This Content Is Only For Subscribers
Archaeologists in Rockenberg, some 30 kilometres north of Frankfurt, in the central German state of Hesse, have uncovered what has been hailed as the largest burial ground from the period after the Roman withdrawal in the 3rd century.
For a very long time, Rockenberg lay in the middle of the Roman zone of influence under the protection of the Limes. After the Romans abandoned the Limes around 260 AD and retreated across the Rhine border, a period began in the previously occupied area about which we know very little so far.
Written sources about these centuries are sparse, archaeological evidence of the population through graves has been few and far between. “It is precisely this period and these graves that we have been missing,” reported Dr. Jörg Lindenthal of the Wetterau district archaeology department when presenting the excavation results on site. “This is an incredibly important piece of the jigsaw for this period.”
Prior to this, a local archaeological firm had already excavated parts of the site as part of pre-construction investigations and laid the groundwork for the excavation that has now been completed.
In total, more than 330 cremations and over 70 inhumations from the 4th and 5th centuries were discovered in Rockenberg. This makes the cemetery more than five times as large as the largest known cemetery of this period in Hesse. But it was not only the sheer number of burials that amazed the archaeologists.
In addition to a surprising number of children’s graves, a considerable number of weapon graves of the first Germanic settlers could also be uncovered. Among them were true rarities such as a belly burial, which is usually associated with serious crimes or the fear of revenants. The excavation team was also impressed by an archer with a preserved quiver and rich accessories, as well as a presumably youth with Roman objects.
“This is really unique for the 4th and 5th centuries,” said Prison, commenting on the richness of the finds. Excellently preserved silver jewellery, pottery and weapons round off a spectrum of finds that will keep archaeologists busy for years to come. “The excavation is not the end of the story here, it’s just beginning,” says Prison. “The processing of the findings and finds already promises to shed light on a hitherto dark period.”