Finding (archeology)

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Layer sequence and layer disturbances in the profile of an archaeological excavation

A finding in the archaeological sense is the observable or measurable find circumstances during an archaeological excavation , i.e. the find context. Specifically, these circumstances include the relationship between

  • archaeologically relevant finds among each other,
  • between these finds and the surrounding strata,
  • between the surrounding earth layers.

The circumstances of the find are documented photographically, graphically and in text form and, more recently, as 3D laser scanning . This documentation serves as the basis for the scientific processing and evaluation of the excavation in the sense of reconstructability, as the findings are always destroyed by an excavation.

In the case of findings, a distinction is made between findings visible above ground and invisible findings above ground.

Findings visible during the day

Findings visible above the ground are findings that are not located underground. These can be structures such as houses and temples.

In provincial Roman archeology, for example, finds visible above ground are very rare. Most of them are fortifications of camps and cities. Many buildings were used as houses, churches, castles or city fortifications during the Middle Ages. In some cases, stone monuments that had been erected on streets or in public places, such as gravestones , consecration stones or milestones , were considered early Christian monuments in the Middle Ages and during the early modern period and thus placed under the protection of the Catholic Church. Famous examples of findings from provincial Roman archeology that are visible above ground are, for example, the Porta Nigra , the Kaiserthermen or the Drususstein .

Roman findings that are visible above ground also include barrows , rubble mounds of buildings such as forts, villas or sanctuaries, remains of water pipes, bridges, road embankments, limites (Latin plural of limes (border wall) ), canals , quarries and traces of mining.

Findings invisible above ground

Findings that are invisible above ground are findings that are in the ground. Such findings can be graves, hoards , but also the remains of houses made of wood or stone. In addition to these types of findings, findings that are invisible above ground can also be fortifications, roads, water pipes and other installations that have been sunk into the ground by people.

Large-scale findings of settlements can be recognized from low-flying aircraft, depending on the light and vegetation conditions. Small finds made of ceramics , glass, metal and other non-organic materials are used to date these findings . These finds provide information about both the term post quem (the point in time after the finding has reached the ground, based on the production of the most recent find) and the term ante quem (the point in time before a finding was made).

Explanation using the example of grave findings

An example of an earth grave finding to explain it: the pit walls, the pit backfill, the skeleton as well as all additions in the position in which they were uncovered by the excavation, i.e. in situ (Latin: “in the place”), are the findings. All mobile objects, i.e. the skeletal parts and the additions, are also finds.

The observation and documentation of the findings is very important, as the position of the additions in the grave or the position of the skeleton can provide information about the temporal and cultural position of the finding. The observations also allow statements to be made about the time after the grave was backfilled, for example whether the grave was opened again and possibly robbed, or whether living beings such as hamsters have crossed the layers of the pit backfill with their passages; such external influences as finding fault called. External influences that change the original condition of the findings can also be detected in some cases, such as the shattering of ceramic vessels due to ground pressure or the driving on of the surface, the decomposition of the soft tissue on the corpse or the seepage of sediment into cavities such as a coffin . This fine layer of sediment can fill the cavity and trace its shape and is often the only indication of a previously existing coffin after the remains of the coffin have completely rotted away. Almost all other organic materials are also transient.

The "history" of the grave from the time of its excavation to the excavation can be traced based on its properties (sequence of layers including faults as well as the location of the finds) and the original condition of the finding and its origin can be partially reconstructed. The observation of these properties is only possible through excavation, i.e. by interfering with the findings - the archaeologist thus destroys the findings. For this reason, the recording of the findings properties is carried out very carefully using photo techniques , technical drawings and textual descriptions.


Schematic profile of a post hole finding , which only shows up as soil discoloration:
1. pending (geological) layer, 2. backfilling of the post pit, 3. post stand trace

According to the common sense prevailing on excavations, all objects that can be documented and cannot be easily moved are referred to as findings, mostly discoloration of the ground or remains of walls. Thanks to modern technology, the “mobility” of the objects has been put into perspective, because by means of block recovery , entire graves can be transported without destroying the findings themselves. In a broader sense, entire grave fields or settlements can be understood as a single finding, which is divided into several subordinate findings (graves, pits, etc.).

Beyond this more or less tacitly accepted use of the term, however, several scientists have tried different approaches to a definition:

  • According to Manfred Eggert , findings are the "totality of historically meaningful observations in archaeological find situations." This definition is broad, but it is limited to the historical statement and thereby suppresses the natural processes that are essential for the reconstruction of findings. According to Eggert, the “... finding is primarily a concretely perceptible ensemble of more or less clearly distinguishable discoloration, from organic and inorganic, cultural and non-cultural influences, from layer formation and layer disruption, from form, texture and Consistency - in short, something empirically given, something definable and describable that is of archaeological interest ... ”. Here Eggert concentrates on what can be described , encompassing natural and man-made influences and conditions, but narrowing the amount of findings down to soil features (discoloration), so he excludes building structures (such as walls), for example.
  • Colin Renfrew and Paul Bahn describe feature (English for findings) as follows: “ A non-portable artifact, eg hearths, architectural elements, or soil stains. Translation: “A non-transportable object used / shaped by humans, for example stoves, architectural elements or floor discoloration.” The definition remains vague and is limited to the argument of transportability. The architectural elements cited in the examples are misleading because they can also be understood to include indisputably transportable individual parts such as column capitals.

See also


  • Thomas Jaeger (ed.), Hans Jürgen Eggers : Introduction to the prehistory. 5th edition. Scrîpvaz, Schöneiche 2006, ISBN 3-931278-24-7 .
  • Manfred KH Eggert: Archeology: Fundamentals of a historical cultural science . Verlag A. Franke, Tübingen 2006, ISBN 3-8252-2728-6 .
  • Manfred Eggert: Prehistoric Archeology. Concepts and Methods. 3. Edition. Francke, Tübingen 2008, ISBN 978-3-8252-2092-1 .
  • Thomas Fischer: Sources. In: Thomas Fischer (Ed.): The Roman Provinces. An introduction to their archeology. Theiss, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-8062-1591-X , pp. 32-33.
  • Colin Renfrew , Paul Bahn : Archeology. Theories, Methods and Practice. 3. Edition. Thames & Hudson, London 2000, ISBN 0-500-28147-5 .

Individual evidence

  1. Sebastian Kirch: Archäoinformatik - digital archeology information technologies and visualization techniques in archeology. Seminar paper, SS 2010, University of Duisburg
  2. ^ A b Manfred Eggert: Prehistoric Archeology. 3. Edition. Francke, Tübingen 2008, ISBN 978-3-8252-2092-1 , p. 53.
  3. ^ Colin Renfrew, Paul Bahn: Archeology. 3. Edition. Thames & Hudson, London 2001, ISBN 0-500-28147-5 , p. 567 (definition of artifact was taken from p. 565).