Excavations of a fortified hilltop at Gars Thunau in North-Eastern Austria has yielded impressive information about the way of life among the early medieval elite in the border area between the Carolingians (Ottonians) and Hungarians in the 9th -10th Centuries AD

The fortified settlement of Gars-Thunau is situated in North-Eastern Austria approximately 25 km north of the River Danube on the right bank of the River Kamp. It lies on an elongated hilltop and is naturally protected by a vertical slope on the eastern side. The site was repeatedly occupied since the Bronze Age. However, particularly intensive habitation took place in the 9th and 10th centuries AD. Of particular interest is a manor farm (Herrenhof), which was surrounded by palisades and fortification ramparts. These were built of timber, earth and stone. Dendrochonological analysis of timber from the ramparts has yielded a period termini post quem AD 834-894. Very recently this was confirmed by archaeomagnetic dating [1].

To the West of the hilltop was a fortified rampart with two gates. These represented the main points of access to the site. Further to the East was an area with intensive settlement including the manor farm. Further to the East on the lower plain were additional settlements. At the site were identified pits, sunken-huts, the later manor-farm and a cemetery with app. 200 graves. In the middle of this, a grave-free area was identified as a probable church. One of the graves held an old man buried in a wooden coffin with iron fastenings; perhaps the “founder” of the manorial farm. The best-preserved phase of the manor-farm occupied an area of app. 7500 m2, surrounded by a palisade. In the northern part a building 5 x 8 metres probably built of logs was identified as a representative building.

Various types of cultivated crops were identified, including grapes, plums and a kind of cucumber. It is believed that people engaged in both the cultivation of farmland as well as gardening. 88% of the animal bones were from domesticated animals (cattle, pigs and sheep). 12 % stemmed from red deer, elk and wisent, perhaps signalling an early form of hunting-privileges. “In addition, brown bears were apparently kept at the site”, writes the primary investigator, Hajnaka Herold [2].

Thunau am Kamp - reconstructed Slavic gate
Thunau am Kamp – reconstructed Slavic Gate Source: Wikipediea

Apart from agricultural activities, a number of different craft activities has been detected at the site: iron metallurgy, bone and antler working, pottery production, spinning, weaving, carpentry, stone working and perhaps also glass and leather working. Such fortified settlements were important centres in the later phases of the central European Middle Ages (9th – 10th centuries AD). In the 8th century the major polities in this area was the Duchy of Bavaria, which was later (788 AD) included in the Frankish Empire and the Avar Khaganate, conquered by Charlemagne in 796. Later ( in the 9th century) it was conquered by the Hungarians to be included in the “Great Moravian Empire”. Curiously enough this dynamic political history “stands in surprising contrast to the characteristics of the fortified settlements and to elements of their material culture, which display strong similarities throughout the region”, writes Hajnaka Herold [3].

Future research is going to concentrate on investigating way of life, mentality and social networks in the region. The site has been extensively investigated and analysed by Hajnaka Herold, who is (2014) lecturer in Historical Archaeology at the University of Exeter. A survey of her work can be accessed at The project has been funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF; project number P21256-G19) and by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.


[1] Posterior archaeomagnetic dating for the early Medieval site Thunau am Kamp, Austria
By Elisabeth Schnepp, Philippe Lanos and Martin Obenaus
Fiches détaillée 2014

The early medieval site Thunau am Kamp consists of a hill fort and a settlement with large burial ground at the bank of river Kamp. All these features are under archaeological investigation since many years. The settlement comprises many pit houses, some with stratigraphic order. Every pit house was equipped with at least one cupola oven and/or a hearth or fireplace. Sometimes the entire cupola was preserved. The site was occupied during the 9th and 10th AD according to potshards which seem to indicate two phases: In the older phase ovens were placed in the corner of the houses while during the younger phase they are found in the middle of the wall. In order to increase the archaeomagnetic data base 14 ovens have been sampled. They fill the temporal gap in the data base for Austria around 900 AD. Laboratory treatment included alternation field and thermal demagnetisations as well as rock magnetic experiments. The baked clay with was formed from a loess sediment has preserved stable directions. Apart from one exception the mean characteristic remanent magnetization directions are concentrated around 900 AD on the early medieval part of the directional archaeomagnetic reference curve of Austria (Schnepp & Lanos, GJI, 2006). Using this curve archaeomagnetic dating with RenDate provides ages between 800 and 1100 AD which are in agreement with archaeological dating. In one case archaeomagnetic dating is even more precise. Together with the archaeological age estimates and stratigraphic information the new data have been included into the database of the Austrian curve. It has been recalculated using a new version of RenCurve. The new data confine the curve and its error band considerably in the time interval 800 to 1100 AD. The curve calibration process also provides a probability density distribution for each structure which allows for posterior dating. This refines temporal errors considerably. Usefulness of such an approach and archaeological implications will be discussed.

