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Bridging the Central European Watershed – New geoarchaeological findings about the early medieval Fossa Carolina (Franconian Jura, Southern Germany)

The Central European Watershed passes the Southern Franconian Jura in Bavaria, Germany. This watershed of major geographical importance divides the Rhine-Main catchment and the Danube catchment. In the Early Middle Ages, when ships were important means of transportation, Charlemagne decided to connect both catchments by the construction of a canal that is well-known as Fossa Carolina. Nowadays there are partly still remains visible over a length of 3 km. They are representing the first attempt to bridge the Central European Watershed, one of the most important early medieval engineering achievements in Europe.

Despite the important geostrategic relevance of the construction there are only few geoarchaeological findings regarding the building history of the construction until now. Furthermore it is not clarified if the canal was ever used as a working waterway. The existing knowledge regarding the canal history is mainly based on secondary sources derived from historical findings.
The aim of our study is to clarify with the aid of geoarchaeological findings if and in which way the Fossa Carolina was really used as a medieval shipping route. For the first time a systematic drilling program within the trench fillings and a multi-proxy approach will reveal findings about the level of the dug fosse bed as well as the decay and the filling-up of the canal. The close meshed record of palaeoenvironmental parameters (anthracological findings, seeds, pollen, grain sizes and organic contents) will provide basic information about the previous fragmentary knowledge of the early medieval landscape history in the Franconian Jura.

Funded by Leipzig University (since 2010)


Dipl.-Geogr. Eva Leitholdt

Prof. Dr. Christoph Zielhofer


Leitholdt E, Krüger A, Zielhofer C, in press. The medieval Peat Layer of the Fossa Carolina – Evidence for bridging the Central European Watershed or climate control? Zeitschrift für Geomorphologie N.F. Suppl.

Leitholdt E, Zielhofer C, Berg-Hobohm S, Schnabl K, Kopecky-Hermanns B, Bussmann J, Härtling JW, Reicherter K, Unger K. 2012. Fossa Carolina: The First Attempt to Bridge the Central European Watershed – A Review, New Findings, and Geoarchaeological Challenges. Geoarchaeology 27, 88–104.

Letzte Änderung: April 25, 2017