A Sunny Day in Roman Künzing

3 March, 2014

This week On the Reading Rest I have an article in German consisting of two articles:

Sommer, Sebastian. 2008. Die Römer in Künzing – Wege zur einer virtuellen Rekonstruktion dess Kastellvicus oder: Versuch der Annäherung an ein Lebensbild—(The Romans in Künzing – roads to .  virtual reconstruction of the vicus of the fort or: An attempted approach to a picture of living space. My translation). Bericht der bayerischen Bodendenkmalpflege, 49. 2008. Pp.107-126 + 128

In the end of the article there is a perfectly autonomous contribution:

Sättele, Manuel. 2008. Methodik der virtuellen Rekonstruktion—(Methods of virtual reconstruction. My translation). Bericht der bayerischen Bodendenkmalpflege, 49. 2008. Pp. 126-28.

Contrary to the authors, acronomised SebSo and ManSä, some readers, who start their German geography with Lech, Main, Mas, Rhein, Inn, Donau, Weser Oder Elbe before they gather that perhaps Inn/Donau is more or less the environment where Künzing may be situated, have only a vague idea where to find Roman Quintana. To many Künzing is at best like Fiesole, Haut de Cagnes, Valtournanche, Gandersheim, Kelso, Vorbasse, Sogndal or Hög i Hälsingland, that is, European places we have perhaps heard about, but cannot point out on a map. The above articles won’t help us perhaps because their readers are required to know the geography of Bayern, but Wikipedia et cetera will (0).

Fig 01

Fig 02Twenty five – thirty years ago it was common to point out that one of the scientific values of reconstructions, despite their propensity to be wrong deceiving the public and the odd researcher, was the fact that in order to obtain a result, reconstruction forced researchers to perform a series of actions that had little or no support in the source material. Ideally, having completed the reconstruction, and being aware of its hallmark, the reconstruction should prompt the researcher to study the source material once again, searching for hitherto undetected significant patterns. The reconstruction was meant to throw new light over the existing records and suggest new ways of recording future investigations in order to produce knowledge. In reconstruction archaeology as in any applied natural science describing something, patterns are detected because the perceived is studied and described on the basis of different models.

In complex human contexts, however, it becomes obvious that although we get a better understanding, for instance of the reconstruction of the Iron Age house in Scandinavia, when using models, we are chasing a fleeing goal that becomes more and more distant because of its growing complexity: now that we have learnt how Iron Age man made use of timber it seems there are no extant suitable woods to be found anywhere in Scandinavian to supply us with the timber. Moreover, the quality of the craftsman and the contribution of his childhood experience to his craftsmanship will be difficult to judge although it may well be important, now that we a have a general understanding of the principles of house construction. Chasing this fleeing goal and trying to answer the impossible questions in order to know more about woods and craftsmanship make up the methodological point of the reconstruction.

Quite a number of words and repeated observations could have been saved had these commonplace insights into problems and possibilities of reconstructions simply been referred to. One might also have started with ManSä’s contribution because it summarizes the character of the virtual reconstruction project arguing along some of the lines sketched above. Referring to these by all means Scandinavian and thus barbaric rather than Roman insights would also have made it obvious that one should think about one’s readers when writing about reconstructions. There is little general purpose in trying to describe why the Kastellvicus at Kastell Künzing – the vicus (settlement) around the Künzing fort – should be reconstructed in this or that way. Instead these steps of the actual reconstruction itself and the report on what precise decisions were taken in the process, concerns mainly those who are supposed to continue the heritage management and carry out possible future excavations in Künzing — not the commonl archaeological reader.

Based on the article alone the common archaeological reader cannot and should not check the foundation of the reconstruction because the common reader doesn’t belong to the local scientific community addressed in the article. The reconstruction is interesting to a wider group of readers and worth reading for the simple reason that it is a platform which demands to be followed up.

