Medieval Church Found in the Sea!

The recent discovery of a lost church in the submerged medieval settlement of Rungholt in the North Frisian Wadden Sea, Germany, has brought to light new insights into the history of this once-prosperous town.

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Rungholt, often referred to as the “Atlantis of the North Sea,” was believed to have succumbed to the devastating forces of a storm tide in January 1362, known as the Grote Mandrenke or Den Store Manddrukning.

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A team of archaeologists from Kiel University (CAU), Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology (ZBSA), and the State Archaeology Department Schleswig-Holstein (ALSH) conducted an extensive study using a combination of geoscientific and archaeological methods.

All of the archaeological equipment had to be pushed through the wet sand at low tide.

By employing techniques such as magnetic gradiometry and electromagnetic induction, they were able to pinpoint the site of a large church within a two kilometre-long chain of medieval terps (settlement mounds) near Hallig Südfall.

The Church

The discovered church structure measures 40 meters by 15 meters and is considered to have served as the central hub of the settlement. Dr. Ruth Blankenfeldt, an archaeologist at ZBSA, highlighted the significance of the church, stating that it must be interpreted as a parish with a superordinate function.

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This finding sheds light on the organisational and social structure of the medieval community that once thrived in Rungholt.

Dr. Ruth Blankenfeldt
Dr. Ruth Blankenfeldt is an archaeologist for ZBSA.

Further investigations in the surrounding region, spanning an area of over ten square kilometres, revealed 54 terps, well-organised drainage systems, a coastal dike featuring a tidal gate harbour, and two additional locations hosting smaller churches. These findings provide valuable insights into the layout and infrastructure of the medieval settlement.

What’s Left?

However, it is worth noting that the region, including the area around Hallig Südfall, has experienced significant erosion, with the medieval remains often only detectable as negative imprints.

Dr. Hanna Hadler from the Institute of Geography at Mainz University emphasized the need for intensified research in these areas to preserve and uncover the remaining traces of the medieval settlement.

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The discovery of the lost church in Rungholt adds another piece to the puzzle of this submerged medieval settlement. By studying and analysing the remnants of the past, archaeologists and historians can unravel the history, culture, and daily life of the people who once called Rungholt their home.


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