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The early medieval castle of Szabolcs in Hungary
The Roman Limes near Lich in Hesse

In archeology, earthwork refers to a ground monument made up of trenches, ramparts and possibly palisades , whereby the latter can no longer be recognized or proven above ground . Earthworks can contain fixtures made of wood or stone. The world's largest earthworks were built to draw borders, of which the Upper Germanic-Raetian Limes is an example. In addition to fortifications, civil and cultic earthworks can also be identified.

In modern fortress construction , earthwork refers to a fortification made of earth.

Possible functions

Early Neolithic

Earthworks appear with the linear ceramic culture (here around 5500-4900 BC) in Central Europe. They are documented (with the location Eilsleben ) for the oldest phase of this culture; however, they were discovered particularly frequently from the later phase of this culture. Archaeological studies show that the trench systems of these earthworks were always interrupted and consisted of a series of pits dug one after the other, which after a short time were filled with organic or other material (including human bones) and finally with earth. This indicates a cultic use. These earthworks were either built with houses on the inside (as in Herxheim near Landau in the Palatinate or in Vaihingen an der Enz) or there are almost no finds on the inside.

Examples of earthworks of the linear ceramic culture

Middle Neolithic

People of the stitch band ceramic culture (around 4900-4500 BC) built earthworks as circular moats with mostly four openings and palisades .


People of the Rössen culture (around 4790–4550 BC) also built earthworks.

Early Neolithic

In the past, the interrupted earthworks of the Michelsberg culture were interpreted as defensive structures or cattle enclosures. The earthworks of the Michelsberg culture, the Chasséen and the British early Neolithic have numerous interruptions, which makes them appear unsuitable as a defense system. Researchers like Dixon interpret the interruptions as sideline gates and refer to the numerous finds of arrowheads, for example in Crickley Hill , as evidence of the fortification function.

The funnel beaker culture (TBK) established between 4000 and 3500 BC in particular. Chr. Earthworks in Northern Germany. Of the 31 earthworks of the funnel cup culture known in 1996, 4 are in Schleswig-Holstein , one in Lower Saxony and one in Sweden . The 25 Danish plants are spread across Jutland (11), Zealand (7) and Funen (4). One each is on Alsen , Bornholm and Langeland .

In England, the early records of enclosed "complexes" are divided into four main categories: pound and gate enclosures , ring enclosures , hillforts and small enclosures. Their distribution is wider, but the majority lies in a wide swath that extends along the east and south coasts of England (Kent, Sussex and Wiltshire and the moors of Dartmoor and Bodmin), the shape of which varies from region to region.

Copper Age

Copper Age earthworks (and masonry) are mainly found in the Alentejo in Portugal ( Outeiro Alto 2 ).

Iron age

The late Iron Age Viereckschanzen (4th – 2nd century BC) are interpreted as court or cult sites.


The walls of Benin ( egnlisch : Benin Moat ) erected between 800 BC and into the middle of the 15th century were the largest man-made earthworks in the world with a length of 16,000 km until they were destroyed by British colonial troops in 1897. They enclosed an area of ​​6,500 km² of community land with around 500 settlements.


Poverty Point is an earthworks in the northeast of the US state Louisiana near the town of Epps. On the approximately 160 hectare area above the Mississippi valley plain there are earthworks of a pre-Columbian culture that are unique in size and complexity. They are dated between the 18th and 10th centuries BC. Dated. Noticeable are six earth walls in the form of half concentric rings, the ends of which meet the slope. The complex also includes six artificial mounds, called mounds, inside and outside the half-rings.

See also


  • Niels H. Andersen: Sarup Vol. 1, The Sarup Enclosures: The Funnel Beaker Culture of the Sarup site, including two causewaysed camps compared to the contemporary settlements in the area and other European enclosures. Jutland Archaeological Society Publications 33.1, Aarhus 1997, ISBN 87-7288-588-2 (very good overview of the spectrum of Neolithic earthworks in the whole of Europe. Author is a representative of a consistently religious-cultic interpretation).
  • Michael Geschwinde , Dirk Raetzel-Fabian: EWBSL. A case study on the early Neolithic earthworks on the northern edge of the low mountain range. With contributions by Ernst Gehre, Silke Grefen-Peters and Walter Wimmer. Contributions to archeology in Lower Saxony 14, VML, Rahden / Westf. 2009, ISBN 978-3-89646-934-2 (Earthwork landscape with the highest concentration of monumental objects in Central Europe. Interpretation in the context of ritual and tranzhumance).
  • Tim Kerig: From trenches and trunks: For the interpretation of ceramic earthworks . In: U. Veit, TL Kienlin, C. Kümmel u. S. Schmidt (Hrsg.): Traces and messages: interpretations of material culture . Tübinger Archäologische Taschenbücher 4, Münster 2003, pp. 225–244.
  • Benedikt Knoche: The earthworks of Soest (Kr. Soest) and Nottuln-Uphoven (Kr. Coesfeld). Studies on the early Neolithic in Westphalia. With contributions by Hubert Berke, Jutta Meurers-Balke and Silke Schaumann. Münster contributions to prehistoric and early historical archeology 3, VML, Rahden / Westf. 2008, ISBN 978-3-89646-281-7 (discussion of the Michelberg period earthworks in their historical and functional context).
  • Robert J. Mercer: Causewayed Enclosures . Princes Risborough, Shire 1990, ISBN 0-7478-0064-2 .
  • Dirk Raetzel-Fabian: Calden. Earthworks and burial places of the early Neolithic. Architecture - ritual - chronology. With contributions by Gerd Nottbohm, Kerstin Pasda, Gesine Weber and Jaco Weinstock. University research on prehistoric archeology 70. Habelt, Bonn 2000, ISBN 3-7749-3022-8 (investigation into the possible range of functions of monumental earthworks, interpretation as ritual places).
  • K. Schmidt: Ceramic earthworks - defense systems? In: Varia neolithica IV, 2006, ISBN 3-937517-43-X .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. H. Steuer: Keyword Erdwerk, in the Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde (founded by Johannes Hoops), Heinrich Beck et al. (Ed.), Berlin, De Gruyter 1973 ff., P. 443.
  2. ^ Aout the Benin Moat. In: The Benin Moat Foundation. 2007, accessed on March 29, 2020 .