FRAL - Franco-allemand en sciences humaines et sociales

The Archeology of Transformation: The Necropolis of Niedernai and the 5th Century in the Upper Rhin Valley – Nied’Arc5

Submission summary

The cemetery of Niedernai discovered in 1995 and nearly undisturbed, is the only nearly fully and modern excavated necropolis of the second half of the 5th century not only within Alsace but also in its wider surroundings. Based on the analysis of 32 graves (with 33 dead) of the relatively small grave yard, the archaeological sources about the transformation period after the end of the West Roman Empire – the second half of the 5th and the early 6th centuries – will be fundamentally proofed and if necessary reinterpreted historically. The focus lies on the question, whether the archaeologically visible, fundamental cultural changes are caused by the immigration of population groups from the east – or whether they could be seen as a cultural re-orientation of the former Roman population. In contrast to older studies which tried to answer this question on the basis of selected archaeological finds e. g. the bow brooches, the analysis will take into consideration the whole spectrum of archaeological finds and features as well as it uses a variety of modern scientific methods.

The scientific analysis offers the opportunity to check traditional schemes of interpretation through confronting them to new data. 14C-AMS data allow integrating even graves with only some or even without grave goods, which could not be dated by archaeological means, into chronological considerations. The analysis of aDNA offers information on biological relations and additionally, it provides us with indications whether groups of graves on a cemetery represent families, and whether archaeologically assumed social relationships really existed. On the other hand the comparison of aDNA from Niedernai with other places and with modern DNA will present information on the geographic origin of the dead. They will be complemented by multi-isotope analyses. Strontium and Oxygen isotope analyses provide with contrasting indications concerning mobility and local stability of the deceased compared to the aDNA data. Nitrogen and Carbon isotope analyses additionally provide information about nutrition, possible changes in their subsistence when multiple subsamples are taken from individuals.

Through the close connection of modern, theoretically well-grounded archaeological perspectives and the consequent and methodologically reflected use of routine scientific analysis, the project sets an example for future research. We expect an important impetus for German and French early medieval studies at one hand, and on the other the combination of two different national research perspectives through intense bi-national cooperation. Simultaneously, the project widens and extends the already existing French-German network in antique studies to the field of late antiquity and the early middle ages, including scientific studies.

Project coordination

Eckhard WIRBELAUER (Archéologie et histoire ancienne : Méditerranée – Europe (ArcHiMedE)) –

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


UnivFR UFG Universität Freiburg, Institut für Archäologische Wissenschaften
UMR 5288 - Université de Strasbourg Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Moléculaire et Imagerie de Synthèse
MAN SGermLaye Musée d’Archéologie nationale, St. Germain-en-Laye
MusArch Strasbourg Musée Archéologique de Strasbourg
UMR 7044 - Université de Strasbourg Archéologie et histoire ancienne : Méditerranée – Europe (ArcHiMedE)

Help of the ANR 238,938 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: March 2014 - 36 Months

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