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Archaeological Fieldwork

Annual excavations in Aguntum are since 1991 carried out by the Institute for Archaeologies in close cooperation with the Curatorium Pro Agunto. Besides, we realize research projects at the Iron Age and Late Antique hilltop settlement near modern Lavant that is a major part of the regional Archaeological Landscape.

Excavations at Aguntum

Beginnings

Geamtplan englisch
Generall map of Aguntum

First mentions of the ruins of ancient Aguntum date to the 16th century. Back then, the interpretation of the ruins as the Roman settlement of Loncium was favored. During the same century, the recording of the first graves and small started. For the following centuries, several reports tell that residents tried to find treasures in the area of the ancient town. The first organized fieldwork took place 1912/13, carried out by the Franciscan Father Innozenz Ploner and the Archaeologist Rudolf Egger. These excavations mark the starting point of a continuing and developing archaeological research.

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Up to 1990

Innozenz Ploner tried to understand the total extent of Aguntum and used several test trenches to reach his goal. He managed to excavate the city walls, the only currently known city gate, and parts of the thermae. The Austrian Archaeological Institute (ÖAI) started excavations in Aguntum simultaneously, carried out by Rudolf Egger. Next to several graves known from the 19th century, Egger discovered an Early Christian Church. Due to the following political and economic turbulences following the First World War, research in Aguntum stopped. The renewing of the transport axis (B100) in the 1930ies caused the authorities to build the street crossing the Roman ruins. The idea behind that was to create more jobs in the street building. Erich Swoboda from the Austrian Archaeological Institute was the supervisor of this archaeological fieldwork from 1931 to 1935. His excavations concentrated on the city gate, the city walls, several residential buildings alongside the planned street (B100), and an Early Christians grave chapel. His excavation results convinced Swoboda of the location of the town of Aguntum in the east of the known city gate. Although this assumption, later on, proved wrong, Swoboda and the Austrian Archaeological Institute made first efforts in creating a small scale Archaeological Park.

 

Schutzbau1
First Protective Building above the Atrium House

In the late 1930ies, rising political instability and the following Second World War again stopped the research in Aguntum. However, after the first restorations at the Archaeological Park took place in1947, the fieldwork in Aguntum started over in 1950, initiated by the Austrian Archaeological Institute. The head of the excavations was Franz Miltner. He excavated large parts of the city walls and surrounding buildings from 1950 to 1955. The first Museum and Storerooms, located north of the road B100, came into existence in 1953/54.

 

From 1956 to 1990, Wilhelm Alzinger was head of the excavations in Aguntum. His work began at the Atrium-House and continued at small-scale residential buildings in the North of the Atrium-House. During the late 1960ies, he discovered the thermae of Aguntum and excavation concentrated in this area. Alzinger managed to increase the Archaeological Park. Ongoing efforts to protect the excavated features led to the erection of a first protective building above the Atrium House.

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Since 1991

In 1991 the Institute for Archaeologies (former Institute for Classical and Provincial Roman Archaeology) got in charge of the excavations in Aguntum. Elisabeth Walde (up to 2008), Michael Tschurtschenthaler (up to 2020), and Martin Auer (2021 onwards) operated the fieldwork in Aguntum. In close cooperation with the association Curatorium Pro Agunto (Head: Dr. Leo Gomig), the excavation work, which declined during the last years in the lead of Alzinger, was revitalized and increased. Several factors determined the focus of the fieldwork. From 1991 to 1993, the work of Alzinger in the area of House I, and the so-called “Prunkbau” was continued.

Atriumhaus_Becken
Marble basin in the central part of the Atrium House

However, in 1994, the transport axis B100 again was renewed. Therefore the area around the street was the focus of the excavations. In this area, the city walls, two residential buildings in the East of the city walls, and the Atrium House´s central part were affected by the new alignment of the B100. The discovery of the marble basin led to the construction of a bridge over the atrium house. The almost complete excavation of Atrium House itself followed from 1994 to 2006.

