Why excavate on the Dünsberg?



Goals of the excavation

Research results

Public relations

Why excavate on the Dünsberg?

For more than 100 years the Dünsberg has been known to be the site of an important prehistoric settlement. Objects suggesting a fight between Romans and the indigenous population were first discovered towards the end of the 19th century. Excavations carried out by the museums of Gießen, Wetzlar and Wiesbaden respectively, already drew huge public attention to the three walls encircling the hilltop, the water-reservoir inside the settlement area, as well as the site’s importance as a central place in the Pre-Roman Iron Age. Unfortunately, the records of these first excavations contain large gaps - partially they were destroyed during World War II, and thus are of only limited use to modern archaeological research.

A site survey revealing the extent of the fortificatory walls, 10 km in length, surrounding an area of about 100 hectares, was carried out by the University of Marburg (Prof. Dehn) in the 1960’s. Finds that came to light up to the 1970’s and 80’s were published by G. Jacobi and C. Schlott. Following these activities, the Commission for Archaeological Research for the State of Hessen (B. Bettwieser and J. Schulze-Forster) started excavations that yielded evidence for a cemetery of the late La Tène culture.

Starting in the 1970’s, the use of metal-detectors by "amateur historians" and illegal excavators has led to the "plundering" of many prehistoric sites dating to the Bronze Age and younger periods. The Dünsberg has not been spared by this kind of activity. Based on the partial evidence that has come to light through the purchase of objects by museums and the information provided by illegal excavators, finds of both Celtic and Roman weapons, dating to the last decades BC seem to cluster in the vicinity of gate 4 of the Celtic Hillfort. These finds have already been linked, by Jacobi and Schlott, to the military campaigns of the Roman General Drusus against the Germanic tribe of the Chatti (10/9 BC) that were mentioned by Cassius Dio.

Following a suggestion by the well-known Celtic expert Prof. O.-H. Frey, Dr. Karl-F. Rittershofer (Roman-Germanic-Commission of the German Archaeological Institute) applied for the funding of further research at the Commission for Archaeological Research for the State of Hessen. This eventually led to a first excavation in August 1999. The excavation is continued this year from the 19th June to the 31st August 2000.


The limited possibilities for public funding, which is due to the current state of public finances, forced the head of the excavation, Dr. Rittershofer, to decide between a rather limited excavation carried out by paid full-time students of archaeology, or to carry out a campaign on a much bigger scale with the help of volunteer workers. The latter was thought to be more appropriate, both in terms of the importance of the Dünsberg and the historical questions asked of it.

Articles in regional newspapers and a call for workers on the internet were met with a huge response. Thus, in August 1999 it was possible to carry out a first excavation campaign with volunteer workers coming from the Dünsberg region, other European countries as well as overseas. A minimum participation time of 2 weeks was required from volunteers to ensure an appropriate scale for the first campaign. Together with the experienced excavation-technician Bernd Bettwieser, skilled students from the universities of Marburg and Frankfurt were employed as section foremen and heads of documentation.

This year (2000), the excavation started on the 19th June and will last to the 31st August. All in all, there will be 140 Volunteers, more than half of which come from the Dünsberg-region, or Germany. The others come from 16 different nations all over the world. Again, like last year, the head of excavation technique is Bernd Bettwieser of the Commission for Archaeological Research for the State of Hessen. The section foremen and heads of documentation are students from the Universities of Frankfurt, Gießen, Göttingen and Marburg respectively.


