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The Roman city of Colonia Ulpia Traiana (CUT) is located in the urban area of present-day Xanten, but was never built over in post-ancient times. Since the 16th century and increasingly in the 19th century, archaeological research and excavations have been carried out in the area of the CUT, culminating in the establishment of the LVR Archaeological Park (APX) in 1973.

This summer school took place in a collaboration between University of Cologne and Radboud University nijmegen. These were carried out in partnership with Roman Archaeology at the Radboud Universiteit in Nijmegen (NL) and will target selected areas in the area of Insula 29. This insula, located in the north-eastern corner of the CUT, has not yet been the target of excavations.

Scroll down to learn more about the excavations presented through the lens of the participants.


On Monday the 31st of August we started excavating in Insula 29 in Xanten. It is my first excavation so I did not know what to expect. We have archaeology students from Cologne and students from Nijmegen. The students from Nijmegen, who did not know what to do at first, were taught what to do by the German students. The German students helped us with everything and they explain everything very clearly, but we are expected to do the same things as they are doing, apart from the special tasks of the trench leaders.

As a first-time excavator, I learned a lot this week. I have already had a course on Roman pottery in Nijmegen and there are plenty things I recognise, but I have noticed that you learn a lot more when you practice your knowledge in the field and try to expand it.

Roos Kessels, Radboud University of Nijmegen

I enjoyed my first week very much. It was hard working, but not too much. Everyone helps everyone and we regularly switch tasks like shovelling or bringing away the excess earth.
We have found and washed a lot of pottery and bones already. In two trenches they uncovered a stone structure and in our group's trench, we found some iron, bronze, and even a coin. We started straightening out the sides and cleaning the surface. After, photographs were taken and some of us drew the ‘planum’. Next, we started digging again. We are about halfway done with it at this point.
I have enjoyed this excavation very much up until this point and I am looking forward to the next three weeks. Hopefully, the weather will be better and we can uncover even more amazing things.

The excavation in the Archaeological Park Xanten is a cooperation between the Radboud University of Nijmegen, the TH Köln and the University of Cologne. On the first day of the excavation we got to know each other and started directly in the field. The trenches had been opened by an excavator a few days before. Due to the heavy rainfall in those days, the trenches were filled up to about 20 cm with water. So we had to scoop the water out of the trenches bucket by bucket, before we really could start digging. Even though it was a very monotonous task, it was a very helpful for team building exercise. The water scooping pursued us the whole week, which was very exhausting. Nevertheless the 'real' archaeological work followed. I had worked on excavations before so I knew what to expect. The excavation with the university was not as different as I expected.
The Dutch and German students were mixed and divided into groups. Each group cleaned the planum of their trenches. The cleaning in the trench 0002, in which I worked, revealed a stone wall and two gravel holes. The discovery of the wall was pretty amazing and the first highlight. The next days I was busy to uncover the stones. It was my first time working with a stone structure and I was quite enthusiastic about it. It was exactly what I hoped I wanted to do and learn in Xanten. The big amount of finds we made in the first week made up for the rain. The finds enthused Dutch and German students equally. Apart from ceramic fragments, we also found fragments of decorated ware and Terra Sigillata, a coin and some iron pieces.
I am looking forward to the next weeks in Xanten and to uncover the Roman history in Germania inferior.

Week 2 of the excavation was in many ways less intense yet possibly more enjoyable for me. At my working days we took the pickaxes to reveal the next layer of the trench. We took turns shovelling, using the axe, searching and empyting the wheelbarrows, and naturally there were people on shard duty, meaning that they washed shards amongst other things. Stripping the findings from dirt of course makes it easier for us to tell what exactly we found. While i enjoyed pickaxing before, practicing holding the tool makes it much easier to handle and i notice i am becoming much more proficient with it. Also discovering shards and recognizing pottery in the dirt is becoming much easier for me. While i still ask questions whenever i am unsure, also a skill i obtained during this excavation due to my reluctance to bother people, the questions become much less frequent. The questions i do ask, i ask with confidence now. Before the excavation i often had great diffculty asking questions because i always try to look up the correct answer myself through any means necessary, but with our lack of acess to the internet we are sometimes left with no other choice but to ask the people next to us for help. One one day the artist of the Xanten APX came by to give us advise and show us his drawings. It was incredible seeing these works of art, knowing they had been drawn by the same pencils weh ad been given. The manner in which the colors were blended was spectacular, making it almost seem like an evenly painted watercolor artpiece. It inspired me so much more accepting the artists advice, by for instance making the edges of rocks darkter to create depth in the piece, and using a light hand to color large surfaces. I was very happy hearing from many people who saw the drawing that i did well, and while i do see room for improvment, i am happy with the result and looking forward to giving it, once again, my best shot in the near future. I love doing art in my spare time, so i cam certain i will even use these skills in my personal life.

In the second week of the excavation in Xanten, it did not rain as much as in the week before, but it was not very hot either. Therefore, the overall conditions for the excavations were better and each group managed to make progress.

As all of us were now familiar with the tools and procedures such as drawing and measuring, the groups were able to work faster and more confidently than before.

Linda Reckmann

As this is my third excavation, I already knew most of the tasks, but I had needed some time to get used to excavating again. In the second week, I was already very secure with using the tools and my overview of the project got better and better.
After my group had finished removing planum 1 of trench 002, we cleaned, photographed and drew planum 2 to document what we had excavated. There were not as many visible structures like the walls in the other trenches, but we could identify several enclosures of bricks, pottery, mortar, chalk, bones and stones. In the eastern half of the trench, there was an accumulation of bricks and an accumulation of a few chalk stones. We split planum 2 into 3 different stratigraphic units to seperate these places from the rest of the planum. At the end of the week, we began removing planum 2 to get about 10 cm deeper. Because we
did not finish this step, we will have to continue in week 3.

Furthermore, I spent one day helping in the finds department. While I learned how to clean, sort and lable pottery and bones, I practiced identifying different kinds of pottery. I am looking forward to seeing what we will excavate in the next two weeks.