Urgeschichte und Naturwissenschaftliche Archäologie

Excavations at Schöningen

Scientific director of excavations: Dr. Jordi Serangeli

A joint project of the Universität Tübingen and the Niedersächsisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Hannover under the direction of  Prof. Nicholas J. Conard, Ph.D.

The excavations at Schöningen are being financed by the Niedersächsisches Museum für Wissenschaft und Kultur, the Niedersächsisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and the Universität Tübingen. 

You can find further information about the project on the pages of the Archäologieportals Niedersachsen and the  Förderverein Schöninger Speere



The city of Schöningen, Landkreis Helmstedt, is located about 100 km east of Hannover and 170 km west of Berlin in the southeast of Niedersachsen (accessible through the A2 exit 63, Marienborn/Helmstedt or exit 61, Helmstedt West (Figure 1)). 

It is located at the foot of the Elm mountain range. Even in prehistory the region would have been an attractive settlement area due to the diverse landscape, fertile loess, and salt deposits. Not to mention the convenient location, situated north of the low mountain range with proximity to the Harz mountains and their ore deposits. 

Since Industrialisation, the landscape has been shaped by coal mining which took place just east of the city of Schöningen. 

After the division of Germany, following WWII, Schöningen found itself located on the west side of the German-German divide. In Hötensleben, part of the Wall is preserved as a monument.

Interesting archaeological sites in this region:

Early Prehistory

  1. Hundisburg, Landkreis Börde, Saalian Middle Palaeolithic. A site being excavated by Stefan Ertmer.
  2. Salzgitter-Lebenstedt, a Middle Palaeolithic site producing several bone artifacts.

Prehistory and Early History

  1. Several neolithic earth works, which were recently published by  Michael Geschwinde and Dirk Raetzel-Fabian in a monograph .
  2. Lübbensteine near Helmstedt, two Trichterbecher megalith graves. 
  3. Hüneburg near Watenstedt, Landkreis Helmstedt, eine bronze age settlement, being excavated by Dr. Immo Heske, Universität Göttingen. 

Medieval Archaeology

  1. the medieval settlements of Petersteich near Süppligenburg, being excavated by Dr. Monika Bernatzky.
  2. Kaiserpfalz Werla, Landkreis Wolfenbüttel.

Research history

This region's archaeological significance has long been known of thanks to volunteers from the area, amongst others Hans Germer, who documented prehistoric finds over the course of decades. When extensions of the surface mining were in planning, the Landesamt für Denkmalpflege took over rescue excavations of the Linear pottery site Esbeck I in 1981/82. 

Because of numerous other finds resulting in further smaller excavations, it became clear that a constant archaeological monitoring of all mining processes was necessary. Under the direction of Dr. H. Thieme, the project „Archäologische Schwerpunktuntersuchungen im Helmstedter Braunkohlerevier (ASHB)“ was founded at the Niedersächsiches Landesamt für Denkmlpflege. Over the course of the last 27 years, an area of 6 square kilometers has been examined and excavated. Numerous sites from the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron age were discovered and excavated. The finds from these excavations are still being examined today. 

In 1992, in south of the mining area, the first Early Palaeolithic layers were discovered at Schöningen 12 B. In May 1994, the site Schöningen 12 I was discovered, and a few months later, the first wood artifacts was found at 13 II, the wild horse camp, which was the focus of scientific investigations surrounding Schöningen between 1994 and 2007. 

The excavations

Between 2008 and 2010, the landbridge (Figure 2) between the southern and northern mining area was removed. At this bridge, measuring ca. 300 m in width and 1 km in length, all work was monitored by the NLD and the Universität Tübingen, and accompanying excavations were conducted. Numerous holocene finds and features were discovered and documented (Figure 3), as well as 12 areas, 10-15 m down, with pleistocene finds. This cooperation was continued in 2010, and since then, with the support of the DFG, excavations have been taking place at the site the spears were found, Schöningen 13 II.

The excavations usually start in March and end in December. 


Below the holocene layers, Schöningen displays a unique quaternary sequence, containing deposits from Weichsel, Saalian, and Elster ice ages, as well as the Eem interglacial period and at least one, perhaps more, warm periods between Elster and Saalian ice ages. 

Under the Saalian layers and over the Elster ground moraine, organogen depositions were discoverd. They formed at a lake or a lake shore. The wet, low oxygen environment created perfect conditions for preservation of organic mateials (a.o. wood, pollen, macro remains). In some areas, varnish profiles were taken (Figure 5). 

The layers containing the wooden spears are most likely more than 300 000 years old. 


During the excavations at the DB-pillar (Schöningen 12 I) and the current excavation at the base (Schöningen 12 II), numerous bones of large mammals were recovered (Figure 6), as well as some worked bones, bones with cutting marks, bone artifacts, stone artifacts, natural and worked wood. The conditions for preservation of micro fauna, molluscs, amphibians and fish, as well as pollen, seeds and plant remains are excellent at Schöningen. 

Prof. Dr. Thijs van Kolfschoten of the University Leiden is in charge of all things Zooarchaeology, Prof. Dr. Brigitte Urban of Universities Lüneburg and Tübingen handles archaeobotanical examinations. Gerlinde Bigga M.A. is currently researching plant resources at Schöningen for her PhD project: “Pflanzliche Ressourcen und Ihre Nutzung seitens des prähistorischen Menschen. Untersuchungen an den altsteinzeitlichen Fundstellen im Tagebau Schöningen“. 


The Schöningen spears were displayed in Braunschweig and Hannover from November 24th 2007 to July 27th 2008 as the focus of the exhibition. They were also displayed in Stuttgart for the exhibition "Eiszeit. Kunst und Kultur" (Figure 7), in Frankfurt for "Safari zum Urmenschen" (Figure 8) and are currently being displayed in Halle at the exhibiton "Elefantenreich". 


The original finds from Schöningen are displayed in a permanent exhibition in the  "paläon. Forschungs- und Erlebniszentrum Schöninger Speere"



SERANGELI, J., KOLFSCHOTEN, TH. VAN 2010. Wechselbeziehung Mensch und Tier im Paläolithikum. Die Bedeutung von Schöningen. Archäologie in Niedersachsen 13, 2010, 27 – 31.

SERANGELI, J., BÖHNER, U., HILLGRUBER, K. F. 2010. Die pleistozänen Fundstellen in Schöningen. Tagungsunterlagen der 52. Tagung der Hugo Obermaier-Gesellschaft in Leipzig. 06. – 10. April 2010. Seiten 45 - 50. Erlangen: PrintCom oHG. academia & researchgate

Further reading

THIEME, H. (Hrsg.), 2007. Die Schöninger Speere: Mensch und Jagd vor 400 000 Jahren. Begleitbuch zur Niedersächsischen Landesausstellung im Braunschweigischen Landesmuseum vom 24.11.2007 bis 24.2.2008 und im Niedersächsischen Landesmuseum Hannover vom 28.3 bis 27.7.2008. Theiss-Verlag, Stuttgart/Hannover.

K.E. Behre (Hrsg.) 2012. Die chronologische Einordnung der paläolithischen Fundstellen von Schöningen. The chronological setting of the Palaeolithic sites of Schöningen. Forschungen zur Urgeschichte im Tagebau von Schöningen 1 (Mainz 2012). Denkmalpflege Niedersachsen

Conard et al., 2015, Excavations at Schöningen and paradigm shifts in human evolution. Journal of Human Evolution 89 (2015) 1-17. [pdf]

Bigga, Gerlinde: Die Pflanzen von Schöningen. Siehe die Internetseite der Denkmalpflege Niedersachsen