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Baltic Hillfort Network

Prof. Dr. Claus von Carnap-Bornheim und Dr. Timo Ibsen

According to evidence from many large cemeteries, the Baltic region was occupied almost continuously throughout the first millennium AD, but the number of cemeteries stands in stark contrast to the small number of known settlement sites of this period.
hillfort in Grobiņa
As starting points for settlement archaeological research, however, prehistoric fortifications, known as hillforts, can be used. They are considered characteristic of the Baltic. The first Baltic fortifications probably emerged at the turn of the second and first millennia BC, and their number increased until the middle of the first millennium BC, but such sites were particularly numerous in the first millennium AD and especially in its second half, starting with the Migration Period.

From the beginning of archaeological research in the region, hillforts played a major role and were discussed in some general surveys and overviews. Particularly in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, intensive research activity focused on hillfort ramparts, thanks to these earlier studies. Though most of the more than 3000 known hillforts in the Baltic Region have been mapped and discussed from a military-strategic perspective, the number of intensively investigated monuments is surprisingly low. In the Sambian peninsula in today’s Kaliningradskaya Oblast of the Russian Federation, for example, we know of 90 hillforts, of which only 22 have been accurately surveyed and only 7 have been partly excavated. In addition, only a few excavation results have been comprehensively published.

In particular, the dating of these monuments is mostly based on theoretical considerations and studies of written sources of the Teutonic order, which only confirm their existence in the thirteenth or fourteenth century AD, but do not date their construction. For the question of continuity, this data has a very limited value. The existing typological models are confronted with the same problem of a lack of absolute dates. Precise dating supported by natural sciences such as radiocarbon analysis is available only for a few monuments in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, but is absolutely absent for the Kaliningrad Region.

Only by understanding the earthen-wooden ramparts, with their wide range of potential functions like manors, refuges, animal enclosures or cult places, and especially their relationship to the cultural landscape, can general developments in the settlement dynamics of the Baltic area before the arrival of the Teutonic order be analyzed and described more precisely.

Against this background, the international research group “Baltic Hillfort Network” with participants from the Baltic countries, Russia and Poland has been founded with the aim of using the high potential of these monuments for investigations into settlement archaeology in this common European landscape. The annual meetings are focusing on the following subjects:

Main Tasks

• Identification of current research issues
• Implementation of joint research strategies
• Coordination of joint research projects in the frame of joint applications
• Promotion of junior scientific staff

Specific areas of work

• Comparative non-invasive geophysical investigations
• Interdisciplinary research approaches with particular emphasis on palaeo-ecological issues
• Development of common documentation standards (GIS)
• Comparative studies of settlement patterns in the environment of hillforts
• Development of a strategy for the usage of the existing documentation in the national archives related to old excavations of hillforts and settlements

Document Actions
In Cooperation with


Prof. Heiki Valk (Archäologisches Institut der Universität Tartu)


Dr. Ingrida Vīrse (Lettisches Nationalmuseum für Geschichte)


Prof. Gintas Zabiela (Institut für Baltische Regionalgeschichte und –Archäologie Klaipeda)


Prof. Wojciech Wroblewski (Archäologisches Institut der Universität Warschau)

Dr. habil. Anna Bitner-Wróblewska (Staatliches Archäologisches Museum Warschau)

Dr. Marcin Engel (Staatliches Archäologisches Museum Warschau) 

Dr. Cezary Sobczak (Staatliches Archäologisches Museum Warschau)

Russland (Kaliningrader Oblast):

Dr. Nikolaj Krenke (Archäologisches Institut der Russischen Akademie der Wissenschaften Moskau)

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