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Research projects

Running wild: an interdisciplinary project on wild horse and landscape exploitation past and present

Principal investigators: Jacob Kveiborg and Jens-Christian Svenning

The project is a collaboration between the BIOCHANGE research center and the Department of Archaeological Science and Conservation, Moesgaard Museum as part of BIOCHANGE director Jens-Christian Svenning’s WILLUM Investigator project funded by WILLUM Fonden.

During the late Atlantic, c. 7000 BP and prior to the expansion of agriculture, wild horses re-populated large parts of northern and north-western continental Europe after millennia of rarity or, in some parts, absence. During the period in question, the landscape has traditionally been depicted as rather densely covered by primeval forests, and the re-population by a species conventionally characterized as a steppe animal in this kind of landscape is thus somewhat of a puzzle.

Herbivorous animals can be divided into grazers, mixed feeders, and browsers based on their preferred diet. As grasses are particularly abrasive, the different dietary regimes result in different types of tooth wear, just as the isotopic signals of the animals living there should differentiate. Through isotope analyses and detailed studies of tooth wear on horse teeth dated to the late Atlantic and the early sub-Boral period, c. 7000-4500 BP from present-day Denmark and Nortern Germany the project seeks to better our understanding of the reintroduction and adaptability of the wild horse wild horse through investigations of feeding habits and the landscape at the transition from hunter-fisher-gatherers to farmers around 6000 BP

ANTHEA (2020 - 2025)

Principal invistigator: Mette Løvschal

This project seeks to examine Anthropogenic Heathlands and collaborative institutions of common land use of the bronze age in Northen Europe. Anthropogenic heathland is a unique form of ecosystem, an artificially sustained vegetational succession stage, whose retention is dependent on systematic disturbance.

By bringing in the archeaological perspective of a 4200-year timespan, ANTHEA seeks to radically alter our knowledge of resiliant forms of self-organisation in past land-use regimes and human-nature entanglement, focusing on their adaption to internal and external factors as well as their ecological, temporal, spatial and social fabric.

How did these heathland regimes self-organize and manage to stay in place in spite of radical demographic, political and tenure changes?

In collaboration Moesgaard Museum among other local organisations, ANTHEA carries out excavations  to shape a better understanding of alternative ways of organising for ecological resillience in a time of increasing landscape degredation and exhaution.

The ANTHEA project is funded by the European Research Council to run from 2020 to 2025.

Materialities of home among mobile groups

Principal investigator: Anders Emil Rasmussen

Moesgaard Museum in collaboration with Department of Anthropology, Aarhus University, and Museum Sønderjylland.
The project is funded by The Velux Foundations, Museum program (34239)

What is ‘home’, and how is it materialized, when the sense of home and belonging is not associated with one geographical place? The project was developed in collaboration with MIAU – Centre for Migration and Integration Research, at AU, whilst the methodological aspects derive from an ongoing collaboration on visual and digital products between Ethnographic Department at MOMU and  Multi-modal ethnography at Anthropology at AU. Mobility and multiple belongings are ever-increasing in the contemporary world. This raises new questions for our understandings of practices and notions of home and belonging. Rethinking the tradition of studying nomadic groups at Moesgaard Museum, this project will study home and belonging through a focus on materiality and atmospheres among contemporary groups for whom mobility is permanent economic and historical circumstances, and a source of collective identity. Field studies among seafarers in the Pacific; diasporas and pastoral nomads in Africa; and mobile minorities in southern Jutland, will contribute with new comparative insights and theory on the relationship between mobility, materiality, and belonging. Methodologically, the project will challenge existing practices of museum collecting, by stressing audiovisual products such as 3D photography/VR, which will be systematically used as data and documentation. Likewise, such audio-visual products will form part of experimental exhibitions in the final stages of the project. 

DIME - Digitale Metaldetektorfund

Head of project: Andres Dobat

DIME is an online platform that facilitates the recording of archeological finds made by members of the public in Denmark and the Faroe Islands , primarily metaldetector findings. 

  • DIME is one of the biggest citizen science projects in archaeology
  • The platform i used by more than 3700 amateur archeaologists
  • DIME collaborates with all archaeological museums in Denmark 
  • The Archive contains over 180.000 findings

"Fangstfolk": An underwater examination of the oldest coastal soceities of Southern Scandinavia

Principal investigator: Peter Moe Astrup

On the basis of new elevation models of the underwater landscape and a particularly comprehensive data set of C14 dating and sediment data, it has been possible to develop a very detailed model of coastline changes during the Stone Age (Astrup 2018, fig. 1). For the first time, we have the opportunity to identify obvious places to search for the flooded coastal settlements. In 2017, Moesgaard Museum succeeded in showing an 8,500-year-old settlement at a depth of 7 meters in the Aarhus Bay. The settlement is the oldest coastal settlement from Southern Scandinavia to date.

