For the first time, archaeologists have discovered well-preserved sharpened wooden stakes used to deter attacks from enemies at an ancient Roman military camp from the first century CE.
Researcher Frederic Auth from Frankfurt’s Goethe University discovered the spikes at an excavation site in the German town of Bad Ems.
Installations of these martial-looking wooden structures, comparable to modern barbed wire and metal bird spikes, have been referenced in literature and by Julius Caesar. But prior to Auth’s discovery, none had been found.
Experts believe the military had a presence at the site specifically because of the Romans’ investment in the lucrative precious metal mining operation there, which would need defense against sudden raids for the valuable raw material. But Goethe University archaeology professor Markus Scholz said further research is necessary to verify this theory.
The university’s archaeology department has been overseeing a multiyear excavation project in the area focused on the Roman search for silver ore in the 1st century CE and the establishment of two military camps.
A hunter’s observations of color differences in a grain field, a sign of subsurface structures, triggered the excavations in 2016. A drone photo found a track crisscrossing the field that was actually a double ditch, framing a Roman camp. The spikes were preserved through the area’s damp soil.
According to a statement from the university, geomagnetic prospecting later revealed a 20-acre military camp with about 40 wooden towers.
Auth also led a student team to discover a smaller military camp made of wood that held approximately 40 men, located two kilometers away.
Notably, the spiked wooden defense structure was discovered on the second-last day of the team’s excavations, along with a coin minted in 43 CE. The coin was proof that the military structure could not have been built in connection with ancient Roman fortifications known as the Limes, which were built around 110 CE.
News of the discovery was first reported by Artnet.