the excavations on the Altenberg near Müsen
The Altenberg, near Müsen, situated on a pass between the Kindelsberg and the Martinshardt mountains at around 490 m above sea level, is not only an important find site for the Middle Ages in the Siegen-Wittgenstein administrative district, but also the place where important methods of mining archaeology were first developed. This is where the Altenberg vein appears on the surface. It contained lead and tin ores with traces of silver, which were mined between 1200 and 1300 and led to the development of an industrial settlement.
Right up to the 1960s, before the archaeological explorations began, the only indication of earlier settlement of the mountain was a legend. This legend, written down by H. Jung-Stilling in the 19th century, describes how the inhabitants, who had become rich and godless from mining, were punished with the plague. Activities by local history researchers subsequently revealed the foundations of buildings and a hoard of coins. In 1970, when the find site seemed to be threatened by road construction, the conservator of the Westfälisches Amt für Denkmalpflege, U. Lobbedey, began archaeological work on the Altenberg, in collaboration with C. Dahm from the Pädagogische Hochschule and later the University of Göttingen.
This work would subsequently come to have particular importance not just for research on medieval South Westphalia, but for mining archaeology as a whole. The find site is characterized by complex overlying strata of work areas, building foundations, waste material and backfilled shafts. Alongside relics of work and habitation, dice and skittles offer evidence of medieval leisure pursuits. The mining features discovered at the site during the initial excavations led the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum to carry out, in 1971, its first ever archaeological explorations of medieval mining in Europe. After two seasons these were led by G. Weisgerber.
The area examined is divided into an extensive area of mine sinkholes (Pingen) in the north, and an adjacent area with excavated cellar foundations to the south. These were particularly well preserved and contained extensive finds, some of which were remarkably well conserved due to the moist conditions of storage (and the absence of air).
This area, measuring 80 x 120 m, is dominated by the massive outline of the two-part “tower house”, situated at the highest point of the pass. Today this area, like that of the sinkholes, is characterized by waste heaps. To the south and east of the modern car park, the architectural remains of the Middle Ages disappear and are replaced by long terraces (bench terraces or lynchets). To the east, two smelting furnaces of unknown function were discovered (find site 27), while slag sites of uncertain date were found by the stream to the east of the deserted site.
Mining archaeology exploration was carried out in six shafts, and three of them were at least partially cleared out. In none of the shafts was the shaft sump reached, not even in shaft 2, which was able to be cleared to a depth of 22.5 m. The construction of the shafts was dependent on the firmness of the ground and on the galleries connecting to them. Shaft 2, with an inner diameter of 1.35 m, was lined with oak wood, which stabilized itself: two-metre-long planks were inserted vertically into a framework of four wooden beams, the ends of which were mortised together. Their upper end connected to the next frame up, in which, again, long planks were set. Shaft 1, which was constructed in firmer ground, was only lined with individual struts or strut frames. It was possible to reach a depth of 15.5 m in shaft 1. The lining timbers, which were very well preserved due to waterlogging, provided important clues for dating: for example, growth-ring analysis (dendrochronology) made it possible to establish that shaft 2 was lined in winter 1213 and repaired in 1223. Shaft 1 is more recent and dates back to around 1243.
The mining settlement on the Altenberg existed for approximately one century. The “tower house” was probably used by the ruling inhabitants. The mining is likely to have focused on silver and lead at this time. The silver extracted on the Altenberg will have been used for coinage in Siegen. Extensive fire damage and the hoard of coins suggest that the settlement met a disastrous end. Today the find site and the signposted walking trail through it are maintained by the Verein Altenberg und Stahlberg e.V. (previously the Verein Altenberg e.V.), which was founded in 1973. Some of the objects found in the excavations are exhibited in the former prayer house of the Stahlbergmuseum Müsen, and a larger number can be found in the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum.
Prof. Dr. Gerd Weisgerber
Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum
- C. Dahm, U. Lobbedey, G. Weisgerber (Hrsg.), Der Altenberg. Bergwerk und Siedlung aus dem 13. Jahrhundert im Siegerland. In: Denkmalpfl. U. Forsch. Westfalen 34 (Bonn 1998).
- U. Lobbedey, Die Bergbauwüstung Altenberg. In: Der Kreis Siegen-Wittgenstein. Führer zu archäologischen Denkmälern in Deutschland 25 (Stuttgart 1993) 129-137.