This project will investigate the importance of the coast to the people who lived in the time before the well-documented coastal communities through an exploration of the underwater Early Mesolithic coastal settlements. The coastal settlements are the place where you can most clearly read the organizational conditions in their full technological, social and religious complexity. It is yet unknown in which ways the earliest coastal sites differed from the inland settlements, but in later times, the coast is characterized by greater population density, more permanent settlements, a greater variety of resources, a different type of technology and symbolic culture, more exchange and an increased regionalization. These phenomena are the motivation and aim of this project. The project will particularly focus on providing new funds and new knowledge in connection with the 1) spread and nature of coastal settlements (e.g. relation to inland settlements), 2) the extent and nature of resource utilization (e.g. food sources illuminated through animal bones), and 3) marine technologies (e.g. drugs ). and fishing fences as well as symbolic objects).

North Atlantic Everyday Histories 

Principal Investigator: Christian Vium 

The project is organized as an interdisciplinary collaboration between Department of Anthropology, Aarhus University; Moesgaard Museum; the Royal Danish Library and the National Museum of Denmark, as well as local archives and national museums in Greenland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands. 

What roles do oral history and family archives play in understandings of history and how can these be collected, registered, and communicated in new ways? Based in interdisciplinary collaborations with local, regional, and national partners and institutions in Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Denmark, the project ‘North Atlantic Everyday Histories’ preserves and communicates oral histories and family archives, providing new knowledge of their importance to our collective history. 

The project integrates three significant approaches within contemporary anthropology and cultural heritage research: affect, narrative, and material theory, and contributes to scientific knowledge-sharing, digitization of site-specific histories and archival material, and to the communication of shared north Atlantic cultural heritage based in experimental approaches to co-creation, workshops, and exhibition-making.  

The project is funded by the Velux Foundations, Museum Program

Seed projects

Shell middens by the Kolindsund? Dating bones and shells from the prehistoric shoreline

  • Seed project


Recipient: Uffe Rasmussen (MOMU) & Marcello A. Mannino (AU)

The Djursland peninsula was intensely occupied in the Mesolithic and Neolithic with many settlements lying close to the shorelines of its now reclaimed fjords. The largest of these fjords during the Littorina transgression was the Kolindsund, which ran along an east-west axis, isolating the northern part of the present-day peninsula. Stone Age sites with thick shell-matrix deposits is a characteristic element along the shores of the Kolindsund. Little detailed zooarchaeological work has been done on the assemblages, but nevertheless the shell-matrix deposits in question are structured differently in Ertebølle (EBC), Funnel Beaker (FBC) and Pitted Ware (PWC) contexts. Neither is the relationship between the different sites within their local settings well understood and more work needs to be done to reconstruct the settlement history in the Kolindsund from the EBC through the FBC, into the PWC.

As part of Aarhus University teaching excavations, work has recently been conducted at the Neolithic causewayed enclosure related site, Ginnerup, positioned at a high promontory by the Holtskær-inlet on the northern shore of Kolindsund. The dating of this site shows it to have been occupied from phase EN II of the FBC, through the latest stages of the local FBC and well into the PWC. An almost similar situation is known from the large Fannerup-site nearby. Nevertheless, other shell matrix deposits on the former beach on both sides of the Holtskær inlet are of unclarified nature and chronology. We will try to radiocarbon date bones and oyster shells from these sites. The proposed AMS radiocarbon dating on materials that are made available to us by Museum Østjylland should enable us to evaluate the occupation pattern and the use of landscape through the Late Mesolithic into the Middle Neolithic in Kolindsund and clarify any similarities and/or differences between Fannerup and Ginnerup.

The truth is in the cesspool! Isotope analyses on insect remains from urban latrines

  • Seed project

Recipient: Marcello A. Mannino (AU) & Jesper Petersen (MoMu)

This pilot project aims to reconstruct the trophic webs of latrines by analysing the stable isotope compositions of cess-associated insect taxa (e.g. Thoracochaeta zosterae, Fannia scalaris). These isotopic data will be compared with similar data from insects which were introduced into the pits with domestic building waste (e.g. Anobium punctatum), stabling, foul or rotting materials (e.g. Themira putris, Musca domestica, Muscina stabulans), decaying cereals (e.g. Mycetaea subterranea, Tipnus unicolor) and general refuse (Smith, 2013). Samples of these insects will be selected from latrines and cesspits (e.g. grubelatriner, træbygget latriner) unearthed at sites across Denmark and identified by Jesper Petersen (Moesgaard Museum). Marcello A. Mannino will work with colleagues outside Aarhus University on the sample pretreatment, to ensure that biogenic chitin is accessed for carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis. From a practical perspective the aim would be to establish the pretreatment and to set this work up as a joint Moesgaard Museum and Aarhus University venture.

