estimated population of around 5,000 inhabitants. The entire site was, in fact, divided into three areas: the citadel (hilltop plateau), the walled lower town, and the outer settlement (Fig. 3). Moreover, from the beginning the settlement at Heuneburg was surrounded by numerous burial mounds which served as last resting places for members of the social elite and their relatives (Fig. 4).

Monumental stone gate
The fortifications around the lower town were impressive, and a monumental stone gate was recently excavated at the site (Fig. 5). The extent of the settlement, the presence of imposing monumental structures as well as indications of significant differences in social status and specialised production, justifies categorising Heuneburg as a ‘town’, at least for the period of the mudbrick wall (c. 600 - 540 BC). But it is important to realise that the extent and the significance of the Early Iron Age site continued to change throughout its less than 200-year occupation. Indeed, the various building phases, fires, and constant restructuring are testimony to an eventful existence with dynamic social changes.

Some references in English:

Local painted pottery

Arnold, Bettina

2010    Eventful Archaeology, the Heuneburg Mud-B rick Wall and the Early Iron Age of Southwest Germany. In Eventful Archaeologies: New Approaches to Social Transformation in the Archaeological Record, edited by Douglas J. Bolender, pp. 176-186. SUNY Press, Albany.

Fernández Götz, Manuel A. and Dirk Krausse

2012    Heuneburg: First City North of the Alps. World Archaeology 5 (7): 28-34.

2013    Rethinking Early Iron Age Urbanisation in Central Europe: The Heuneburg Site and its Archaeological Environment. Antiquity (in press).

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