The task is simple: reconstruct the Roman settlement and the landscape surrounding it according to a relevant chronological framework for the benefit of heritage management, future town planning, research and the public. Only quite far into the article does SebSo argue for two settlement phases, but the section is easy to find at page 117 ff. and may thus be read in advance by those who think that chronology is an interesting early companion to history.

The point of departure is simple too. The contextual remains divide themselves into two groups. Group (1) consists of areas of relevance to the task. They are either (1:a) that is, recorded before they were destroyed or (1:b) that is, destroyed but void of any helpful records. Group (2) consists of areas in which future investigations may be helpful.

So why not start by making a chronological series of maps, such as phase one and two, of areas (1) and areas (2) with the subdivision (1:a) or (1:b). A possible grey zone between (1:a) and (1:b) may come in handy. Needless to say: if investigations are actually begun at a specific place the division between (1) and (2) may need revision. There is no such series of maps. Implicitly the landscape map is there and somewhere it can probably be found. I don’t doubt that the Bodendenkmalpflege – the heritage board – have these maps. The article, however, has the only following Beilage:

Fig 03

Fig 04Remains, records and documentation govern the reconstruction and SebSom has almost got it right: to begin with, reconstructions of contexts dominated by large formal structures, such a dominant fortress in a specific topographical situation, are built up hierarchically imitating a past reality. This means that even if the vicus is in focus, one should start with the auxiliary fort Quintanis.

The reconstruction should follow a path that runs from – the fort, to the roads – Passau-Regensburg and Künzing-Töging, to the cemeteries, to the streets defining the quarters, to the quarters, the plots, their structure, their houses and the open space in their backyards. One could go further into the diagnostics of the settlement, but to a broader research community there is little point in doing so because the information is already overflowing. Nevertheless, judging from ManSä’s contribution p. 127 it seems that the archaeologists and 3D modelers have each their approach to reconstruction. That may well have been their experience in the Künzing project, but that doesn’t make it true, i.e. a theoretically reasonable situation.

Probably the heritage management has already got its Künzing instrument and the ability to make the vicus an even more interesting site. Likewise town planners in Künzing have something to refer to and the villa owners between Kastellstrasse and Kohortenstrasse may realize that a geophysical prospection in their gardens, and in other parts of the community, could be worthwhile and non-destructive. The Bodendenkmalamt is probably all in favour because the latest edition of Archaeologisches Jahr in Bayern is full of geophysics. Moreover, work was done already in the 1990s on the cemeteries (1).

The only problem seems to be that the project has not been followed up. I may of course be wrong having simply been unable to find the information.

The end product of the article consists of two reconstructions. They are very nice, but they are presented as illustrations informing the public, not as results of a research into the reconstruction of the vicus. Thus they are only illustrations and historical documents since there seems to be no 2nd and 3rd editions of the reconstruction. I may of course be wrong having simply been unable to find the information.

Fig 05

Fig 06

But suppose I am not wrong, then the Künzing project highlights the inability to of heritage authorities and museums to incorporate a scientific approach to knowledge production into their projects. This is not solely due to lack of funding, it also reflects an inability to design projects. Let’s hope I am wrong.


(0) There is a popular description of this part of the Limes in English and German by Wolfgang Czysz, Andrea Faber, Christof Flügel and C. Sebastian Sommer at  http://www.limes-oesterreich.at/FRE_DOWNLOADS/FRE_BROCHURE_GERMANY.pdf

(1) See illustrations in the description referred to in note (0) and: Fassbinder, J.W.E., and H. Becker (1993), Kombination von Luftbild und Magnetik zur Prospektion eines urnenfelderzeitlichen Gräberfeldes bei Künzing, Arch. Jahr Bayern, 1992, 180-182.
Fassbinder, J.W.E., and H. Becker (1996), Das urnenfelder-/hallstattzeitliche Gräberfeld von Künzing, in Archäologische Prospektion Luftbildarchäologie und Geophysik, vol. 59, edited by K. Hemmeter and M. Petzet, pp. 139-141, Bayerisches Landesamt f Denkmalpflege, ISBN: 3-87490-541-1.)

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