The research objective is to develop a method that allows us to use insect remains to their full potential as proxies for the “life history” of latrines, by reducing our reliance on purely uniformitarian reconstructions. In turn, if our expectations are met, this should allow us to differentiate processes active within these refuse contexts from those linked to contributions to them coming from other forms of waste. Future applications would also include AMS radiocarbon dating of insect remains to establish in detail the depositional and post-depositional history of the palimpsests that generally conflate into latrines and chronologically support the trophic web approach proposed here.

An important curiosity: The case of the greater weever

  • Seed project

Recieved in 2022

Seed recipients:

  • Kenneth Ritchie – Moesgaard Museum, Department of Conservation and Natural Science
  • Niels Nørkjær Johannsen – Aarhus University, School of Culture and Society. Co-Principal Investigator Ginnerup Project.

The greater weever (Trachinus draco) is a common fish in Danish waters, living its life buried in the seabed during the day and swimming about to feed at night. While present in many Stone Age fish assemblages, it is almost always a very minor part of the identified material. The exception to this is in eastern Jutland and especially on the Djurs peninsula. Here, weever is often a significant and sometimes the dominant fish in archaeological assemblages. While this certainly has something to do with the fact that these fish were very common in this area in the past as they are now, there is also a question as to whether there is some aspect of the past fisheries that make them more common here than in other parts of Denmark. Recent excavations conducted as a collaboration between Moesgaard Museum and Aarhus University (in conjunction with other partners) at the Neolithic site Ginnerup provide an outstanding opportunity to examine an archaeological weever fishery in detail that can help to decode the complex history of the Funnel Beaker and Pitted Ware cultures in Denmark. Despite the (apparently) limited role of fish during most of the Neolithic, Pitted Ware groups significantly exploited this and other wild resources alongside domesticated ones. Seeking to understand how and why this alternative subsistence regime developed is crucial to understanding cultural developments during this period.

Menneske/dyr-relationer i Enkeltgravskultur

  • Seed project

Modtagere: Emilie Bregendahl (studerende, AU), Uffe Rasmussen (arkæolog, MoMu), Mette Løvschal (Professor, AU/MoMu)

Formål: At foretage en række 14C-dateringer af dyreknogler fra tre danske Enkeltgravskultur-lokaliteter.

Pilotprojektet sker på baggrund af en systematisk, metodisk gennemgang af de danske arkæologiske og paleoøkologiske databaser for animalsk knoglemateriale fra Enkeltgravskulturen, foretaget under Emilie Bregendahls praktikophold på ANTHEA-projektet (2022) frem mod hendes speciale i 2023.

Med analyserne ønsker vi at styrke museums- og universitetssamarbejdet omkring menneske-dyre og menneske-landskabsrelationer i et dybt tidsperspektiv, som er et tydeligt fællestema for en række forsknings- og formidlingsprojekter, som fx offermoserne. – Og som det også vil være oplagt at foretage en fælles søgning om KFU-midler på, enten til foråret 2023 eller 2024. 

Endvidere vil en mindre artikel om menneske/dyre-relationer i Enkeltgravskulturen indgå i ANTHEAs digitale udgivelse i efteråret 2023, skrevet på basis af den research der er udført under praktik og speciale. Analysen af det osteologiske materiale vil ligeledes indgå i en fem-siders artikel, som vi i fællesskab ønsker at indsende til Danish Journal of Archaeology.

Badstuer i Danmarks Middelalder og Nyere Tid

  • Seed project

Modtagere: Rainer Atzbach, AU & Thomas Samuel Thomsen

Udstillingssamarbejde med det formål at lave en udstilling om badstuer i middelalderen og tidlig moderne tid. Badstuer var engang vidt udbredte i Danmark og det øvrige Europa. I mange hundrede år havde samtlige købstæder badstuer, og noget tyder på, at det også måtte gælde for borge og klostre. Badstuerne fungerede som en sauna. Et opvarmet rum hvor man kunne blive vasket, barberet, friseret, fået medicinsk behandling for alskens sygdomme. Druk og morskab fandt sted. De fattigste kunne blive testamenteret et bad og et måltid gennem de kirkelige institutioner, og den afdøde patron sikrede sig dermed forbøn og udsigt til en plads i himmeriget. Badstuen var både et wellness-ophold og en del af den sociale forsorg. Vi taler om et ublufærdigt og socialt rum, hvor alle uanset stand og køn tog bad sammen. Rig som fattig. Mænd, kvinder og børn.