By the kind co-operation of the Biebertal Community, the Gießen District and self-initiative, it was possible, in 1999 as well as this year, to find a huge number of Institutions, Companies and private persons willing to sponsor the excavation in many ways. Accommodation had to be provided for the large number of non-resident participants. For a low fee we are able to use the nearby hut of the Vogelsberg-Höhenclub Hiking-Club in Biebertal-Krumbach for both years. The Technische Hilfswerk (Organisation for technical support) Gießen Branch, and the German Red Cross, Gießen Branch, kindly provided tents for accommodation and storage, mobile showers and further equipment. Work cabins, containers, mobile toilets, water-cisterns and tools supplied by the Biebertal Community Council and other public bodies provide a rustic accommodation free of charge for all the participants. Many food and drink-companies help with donations for the catering needs of all workers. The meals are prepared by the volunteer participants themselves, and served on crockery kindly provided by Frankfurt University-Student Union Caterers in the hut or at the site of the excavation. The large number of volunteer participants and student workers (ca. 50 per day) requires the use of additional cooking facilities like field-kitchens, huge gas-grills and other implements. Non-material and material support is provided by the following institutions and individuals: Stephen Bender, Gemeinde Biebertal, Staatssekretär. a.D. Dr. Werner Brans, Bundeswehr, Heide Degen MdL, Deutsche See, Deutsches Rotes Kreuz, Deutsche Telekom, Dünsberg-Raststätte Adolf Schäfer, Dünsberg-Verein, Fleischer-Innung Gießen, Forstverwaltung Wettenberg, Archäologische Gesellschaft in Hessen, Gießener Brauhaus, Globus Handelshof, Wetzlar-Dutenhofen, Granovita Gesundkostwerk, Helfervereinigung THW, Ortsgruppe Gießen, JVA Rockenberg, Herbert Keller, Kommission für Archäologische Landesforschung in Hessen, Krauskopf GmbH&Co., Landratsamt Gießen, Licher-Brauerei, Naturawerk, H. Nitsche, Orion Fachgeschäfte, Rewe-Markt Karl-Heinz Lotz, Rodheim-Bieber, Rewe Nahkauf Winfried Krull, Fellingshausen, Römisch-Germanische Kommission, Saalburg-Museum, Schmall Getränkefachgroßhandel, Wettenberg, Schunk Gmbh, Wettenberg, Sparkasse Wetzlar, Studentenwerk Frankfurt, Metzgerei Stumpf GmbH, Technisches Hilfswerk, Ortsgruppe Gießen, Terra Incognita Institut für Kulturgeschichtliche Medien, Frankfurt a.M., Ernst Trautwein, Bäckerei Rainer Valentin, Rodheim-Bieber, Vitam Hefe-Produkt GmbH, Bäckerei Volkmann, Heuchelheim, Landgasthof und Metzgerei Udo Paul Weber, Fellingshausen. This support is greatly appreciated.

It has not been possible, however, to acquire all that is necessary through donations; some materials have to be bought. Additionally, the cost for the restoration of the excavated objects are very high and this can only be carried out by specialist companies. At the same time publications of research results are prepared, which involves the work of professional editors and the payment of printing costs. All these activities require considerable financial means. You can support the Dünsberg excavation with a donation payable to the Dünsberg Society (Bank details: Account No.: 590 001 25 with Sparkasse Wetzlar, Bank Identification No.: 515 500 35, quoting "Ausgrabung Dünsberg"). The Dünsberg Society is a charitable society and thus allowed to issue receipts for tax purposes.

Goals of the excavation

The Dünsberg is one of the most important Celtic settlement sites. Its 3 encircling walls cover an area of 100 hectares. The hillfort was occupied from the late Bronze-Age (ca. 800 BC) up to late Celtic times. It is the only fortification that continues in use up into the time of the cultural change from Celtic to Roman times. This is also the time of the genesis of the Chatti in the state of Hessen. The military campaign led by Drusus, who set off from the Roman Mainz in 10 BC, was directed against the Chatti. Possibly, the Dünsberg had been affected by the campaign too. For decades already, a remarkable cluster of both Celtic and Roman weapons, horse-gear and other military objects has been noted in the South of the Oppidum outside Gate 4. The reasons for the 1999 and this years excavation campaigns in the vicinity of Gate 4 are the following: investigating the construction of the walls, the character of the so-called Strahlenwälle (walls, extending out of the main line of the rampart near some of the gates), as well as finding out about the type of settlement on the so-called "Wohnpodien" (level areas for individual houses) situated between the middle and outer walls.

Research progress and results

Prior to the excavation of individual sections, a large scale geomagnetic survey searching for remarkable features had been carried out. This geophysical survey provides information about ground features not visible on the surface. This year, the surveyed area has been extended north to reach the middle rampart, and thus enabling us to more accurately plan additional sections in the area of the "Wohnpodien".

All in all, more than 2 hectares have been examined in this way. In 1999, two sections were opened up in this area, including the main wall, the area with a dense spread of military objects in front of it, and the "Strahlenwall" running south. The "Strahlenwall" will be cut in a width of 5 m in order to find a possible wood beam construction. At the same time the ditch, 3 m wide and 2,5 m deep, which featured very clearly in the geophysical survey, will be examined with regard to its time of construction and use.

