Archeology: Outer castles and graves of the royal palace of Helfta discovered

Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of outer castles, pit houses and a successor castle on the former royal palace of Helfta near Eisleben. “In the two outer baileys of the fortified Palatinate, a dense settlement with numerous pit houses was detected,” said project manager and archaeologist Felix Biermann from the Saxony-Anhalt State Office for Monument Preservation and Archeology, at the end of this year’s excavations to the German Press Agency.

“This is an important insight into the infrastructure of the Palatinate and into the areas in which ordinary people lived, worked and created the economic foundations for the Carolingian-Ottonian center of power,” says Biermann.

A dozen mine houses were uncovered. “The houses were rectangular, three to five meters long on a side and were buried up to half a meter deep in the ground,” reports Biermann. “Above these were walls made of wood and clay and wooden or thatched roofs. Inside there were ovens made of fired clay and stones. These were the standard buildings of the time. This is how a normal family lived.”

Graves uncovered

Such houses also served as workshops for working iron and non-ferrous metal as well as for bone and antler carving. Next to the houses there were storage pits, for example for grain as seeds, ovens and pits for technical purposes. In addition, two graves from a previously unknown Carolingian cemetery were uncovered.

“The dead, a man and a woman, probably a married couple, lived in the 9th century,” said Biermann. The man had several iron accessories, including a knife, a belt set and the fitting of a so-called official staff as a dignitary’s equipment. “The man was probably a socially superior person,” said the archaeologist.

In addition, large amounts of ceramics – including a lot of Slavic clay dishes with wave decorations – from the 8th to 12th centuries were found in the settlement areas. The researchers also discovered numerous metal items, including bronze robe clasps, some of which were decorated with enamel, so-called brooches, arrowheads and crossbow bolts, as well as fragments of combs and tokens made of antlers, whorls made of clay and an 11th century high-rim penny made of silver.

Noble castle of the Hackeborn knight family

A royal palace is a base for traveling rulers in the Middle Ages. Two stays by Emperor Otto the Great (912-973) and his son, Emperor Otto II (955-983) at the Royal Palace of Helfta are documented from the 10th century. Later there was a small noble castle of the Hackeborn knight family here. It was the childhood home of the famous nuns and mystics Gertrud von Hackeborn (1232-1292) and Mechthild von Hackeborn (1241-1299), who lived below the castle in the Helfta monastery.

“We uncovered the relics of the keep, a large square about seven by seven meters long with foundation trenches a good 1.60 meters wide, the stones of which were, however, broken out later,” said Biermann. The castle existed from the 12th century to the 15th century. For a long time it was not clear where the royal palace was located. In 2009 it was located on the “Little Klaus” hill through geophysical investigations.

Excavations began in summer 2021.


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