Udstillingen skal bl.a. tage udgangspunkt i Thomas S. Thomsens nye speciale om “Middelalderlige Badstuer i Danmark” (2022) og forskning ved Rainer Atzbach (Lektor & Dr. phil. i middelalder- og nyere tids arkæologi) om den lille istids indflydelse på Danmarks bygningskultur og hverdagsliv (2014; 2019).

Et nyt resultat har været et brud med forestillingen om, at syfilis skulle være en hovedårsag til badstuernes forsvinden. Det forklares hellere med klimaforandring og ressourcernes overbelastning, som hindrede badstuernes bæredygtige og rentabelt drift: Med den lille istid blev klimaet koldere, der sammen med skovrydning forstærkede prisstigninger for brændsel. Kulturelle normer havde ligeledes en betydning for, hvordan mennesker holdt sig rene, og måske endda blev mere blufærdige end tidligere. Det måtte betyde et yderligere dalende kundegrundlag for badstuemænd, som medførte at badstuerne forsvandt fra bybilledet i 1700-tallet som socialt mødested – og bordel.


  • Seed project

This project seeks to assess the potential of a range of natural scientific analyses for answering central questions surrounding special features at the major aristocratic Viking-Age site of Erritsø: how was the massive cultural deposit associated to the monumental hall area formed? And at what time of the year the sunken-featured buildings of the extensive production area were in activity? By testing the degree of preservation of macrofossils, pollen and phytoliths in the deposits and by potentially already identifying significant markers in the data, this project will act as ”proof-of-concept” fuelling the preparation of a joint funding applícation between Aarhus University, the VejleMuseums and the Department for Conservation and Natural Science, MoMu, by informing the method strategy and by refining the research questions of a new project.

Skill and cognition in children’s play object – a museum-based study

  • Seed project

Recieved in 2021

Seed Recipients: Felix ReideSheina Lew-LevyUlrik Høj JohnsenMarc Malmdorf Andersen 

While all Great Apes use tools, humans are unique in the breadth and complexity of our cultural toolkits, which have allowed us to survive and thrive in diverse and often challenging ecologies. Functional miniatures of multi-component objects (e.g. kayaks, bows, sledges) may play a major role in cognitive priming for tool making throughout ontogeny. And yet, despite representing a majority of the world’s population (Nielsen et al., 2017), little is known with regards to how children from non-industrialized societies learn to make and use tools, nor how they use adult-made miniatures. Museum collections afford an important resource for shedding light on children’s objects because the artefacts themselves are often associated with detailed records, and because they can be directly compared with adult material culture from the same cultural contexts. In addition, they provide key links between the living societies of the ethnographic record and the informant-less archaeological record. Because little work has been done to catalogue or analyse children’s toys and tools in museum collections, we propose to work with Moesgård Museum to develop a systematic protocol for analyzing children’s objects using methods developed in cognitive archaeology.

Research excavations

Joint Teaching excavation at Borre, Favrskov

The department of Anthropology and Moesgaard Museum often collaborate on research excavations (with other institutions as well)
This joint teaching excavation at Borre, in Favrskov municipality is lead by Liv Stidsing Reher-Langberg (MoMu) and Andres Dobat (AU).

In a field near the village Borre, not far away from the monumental grave Høj Stene, several very fine metalfinds have been made during the last couple of years – e.g. a patrice. Since then three campaigns of research and student excavations have so far been made on the site, in a collaboration between Moesgaard Museum and Aarhus University.

The excavations have so far been focused on a minor part of a settlement from around the 5th – 6th century AD, with fenced farmsteads, longhouses and minor houses; a settlement just like many other settlements from this period. Yet, some elements seems to make this settlement different and stand out from other settlements: the extraordinary metalfinds, the almost contemporality and short distance to Høj Stene and the signs of ironproduction.

This continues to bring out some questions: Was there a connection between the settlement at Borre and the monumental grave Høj Stene? – and in that case, what kind of connection? How big a part did the ironproduction play in the settlement and who was in charge of it? And not least, are the metalfinds an indication of the social and economic status of the village?

Answers to these questions highly depend on natural science analysis. Not least on C14 dating of the houses. Hopefully these kind of analysis, together with further excavations at the site, could also spread some (highly needed) light on this period of changes after 536 AD.