[2] The fortified hilltop site of Gars-Thunau and the settlements of the 9th and 10th centuries in Lower Austria
By Hajnalka Herold
In: J. Macháček/ Š. Ungerman (eds.), Frühgeschichtliche Zentralorte in Mitteleuropa Internationale Konferenz und Kolleg der Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung zum 50. Jahrestag des Beginns archäologischer Ausgrabungen in Pohansko bei Breclav, 5.-9.10.2009, Breclav, Tschechische Republik. (Studien zur Archäologie Europas 14), pp. 519 – 528
Verlag Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH, Bonn 2011

This article presents results from the current investigation of the fortified hilltop settlement of Gars-Thunau (Lower Austria). The site was, in the 9th and 10th centuries AD, situated in the border regions of the East-Frankish Empire, Moravia and Bohemia. In addition to the early medieval occupation, evidence of a number of earlier occupation phases is present at the site. These include a late Bronze Age fortification, parts of which were re-used during the construction of the 9th–10th-century fortification ramparts. Current research has identified six early medieval settlement phases in Gars-Thunau. A multi-phase manor farm is situated in the central part of the site. It is preceded and followed by settlement phases that display a different spatial structure. The features and finds excavated at the site indicate the presence of a military and social elite at Gars- Thunau. The second part of the article provides a concise summary of the archaeology of settlements contemporary with Gars-Thunau from the territory of Lower Austria.

[3] Fortified Settlements in the 9th and 10th Centuries AD in Central Europe: Structure, Function and Symbolism
By Hajnalka Herold
In: Medieval Archaeology Vol 56, pp. 60 – 84.

The structure, function(s) and symbolism of early medieval (9th -10th centuries AD) of fortified settlements from central Europe, in particular today’s Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia, are examined in this paper. It offers an overview of the current state of research together with new insights based on analysis of the site of Gars-Thunau in Lower Austria. Special emphasis is given to the position of the fortified sites in the landscape, to the elements of the built environment and their spatial organisation, as well as to graves within the fortified area. The region under study was situated on the SE border of the Carolingian (and later the Ottonian) Empire, with some of the discussed sites lying in the territory of the ‘Great Moravian Empire’ in the 9th and 10th centuries. These sites can therefore provide important comparative data for researchers working in other parts of the Carolingian Empire and neighbouring regions.

Der Schanzberg von Gars-Thunau in Niederösterreich – Eine befestigte Höhensiedlung mit Zentralortfunktion aus dem 9.–10. Jahrhundert [The Schanzberg of Gars-Thunau in Lower Austria: A Hillfort with Central Place Function from the 9th–10th Centuries AD – in German with summaries in English and French]
By Hajnalka Herold
In: Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt 2008, Vol. 38 No. 2, Mainz, 283–299.
ABSTRACT The Schanzberg of Gars-Thunau in Lower Austria – a hillfort with central place function from the 9-10th centuries A.D. Recent research results on the structure and on the main phases of settlement activity at the Early Medieval fortified settlement of Gars-Thunau are presented in this article.New research showed that the manor farm (Herrenhof) at Gars-Thunau, which used to be regarded as one single chronological unit consists of three consecutive chronological phases.The central part of the site, the »Obere Holzwiese«, had already been used as a settlement area before the manor farm was built there. After three settlement phases of the »curtis«, a new settlement structure came to existence which did not respect the buildings of the former »curtis«. This chronological phase represents the latest hitherto known settlement activity. The position of the analysed and excavated areas allowed conclusions especially concerning the second and third chronological phases of the »curtis«. The first phase of the »curtis« and the preceding earliest settlement phase will be studied in the near future by analysing further excavated areas.


Schanzberg – Gars am Kamp as seen from the Schanzberg. Source: