Archaeology of a German Hillfort Called Heuneburg

Heuneburg Hillfort - Reconstructed Living Iron Age Village

Ulf/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Heuneburg refers to an Iron Age hillfort, an elite residence (called Fürstensitz or princely residence) located on a steep hill overlooking the Danube River in southern Germany. The site includes an area of 3.3 hectares (~8 acres) within its fortifications; and, according to the latest research, at least 100 ha (~247 ac) of additional and separately fortified settlement surrounds the hill. Based on this latest research, Heuneburg, and its surrounding community was an important and early urban center, one of the first north of the Alps.

Alternate Spellings: Heuneberg

Common Misspellings: Heuenburg

History of Heuneburg

Stratigraphic excavation at Heuneburg hillfort identified eight main occupations and 23 construction phases, between the Middle Bronze Age and Medieval periods. The earliest settlement at the site occurred in the Middle Bronze Age, and Heuneburg was first fortified in the 16th century BC and again in the 13th century BC. It was abandoned during the Late Bronze Age. During the Hallstatt Early Iron Age period, ~600 BC, Heuneburg was reoccupied and extensively modified, with 14 identified structural phases and 10 phases of fortification. Iron Age construction at the hillfort includes a stone foundation about 3 meters (10 feet) wide and .5-1 m (1.5-3 ft) high. Atop the foundation was a wall of dried-mud (adobe) brick, reaching to about a total height of 4 m (~13 ft).

The mud-brick wall suggested to scholars that at least some sort of interaction took place between the elites of Heueneburg and the Mediterranean, illustrated both by the adobe wall--mud brick is strictly a Mediterranean invention and was not previously used in central Europe--and the presence of approximately 40 Greek Attic sherds at the site, pottery produced some 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) away.

About 500 BC, Heuneburg was rebuilt to match Celtic models of hillfort design, with a wooden wall protected by a stone wall. The site was burned and abandoned between 450 and 400 BC, and it remained unoccupied until ~AD 700. Reoccupation of the hilltop by a farmstead beginning AD 1323 caused extensive damage to the later Iron Age settlement.

Structures in Heuneburg

Houses within the fortification walls of Heuneburg were rectangular timber-framed structures built close together. During the Iron Age, the mudbrick fortification wall was white-washed, making this prominent structure stand out even more: the wall was for both protection and display. Crenelated watchtowers were built and a covered walkway protected the sentries from inclement weather. This construction was fairly evidently built in imitation of classical Greek polis architecture.

Cemeteries at Heuneburg during the Iron Age included 11 monumental mounds containing a rich array of grave goods. Workshops in Heuneburg held craftspeople who produced iron, worked bronze, made pottery and carved bone and antler. Also in evidence are craftspeople who processed luxury goods including lignite, amber, coral, gold, and jet.

Outside Heuneburg's Walls

Recent excavations concentrated on regions outside Heuneburg hillfort have revealed that beginning in the Early Iron Age, the outskirts of Heuneburg became quite dense. This settlement area included Late Hallstatt ditch fortifications dated from the first quarter of the sixth century BC, with a monumental stone gate. Iron Age terracing of the surrounding slopes provided a place for expansion of the settlement area, and by the first half of the sixth century BC, an area of some 100 acres was occupied by closely spaced farmsteads, enclosed by a series of rectangular palisades, housing an estimated population of about 5,000 inhabitants.

The suburbs of Heuneburg also included several additional Hallstatt period hillforts, as well as production centers for pottery and artisanal wares such as fibulae and textiles. All of this led scholars back to the Greek historian Herodotus: a polis mentioned by Herodotus and located in the Danube valley ca 600 BC is called Pyrene; scholars have long connected Pyrene with Heuneberg, and the identified remains of such an established settlement with important production and distribution centers and a connection to the Mediterranean is strong support for that.

Archaeological Investigations

Heuneberg was first excavated in the 1870s and sustained 25 years of excavations beginning in 1921. Excavations at Hohmichele mound were conducted in 1937-1938. Systematic excavations of the surrounding hilltop plateau were conducted from the 1950s to 1979. Studies since 1990, including field walking, intensive excavations, geomagnetic prospection, and high-resolution airborne LIDAR scans have concentrated on the outlying communities below the hillfort.

Artifacts from the excavations are stored at the Heuneburg Museum, who operates a living village where visitors can see the reconstructed buildings. That web page contains information in English (and German, Italian and French) on the latest research.


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Hirst, K. Kris. "Archaeology of a German Hillfort Called Heuneburg." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Hirst, K. Kris. (2021, February 16). Archaeology of a German Hillfort Called Heuneburg. Retrieved from Hirst, K. Kris. "Archaeology of a German Hillfort Called Heuneburg." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).