Presently we think that the main rampart to the West of Gate 4 has two phases. The older phase, approximately 5 m behind the present day wall top, yielded traces of a wall-construction that was nearly completely dismantled. These slight traces of a wooden frame supporting the wall suggest an original height of about 5 m above ground. Up to now, this year’s research results suggest that this phase of the wall was also constructed as a "Pfostenschlitzmauer" (a wall of dry masonry, intersected by wooden post as a support against the pressure of the wall), possibly erected at the end of the 2nd or the beginning of the 1st c. BC. Soil discolourations from timber posts were uncovered in the last few days, indicating massive vertical beams set apart from each other at a distance of 2,5 m. In front of the wall, there is a 2 m deep ditch with a flat-based bottom. At a later stage, possibly after the middle of the 1st c. BC, a "Pfostenschlitz"-wall had been erected on the undisturbed soil in front of the ditch. This wall has been traced as a vertical light discolouration, a square posthole and up to 3 layers of a shell-wall construction. The vertical front-beam is fixed by post which were set obliquely in the ditch. These, in turn, are secured by horizontal beams. The oblique anchor-beams were preserved within the wall-filling as hollows, which were 3,20 m long. Plaster casts of the hollows yielded roughly worked tree trunks with branches left standing up to a length of 10 cm. The filling of the Pfostenschlitz-wall with a width of up to 8 m was shaped to form a ramp at the rear end. No trace of a ditch has been discovered in front of this later wall. This may be the reason why so many weapons, horse harness and other martial implements (late Celtic attack- and defence-weapons, a small amount of Roman ballistic weapons) have been found in front of this section of the town wall. Apart from the numerous fragments of iron spearheads and arrowheads, horse bits, pieces of bronze horse-harnesses and some Roman lead slingshots found last year, this year’s campaign has already yielded several pieces of Roman weaponry dating to Augustan times. Amongst others are lead slingshots and iron arrowheads and spearheads. Additionally, an almost complete bronze bridoon of Hofheim-type (part of the harness of a Celtic war-horse) and several other bronze rein rings were found as well, occasionally with ornamental design and fragments of leather still preserved. Bronze and iron linchpins, and a bronze mount for a chariot body with a bronze sheet covering were part of Celtic war-chariots. The weaponry is completed by fragments of bronze sword-scabbards, occasionally with pieces of swords still preserved, and a nearly complete Celtic iron sword found in the main wall. The range of finds thus accords with prior discoveries in this area.

After the excavation virtually halted for about two weeks due to continuous rain, work has been resumed as of 17th June, still occasionally interrupted by rain. Due to the bad weather we have already lost 3 weeks, so the work-programme for this year had to be shortened considerably.

Apart from the geophysical survey, which provides important base for the choice of forthcoming excavation areas, other scientific research methods will include soil-scientific surveys as well as a new satellite-guided land-survey based on the data-collection by Prof. Rumpf of Frankfurt Polytechnic, Department of Geodesy, and initiated by Christoph Schlott, MA. Further activities will include palaeobotanical and palaeozoological research on organic materials recovered on site.

Public relations

A web site (, momentarily provided by is kept up to date with participant’s photographs. New excavation results will be incorporated into the text.

Every Friday afternoon at 2.30 p.m. guided tours start on site at Gate 4 of the Celtic Oppidum. The Public and the press are welcome.

Starting from the Dünsberg car park, the site can be reached within half an hour, approximately: starting from the car park, follow the tarmac road for c. 100 m, past the reconstruction of the Celtic town gate, then take the first wood path on the left and follow the sign-posting.

Every Tuesday, starting from the 25th June, Dr. Karl-F. Rittershofer presents a multimedia lecture showing videos, and slides. The most recent finds will be shown using a beamer with a large screen. The lecture takes place at: Place: Biebertal-Fellingshausen, Hall of the Gasthaus zum Dünsberg "Beim Paul", Proprietor: Udo Paul Weber, Time: 8 p.m. Admission fee: DM 5,-. The Hall will be open from 6.30 p.m. Catering is provided, thus it is possible to combine the lecture with a nice dinner. Admission fees support the Dünsberg research. The lecture is constantly revised, thus every Tuesday (25th July, 1st August, 8th August, 15th August, 22nd August, 29th August) you will be presented with the most recent research results.

Regional and nation-wide newspapers as well as radio- and TV-stations frequently report the excavation progress.

A first sponsoring-concert featuring the Silesian Philharmonic Orchestra Katowice was opened by the Speaker of the Parliament of the State of Hessen, Klaus-Peter Möller. It took place in Braunfels on the 17th June, prior to the excavation. The next sponsoring event will take place at Wetzlar Community Hall on 10th August at 8 p.m. The Minister for Science and Art, Ruth Wagner, will open a further concert by the Silesian Philharmonic Orchestra Kattowice, conducted by Miroslaw Jacek Blaszczyk. The concert is organised by Christoph Schlott as part of the Programme "Ars Musicae Hassiae". Advance booking at the ticket offices in Wetzlar and Gießen or upon entry: DM 20,-.

At the end of the excavation a party will take place on the excavation site, next to the tents, on Friday, 1st September, at 2 p.m. All participants, sponsors and public are heartily welcome.