Preserving wetland archaeological heritage in Germany


Verband der Landesarchäologen
in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland

Preservation and management of river basins, floodplains and lake landscapes

Annual meeting of German State Archaeologists

From 15 to 17 May 2006, the German State Archaeologists Committee met in Merseburg (Saxony-Anhalt) for their annual meeting, and this year they dedicated their scientific colloquium to the preservation and management of river basins, floodplains and lake landscapes. Watercourses, floodplains, coastal areas, lagoons or peatlands are places of early human civilisation. They hold a range of information about historical periods and ancient techniques of use of natural resources, thereby forming a crucial component of our cultural heritage.

The first section focused on the purpose of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and the road-map of implementation, jurisdictional and procedural processes. After first looking at regional approaches and tendencies, specifically in the North German region of Schleswig-Hostein, but also at research in the geo-biological archive of soil in river valleys, the meeting moved towards discussion of a strategic approach to this planning and implementation process and an appropriate methodology for data collection.

The Ramsar presentation introduced the "wise use" approach to integrated wetland management and especially the most recent resolution on cultural values in wetlands (Res. IX.21). The presentation noted the particular value of archaeological finds as indicators of biodiversity, species distribution, relicts of human use as well assistance to planning of restoration with the help of aerial-view archaeology.

Finally there were case studies from "Federseemoor", a fen in southern Germany, from "English Heritage" ( as well as the example of the Maaswerken project in the Netherlands ( These examples gave insights into systematic ways to handle archaeological work on a large scale.

River course deregulation and the dynamic developments which are going along with restoration measures bring a new challenge to the archaeological work, e.g. the unpredictable consequences of mechanical and dynamic impacts on the soil-archive. It also points up the necessity for coordination with public interests and concerns, and how to introduce the work of cultural management. The planned modus operandi will ensure a high number of discoveries, including a lot of organic material which demands special conservation, restoration and stocking. It also offers the chance of gaining some quite new understanding of our prehistory. But it was also pointed out that re-wetting and wetland management measures may pose some risk to the cultural heritage. Where there is this risk of negative impact, there needs to be some specific regulation with reference to paragraph 4 of the WFD. Therefore a priority is to select such archaeologically important watercourse sections for which such regulation would be requested and perhaps even ensured through land purchase.

The next steps envisaged are the definition of a common strategy from the scientific down to the operational level, including the provision of contributions to watercourse classification and the development of river basin management plans. The main challenge therefore is to bring together authorities and institutions with a mandate in the field of cultural heritage across the German federal county structure. Thus an integrated approach to archaeological work, research and monitoring can contribute to the management of wetlands and thereby to reconnect local people with their cultural and historical wetland environment.

-- Dorothea August, Ramsar
Assistant Advisor for Europe

Friedrich Lüth

Dorothea August

Dorothea August presenting a Ramsar book to Jürgen Kunow

-- Photos by Henning Hassmann

See also

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Number of » Contracting Parties: 168 Sites designated for the
» List of Wetlands of
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2,186 Total surface area of designated sites (hectares): 208,674,247

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