‘Rather mysterious’ 1,050-year-old structure unearthed in Germany. What is it?

About 1,000 years ago, the powerful Ottonian dynasty ruled what is now Germany.

The Ottonians, and especially those in power, came from a region that is part of the Saxony-Anhalt state today.

The dynasty oversaw the construction of churches, monasteries and castles — many serving as bases for traveling rulers and political leaders — throughout the region.

Now, archaeologists and experts with the State Office for the Preservation of Monuments and Archeology in Saxony-Anhalt are working to learn more about the dynasty and its rule through a number of excavation projects.

One such project, at the Altenburg of Großwangen, has had shocking results, Felix Biermann, who directed the excavations at the site, told McClatchy News.

A ‘rather mysterious’ discovery

At the site, archaeologists excavated two prominent structures: a rectangular main castle flanked by an outer castle. The castles are surrounded by fortifications including ditches and ramparts that experts said date back to Ottonian rule.

As experts analyzed their discoveries, they were surprised to find the main castle was unusually protected, Biermann said.

Unlike similar structures fortified with wood-and-earth ramparts covered by stone walls, archaeologists discovered a considerably more complex free-standing mortar wall dating back about 1,050 years, according to Biermann. The only other comparable structures from the time have been found at the most important castles and complexes.

“The Altenburg is therefore very unusual and rather mysterious,” Biermann said. “At present there is much to suggest that it was a failed major project of an Ottonian emperor who planned a new ruling base here.”

Part of the “unusual” mortar wall that was excavated.
Part of the “unusual” mortar wall that was excavated.

While the intended buildings likely would not have been the most important structures for rulers, they could have served as protection for a more important castle nearby.

Experts believe powerful leaders were likely involved in their construction.

“The Altenburg was certainly a central element of the Ottonian rule,” Biermann said. “Obviously, one of the Ottonian rulers had great plans for the Altenburg and the Memleben dominion complex, which did not come to fruition.”

Other Middle Ages artifacts discovered

In addition to the wall, archaeologists also excavated a number of artifacts dating to the early Middle Ages.

Among the finds were several small houses, stone and clay dome ovens, pottery, animal bones, knives and lances, experts said.

Stone and clay domes were found at the site.
Stone and clay domes were found at the site.
Archaeologists unearthed pieces of Ottonian pottery at the site.
Archaeologists unearthed pieces of Ottonian pottery at the site.

Biermann said these finds were to be expected.

“We had certain ideas about the expected findings. That the Altenburg belonged to the early Middle Ages was to be expected on the basis of its structural features,” he said. “The free-standing mortar wall, on the other hand, was a big surprise in its enormous dimension and strength, as was the low level of use of the castle, which did not match this fortification effort.”

The Altenburg is about 150 miles southwest of Berlin.

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