OPAL: More than 470 kilometers of history

Kassel. Around 35,000 archeological finds from 10,000 years of human history: the OPAL (Ostsee-Pipeline-Anbindungs-Leitung – Baltic Sea Pipeline Link) natural gas pipeline, at over 470 kilometers, is not only Germany’s longest construction site, it is also a treasure trove of archeological discoveries. The employees of the state authorities responsible in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Brandenburg and Saxony have been searching the planned pipeline route since 2007 for artifacts from the distant past. “The construction of a pipeline gives archeologists a unique opportunity to look below the surface,” Bernd Vogel, Managing Director of OPAL NEL TRANSPORT GmbH, explained.

The company is part of the WINGAS Group and will perform the tasks of network operator for OPAL, which will connect European consumers with the major Russian natural gas reserves in Siberia via the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea. “Naturally, we are delighted that the historic preservationists not only recovered numerous artifacts along the OPAL pipeline, but also made some spectacular historic discoveries in the soil,” Vogel said.

While construction work is already very advanced in the federal states Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saxony, and thus the excavations have been largely completed, employees of the state office in Brandenburg are currently uncovering the largest burial ground along the track: in early summer, the historic preservationists there discovered over 350 graves from the Bronze Age near Großbahren (Elbe-Elster district), 50 kilometers west of Cottbus. “This is one of the largest burial sites dating back to between 1,300 and 500 BC,” the head of the department responsible at the Archeological Heritage Service in Brandenburg, Dr. Sabine Eickhoff, said highlighting the significance of burial ground. In addition to the urns, there are numerous other burial objects in the graves. “Since the people back then believed in life after death, they added personal objects of the dead to the graves: pieces of jewelry like pearls, or weapons such as spearheads made of bronze and animal bones.”

“As well as the intricately designed clay pottery we also discovered two Bronze Age rattles that still worked despite being buried under the earth for so many years,” the head of department explains. “You can still hear the sound of the Bronze Age here.” But it is not the only rarity discovered under the soil of Brandenburg. The 75 employees of the State Archeological Heritage Service found the highest density of artifacts along the OPAL track in Brandenburg. Amongst other things, in the Uckermark near Grünow the experts were able to recover the oldest copper artifact in Brandenburg: a tapered copper band with pendant that was worn at the beginning of recorded time. The oldest burial from the Mesolithic Era was found along the route of the pipeline.

Treasures of the soil over 7,000 years old

The archeological investigations were also successful in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania: the quantity and quality of the discoveries dispels the commonly held misconception that Western Pomerania was a sparsely populated region throughout the millennia. Amongst other discoveries, the excavation teams found the remains of a Bronze Age settlement with furnaces, fireplaces and storage pits in the district of Ostvorpommern near Wrangelsburg, and in Steinfurth near Karlsburg the archeologists discovered a burial ground over 2,000 years old. The 80 burial remains come from the pre-Roman Iron Age and date back to between the 5th and 3rd century BC. Here the historic preservationists also discovered some iron smelting areas from the first century AD. The most extraordinary find is a gold coin which experts recovered from the soil near the village Gustebin in the district of Ostvorpommern. It is dated back to the 6th/7th century. “There are only seven comparable examples of this coin known in Europe,” Dr Jens-Peter Schmidt, the archeologist responsible at the Heritage Service in Schwerin explains. How the piece got to Western Pomerania and why it was found near a settlement site 500 years younger is now being investigated.

 

In contrast to the 272 discovery locations in Brandenburg and the 169 in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the 17 discovery sites in Saxony may not sound like much. “The Ore Mountains lie in our federal state, and because of the geological structure of the substratum there were practically no finds on 70 of the 100 kilometers of the pipeline route,” Dr. Christoph Steinmann, the man in charge of the excavation work, explains. However, employees of the Archeological Heritage Office did make some extraordinary finds near the River Elbe. The largest object they were able to recover is a vessel with a diameter of nearly half a meter and a height of 34 centimeters. In contrast, the smallest object the archeologists found only measures 14 millimeters: an amber bead from the third century. “Since amber is not found naturally in Saxony, it proves the ‘original Saxons’ must have maintained long-distance trading relations,” Steinmann explains. “The excavations along the pipeline route unearthed a whole range of astonishing discoveries like this, including a large number of early Bronze Age settlements that compel us to review our beliefs about the settlement density and intensity of the territory expansion during the centuries round 1,000 BC.”

 

The employees of the Saxony Archeological Heritage Office are particularly proud of a wooden well 1,700 years old that they found near Kalkreuth, around 30 kilometers north of Dresden. “It tells us that the basic design principle of the proven method of water catchment hasn’t changed in thousands of years,” Steinmann says. The wooden well is so well-preserved that the scientists were also able to detect over 100 different plant species that grew in the vicinity of the well. As Steinmann explains, “It is the first time that some weeds like the cornflower have been found in this region dating back to these times.” The more than 20,000 ceramic shards found a few kilometers from the Elbe River also aroused the interest of the historic preservationists. “The shards from Brockwitz are among the oldest finds discovered in the Elbe valley so far that prove the existence of settlements,” the expert from the state archeological office explains. The shards date back to the Linear Pottery culture which marked the beginnings of ceramic production and agriculture in this region more than 7,000 years ago.

Archeological exhibitions

Citizens interested in finding out more about these discoveries have the opportunity to visit a number of the recovered pieces in exhibitions. The next opportunity will be from 18 November 2010 in the town of Brandenburg an der Havel. The “Archeological Gems along Brandenburg’s Longest Gas Route” will be on display in the Pauline Fathers Monastery there. In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania those interested in archeology will have the chance to see the “Treasures from the Pipeline Trench” from 18 January 2011 in the Pomeranian State Museum in Greifswald.