Roman military camp found in West Germany

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Archaeologists are celebrating the find of a Roman military camp which was a crucial link in Emperor Augustus’ conquest of Germany – after more than a century of looking for it.  

The excavation site is located near Olfen on the Lippe River, an important military route for the Roman legions [Credit: DPA]

The find, near the small town of Olfen not far from Münster near the Ruhr Valley, has already produced a collection of artefacts, not only pottery but also coins and clothing fasteners. These enabled researchers at the Westphalia-Lippe Municipal Association (LWL) to confirm what they had hoped. 

“It’s a sensational discovery for Roman research in Westphalia,” LWL-director Wolfgang Kirsch said in a statement. 

He said the newly-discovered Roman camp marks the end of a hunt that started more than 100 years ago to find the “missing link” in the chain of Roman camps on the Lippe River. 

“Olfen was strategically very important for the legionaries during the Drusus campaigns in Germania,” LWL’s chief archaeologist Michael Rind said in a statement.  

Roman soldiers used the camp from 11 to 7 B.C. as a base to control the river crossing – which makes the find one of the most important logistical landmarks of the Roman conquerors, he said. 

Finding the camp – and its bits of buried treasure – was akin to a scavenger hunt, with clues unearthed slowly over the last century. 

Archaeologists from the Westphalia-Lippe Landscape Association (LWL) found a variety of items at the site, including early coins, which help date the site to between 11 and 7 BC. [Credit: DPA]

In 1890, archaeologists discovered a bronze military helmet near Olfen, leading archaeologists to the area. But it was not until earlier this year that volunteers discovered Roman pottery shards, which sparked action by the LWL. Aerial photography was used to try to identify potential remains of building works, while archaeologists and volunteers searched the area for artefacts which could confirm where the camp was. 

They found enough to be sure – and also traced a moat surrounding the camp as well as evidence of a wooden wall that could have protected 1,000 legionaries from attack within an area equalling seven football fields. 

The camp’s size – relatively small in comparison to other Roman military establishments in the area – along with the construction of its wood and earthen wall and location on the Lippe River, suggest it functioned as a supply depot, according to researchers. 

Although the LWL is responsible for five other Roman military ruins along the Lippe, with discovery of some sites dating back to the 1800s, the new Olfen find will likely remain untouched for awhile. 

“The monument has up to this point been allowed to lie in the ground widely undisturbed for over 2,000 years – an absolute rarity, and from an archaeological point of view, absolutely ideal. 

“Our primary concern is to protect and preserve this monument for the future – and not, to completely excavate it as soon as possible,” Rind said in a statement. “The exploration of the camp will probably take several decades to complete.” 

Discoveries from the association’s latest find will be on display from Saturday, October 29, at the LWL Roman Museum in Haltern. The pottery, coins and garment clips will be shown through the end of the year, along with the bronze helmet, the original discovery. 

Source: The Local [October 27, 2011]

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