18 dec. 2008

Discovery of Roman Battlefield Poses Historical Riddle


And more from Andrew Curry in Kalefeld, Germany
Archaeologists in Germany say they have found an ancient battlefield strewn with Roman weapons. The find is significant because it indicates that Romans were fighting battles in north Germany at a far later stage than previously assumed.
The wilds of Germany may not have been off-limits to Roman legions, archaeologists announced on Monday. At a press conference in the woods near the town of Kalefeld, about 100 kilometers south of Hanover, researchers announced the discovery of a battlefield strewn with hundreds of Roman artifacts dating from the 3rd century A.D.
Finding evidence of Roman fighting forces so far north is surprising, the archaeologists say. Germany was once considered prime territory for Roman conquest. But in A.D. 9, thousands of Roman legionaries were slaughtered in a forest near modern-day Bremen.
"We thought that with the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, the Romans gave up on this region and pulled back behind the limes," or frontier fortifications further south, says Henning Hassmann, the Lower Saxony Conservation Department's lead archaeologist.
But evidence found in woods outside the small town of Kalefeld may force historians to take a new look at the Roman presence in Germany. More than 600 artifacts, ranging from axe heads and wagon parts to coins and arrowheads, have been found on a forested hill called the Harzhorn. So far, the artifacts indicate that Roman soldiers fought a battle on top of the hill.
The site first came to light in the summer of 2000, when local metal detector hobbyists found some pieces of metal while looking for a medieval fort. The fragments languished for years, until the men finally decided to turn them in to Petra Loenne, the Northeim area archaeologist.

Clustered Arrowheads Amid Towering Pines
Loenne immediately recognized an unusual tangle of metal. Called a "hippo-sandal," it was a sort of early horseshoe that was wrapped around the hoof of a horse or draft animal. "It definitely wasn't medieval," she says. In fact, it was Roman – but as far as Loenne knew it had no place in Lower Saxony, hundreds of miles north of the Roman frontier.
Loenne quickly assembled a team of archaeologists and historians – and local metal detector hobbyists with good connections to the archaeological authorities. Her priority was to locate any more artifacts close to the surface as quickly as possible. "We had to hurry and excavate before word got out and looters arrived," Loenne says.
Over the course of three months, they found a Roman-era battlefield spread over more than a mile of dense German forest. Standing under towering pines on Monday, Loenne said the battlefield may be one of the largest ever discovered intact from that era.
Metal detector hobbyists working under the watchful eye of Loenne and her team located over 600 metal objects, from Roman sandal nails to arrowheads and six-inch long iron spear points that once capped javelins fired from ballistae, a sort of giant crossbow.