Post pit

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Schematic profile of a post pit
1 pending (geological) layer
2 backfilling of the post pit
3 post stand track

In archeology, a post pit or post hole is the term used to describe the remains of the burial site, in which a vertical wooden post was formerly placed to give it support. According to today's wooden mast construction , the posts were mostly part of a structure and the burial (post setting) served for stabilization and foundation .


Profile of an excavated post pit, cut in the middle
Stratum of a post pit as a dark discoloration of the ground, with a tree trunk to illustrate the former post

Prehistoric and early historical houses were mostly built in post construction , at least in the moderate latitudes . Buried wall posts gave the construction support and supported the roof truss . Even with medium post thicknesses, however, a wall-high post could no longer be rammed into the ground. Digging in was therefore much easier and more effective. For this purpose, the narrowest possible, mostly rounded pit was dug into which the post could be placed. The remaining space around the post was then refilled with earth. Sometimes stones were also pushed into the pit in order to fix the post better (wedge stones) until the pit was completely filled. In addition to buildings, post pits were also created for fence posts, individual posts, etc.

The grown soil usually differs significantly in color and consistency from the humus layer on the surface . If you dig a hole now, the soil that is subsequently filled in again rarely corresponds exactly to the undisturbed soil. It gets z. B. Humus in the backfill. At least the removed soil is more or less mixed with other soil due to the temporary storage on the surface. As a result, the refilled post pit can be recognized even after thousands of years on closer observation based on the color and consistency . In extreme form, this applies to post pits that had to be dug into layers of rock. Post pits usually appear as round, dark spots in the lighter soil, such as loess or sandy soil.

The post itself is only retained in exceptional cases - in damp soil conditions or if the post is charred to the ground as a result of a fire. The wood usually decays in the soil, but leaves a darker color and a humus soil. Under favorable conditions, this discoloration can be used to identify the outline of the post as a trace of the post position.

Investigation methods

In order to identify the discoloration of the soil in a post pit, the soil must be peeled off with sharp tools during the archaeological excavation . The plow horizon with the topsoil is often removed with an excavator , as no archaeological findings have been preserved in this mixed soil . The findings found in the area are documented, including in a measured plan, in a photo and in a description. It makes sense to cut the post pits in the middle, i.e. dug up halfway, so that a profile is created. This is also documented and described.

Based on the distribution in the area and the diameter and depth of various post pits, the floor plans of buildings can sometimes be recognized on the apparently confused plan. On the basis of different post thicknesses and burial depths, thick roof-bearing house posts can be distinguished from thinner, shallowly buried posts such as interior walls, stable boxes , etc.

Roman bathing building in Wurmlingen during the archaeological excavation in 1995: clearly recognizable post pits of a subsequent Alemannic interior development

The dating takes place via artefacts (mostly shards) that got into the post pits and possible overlaps with more recent or older findings, only rarely via scientific dating of the post itself. However, datable finds in the comparatively small post pits are much rarer than in the storage or waste pits , it is also unclear whether they got into the ground before, during or after the construction of the building.


Since the houses made of wooden beams and plastered wattle are completely gone over the centuries, but usually after a few decades, post pits are usually the only remnants of the house from which the floor plan and construction method can be deduced. For large areas of prehistory and early history, they are the only way to reconstruct settlements, their structure, size and development. Recognizing post pits is therefore the basis of settlement archeology . The reconstruction of wooden structures using post pits is a standard method in archeology today.

Research history

Post pits were first detected in the 1890s when exploring the Roman Limes in the Rhineland, in the form of corner posts of Roman watchtowers. During the excavations in the Roman camp in Haltern under the direction of Carl Schuchhardt , which began in 1899, for the first time large-scale attention was paid to traces of wooden structures. In a lecture to Kaiser Wilhelm II on January 18, 1904 about the excavations in the Roman camp in Haltern, Schuchhardt explained the phenomenon of post pits with a saying by Georg Loeschcke : "Nothing is more permanent than a proper hole." Rudolf Pörtner formulated it even more clearly in 1961: "Only since Haltern did we know that nothing is as permanent as a hole and that discoloration of the earth in the ground has the same documentary value as the historians' manuscripts."

Schuchhardt was then able to achieve great success with the excavation of the Römerschanze near Potsdam . Carl Schuchhardt and Albert Kiekebusch were instrumental in spreading the method, even against initial resistance, and in their excavation publications wrote detailed descriptions of the origin and appearance of post pits in the archaeological findings.

Gerhard Bersu , who later chaired the Roman-Germanic Commission , also took part in the excavations in the Römerschanze . He fled to England in 1938 because of discrimination during National Socialism and conducted archaeological excavations there during his internment as an enemy foreigner during the war . As a result, the recognition of post pits and thus the evidence of wooden buildings above ground also found its way into British archeology.


  • Hans Jürgen Eggers: Introduction to the prehistory . 3. Edition. Munich / Zurich 1986, pp. 220-226.
  • Carl Schuchhardt: The Römerschanze near Potsdam after the excavations of 1908 and 1909 . In: Prehistoric Journal 1, 1909, pp. 209-238, v. a. P. 215 f.
  • Albert Kiekebusch: The excavation of a Bronze Age village near Buch near Berlin. In: Prehistoric Journal 2, 1910, p. 371 ff., V. a. Pp. 375-380.
  • Philip Barker: Techniques of Archaeological Excavation. 3. Edition. London 1993, pp. 22-27.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Rudolf Aßkamp : Römerpark Aliso: Past - Present - Future (PDF), in: Archäologie in Westfalen-Lippe , 2012, pp. 279–282.
  2. "... nothing is as permanent as a hole ..." June 18, 2010.
  3. ^ Ch. Evans: Archeology and modern times: Bersu's Woodbury 1938 & 1939 . In: Antiquity 63, 1989, 436 ff.