Medieval cemetery and evidence of Iron Age settlement unearthed in German town of Geseke


After archaeological investigations that were necessary in the course of the planned redesign of the market square in Geseke (district of Soest in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany), archaeologists under the expert supervision of the Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe (LWL) have now made new discoveries: A German pfennig coin from the 11th to 12th century has been unearthed – along with earlier findings from the Iron Age, foundations of the former town hall, remains of the old pastorate and numerous burials.

Medieval cemetery and evidence of Iron Age settlement unearthed in German town of Geseke
An archaeologist uncovers several burials [Credit: EggensteinExca/R. Mahytka]

After the work began in November, the team of experts had already expected to find remains of Gesek’s history dating back at least to the Middle Ages, perhaps even earlier. 

Near the former pastorate, they came across a pit from which they recovered, among other things, a large number of pottery shards as well as a spindle whorl, a weight used for spinning. “The pottery finds can be dated to the 5th to 1st century BC,” the archaeologists from the Olpe branch of the LWL Archaeology of Westphalia were able to clarify. 

Medieval cemetery and evidence of Iron Age settlement unearthed in German town of Geseke
These finds date from the pre-Roman Iron Age [Credit: EggensteinExca/R. Mahytka]

“Finds from the pre-Roman Iron Age in city centres are something special, as centuries of often dense building development have often destroyed such remains,” explains Dr. Andreas Wunschel, scientific officer at the LWL. “According to this, the area of the Gesek marketplace was visited and settled by people long before the birth of Christ.”

The fact that the square around the town church was used as a burial ground for several centuries is proven by the approximately 100 skeletons that were uncovered during the excavation and also examined by an anthropologist. The typical Christian graves are mostly devoid of other finds – which is why one object in particular stands out: “In the area of a grave pit, we were able to recover a coin, which numismatist Stefan Kotz has identified more precisely,” says Wunschel. The coin is a pfennig from a still undetermined mint in Westphalia, dating to the late 11th to early 12th century. Further investigations are to follow.

Medieval cemetery and evidence of Iron Age settlement unearthed in German town of Geseke
Detail of one side of the coin found [Credit: LWL-Archaeology/S. Kotz]

“The skeletons uncovered are still within the construction depth for the new market place, which is why they have to be recovered without exception,” explains excavation director Ralf Mahytka. After the documentation is completed, the majority of the human bones will be handed over to the church community for reverent reburial. A few bones, however, will be kept for further research. For example, scientific age analyses will be carried out to determine whether several of the dead can be assigned to a specific period on the basis of their location.

The former pastorate of St. Peter’s Church, located in the north-east of the market square, was demolished in 1968. Here, too, the archaeologists looked into the ground and discovered brick and stone floors of a more recent construction phase. In addition, the old pastorate intersects a pit from the Late Middle Ages, which is why it can only have been established after that time.

Medieval cemetery and evidence of Iron Age settlement unearthed in German town of Geseke
View over the excavation area: In the foreground, the cellar of the medieval town hall
[Credit: EggensteinExca/R. Mahytka]

Hopes for new insights into the old Gesek town hall have also been fulfilled: A (half-)cellar with finds from the late Middle Ages and further foundations about one metre thick, which can very probably be assigned to the former town hall, were uncovered.

The findings that have been uncovered are significant evidence of Geseke’s town history and development around the town church of St. Petri. “The interest in protection, care and preservation is taken into account not least by the fact that the majority of the structures of the pastorate and town hall can remain untouched in the ground. As part of the redesign work, they will be covered with geotextile and a surface layer applied on top of it,” Wunschel explains the further procedure.

Source: Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe (LWL) [trsl. TANN; April 09, 2021]

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