Martin Allemann

Late antique features and finds in the western part of the cathedral hill of Basel (working title)

Initial situation

In recent years, archaeology has greatly advanced our knowledge of Late Antiquity on the Upper and High Rhine by evaluating and publishing numerous important sites from this period (including Augst, Biesheim, Mandeure, Breisach, Riegel). Concerning the late 4th century and the continuities into the early Middle Ages, German-speaking research has some catching up to do compared to French research. With the evaluation of several late antique features of the region, further important steps for the understanding of Late Antiquity at the High Rhine are now imminent in the environment of the Vindonissa professorship (dissertation projects of A. Flückiger and S. Mayer). Many features of the 4th century are known from scarcely documented old excavations; interdisciplinary evaluations with archaeozoology, archaeobotany, geo-archaeology etc. are often hardly possible in these old investigations. Especially the often difficult to recognize late antique-early medieval layers (so-called dark earth) might have been rarely recognized at that time. Since coin dating is central in the archaeology of Late Antiquity, the pottery was also often not evaluated in as much detail as would be necessary to be able to grasp settlement continuities after the end of the Roman coin supply around 400 AD: Not every settlement whose coinage curve breaks off around 400 was also abandoned at that moment, but layers deposited after these years are difficult to identify and date.The excavations at Basel Münsterplatz 19 and in the surrounding area now offer the opportunity to investigate a central section of the Late Antique overbuilding of the Basel Münsterhügel using excellently documented modern investigations. The excavation took place in 2008-2010 on the occasion of the redesign of the Museum der Kulturen in the courtyard of the so-called "Schürhof" and was directed by S. Strau-mann. It offers a differentiated insight into a central settlement section of the late antique Münster hill. Although the ancient features are strongly disturbed by a medieval ditch and modern buildings and pipes, the very detailed documentation and the quite good recognizability of the late Roman layers allow nevertheless to follow distinctive layers over the whole excavation and even in old excavations in the surrounding area.


The dissertation project aims at understanding the Late Roman building in the west of the Münsterhügel on the basis of the findings from the more recent excavations and with the inclusion of older investigations; the investigated area today corresponds approximately to the zone between Augustinergasse, Stapfelberg and the schoolhouse zur Mücke. Here, the sequence of the various large, probably public buildings is to be determined, and the later development of the area is also kept in mind: Apparently, the buildings were demolished according to plan and their building material salvaged for reuse. It is therefore not only of interest when and for what purpose these hall buildings were built, but also when and why they were abandoned. The investigation of these processes, which can also be observed in neighboring old excavations, should allow a better understanding of the settlement history of the Basel Minster hill at the threshold of the Roman period to the Early Middle Ages. Building on the work of M. Asal, the settlement dynamics of the Münsterhügel are to be made accessible and the results are to be placed in a regional historical framework beyond the history of the city. Of particular interest is the central function of the late antique fortified settlement and its continuity beyond the 4th century. The large buildings on the cathedral hill of Basel can provide important clues to the question of when Basel replaced the Castrum Rauracense as a regional center and as a bishop's seat. Not only the features, but also the finds should allow a better classification of Basilia in the Late Antique-Early Medieval settlement dynamics of the region: In addition to the numerous stamped bricks of the Legio I Martia of Kaiseraugst, a lot of vessel pottery is also present, which could allow to estimate the intensity of the orientation towards Kaiseraugst or rather towards Alsace.


The main focus of the analysis is therefore explicitly on the Late Antique and - if available - Early Medieval features, not least the well-known large building, whose traditional interpretation as a granary has recently been challenged by S. Straumann with good arguments. Based on the recent excavations, the most prominent strata and events will first be recorded stratigraphically and chronologically; in a second phase, an attempt will be made to record them also in neighboring old excavations and thus to link them with the new chronological findings. The very high-resolution documentation of the new excavations initially requires intensive familiarization with the features. Once horizons and key ensembles have been defined, numismatic and scientific investigations can considerably expand the information available, in parallel with the evaluation of the finds. Interesting (as of October 2013) would be micromorphological investigations of a presumed mortar soil, of clay planes and dark earth; further analyses of masonry stones and mortars (for the purpose of determining origin and dating); some features also provide interesting animal bone spectra, the evaluation of which promises not only zoological but also taphonomic and thus settlement-historical insights. Numismatics is indispensable for a differentiated dating of late antique buildings; but especially for questions of continuity the vessel pottery finds are central. Late Roman and Early Medieval pottery has received renewed interest in the Upper Rhine in recent years, so that the exchange with southern Germany and eastern France is very important. Particularly in the case of vessel pottery, there are also points of contact and possible synergies with other dissertations (A. Flückiger, S. Mayer) that are running in parallel at the Vindonissa Professorship.Finally, the synthesis will be dedicated to the function of the buildings on the one hand, and on the other hand will try to understand the development of Basilia from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages in a regional context.

approximate time schedule

by the end of 2013: processing & correlating the findings in the new excavationsfrom spring 2014: processing the finds from key ensembles for dating, in parallel with investigations by neighboring sciencesfrom fall 2014: processing selected old excavations in the surrounding areafrom spring 2015: synthesis, placing in the historical contextfrom mid-2015: final editing

Link to the research database

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