Towards the end of the last millennium, the Curatorium Pro Agunto managed to buy a new parcel (so-called “Tschapellergrund”) where the city center was assumed to be. Starting in 2006, the focus of the fieldwork was in this area. The first measure was the excavation of the macellum, a market building, from 2006 to 2009. From 2010 until today, the archaeological work concentrates on the forum of the Municipium Claudium Aguntum.

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Current fieldwork

 

Panorama_aktuelle_Arbeiten

 

The fieldwork from 1991 onwards revealed private buildings as well as public ones. Simple dwellings (House I, Houses in the East of the city walls) and the Atrium House that includes approximately 6.000 sq m were analyzed. The current excavation focus is on the administrative and economic center of the city. Simultaneously, the results of the early 1960ies excavations at the so-called artisan’s quarter are reevaluated and complemented by new excavation data.

The current focus of the excavations is on the forum of Aguntum. A central goal is to connect the newly excavated features with older excavation data from the so-called “Prunkbau” (probably an administrative building), which was already partially excavated in the early 1990ies. The forum, a structure organized around a central square, is interpreted as a mercantile forum. So far, the use of the forum for trading rock crystal is proven. The large amount of this material in the forum is unique in the Roman Empire. To the west of the mercantile forum is the so-called “Prunkbau” as a part of a larger structure belonging to the forum and probably housing the administrational town center. The relative chronology between these buildings is the subject of investigations in the ongoing excavations, especially at the northwest corner of the forum, which connects to the “Prunkbau” by an undisturbed stratification.

In addition to excavations in newly uncovered areas, the redesign of the Archaeological Park since 2017 results in another focus of fieldwork. The excavation work in the Artisans Quarter and the thermae allows the future restoration of these building complexes. However, it also yields new knowledge regarding the chronological sequence and functional development of these areas.

Literature

A.B. Mayer / A. Unterforcher, Die Römerstadt Agunt bei Lienz in Tirol. Eine Vorarbeit zu ihrer Ausgrabung (1908).

P. I. Ploner, Agunt, die alte Kelten- und Römerstadt bei Lienz in Tirol, und Prof. Ploners Ausgrabungen daselbst (1912).

R. Egger, Ausgrabungen in Noricum 1912/13. ÖJh 17, 1914, Beibl. 5-16.

R. Egger, Frühchristliche Kirchenbauten im südlichen Norikum (1916).

E. Swoboda, Aguntum. Ausgrabungen bei Lienz in Osttirol. 1931-33, ÖJh 29, 1935, suppl., 5-102.

F. Miltner, Aguntum. Vorläufiger Bericht über die Ausgrabungen 1950 -1952, ÖJh 40, 1953, suppl. 93-156.

F. Miltner, Aguntum. Vorläufiger Bericht über die Grabungen in den Jahren 1953 und 1954, ÖJh 42, 1955, suppl. 71-96.

W. Alzinger, Aguntum. Vorläufiger Bericht über die Grabungen in den Jahren 1955 bis 1957, ÖJh 44, 1959, suppl. 75-140.

W. Alzinger, Aguntum und Lavant. Führer durch die römerzeitlichen Ruinen Osttirols5 (1994).

M. Tschurtschenthaler, Feldarchäologische Forschungen in Aguntum seit 1991. Osttiroler Heimatblätter 62, 5 (1994).

M. Tschurtschenthaler, Municipium Claudium Aguntum: römischer Wohnluxus in den Alpen, in: L. Dal Ri / St. di Stefano (Hrsg.), Littamum – Una mansio nel Noricum / Eine Mansio in Noricum, BAR International Series 1462 (Oxford 2005), 106-126.

F. Müller, Der „Museumsverein für Lienz und Umgebung“ und die Gründung des ersten „Museums Agunt“, in: F. Müller, Graben, Entdecken, Sammeln. Laienforscher in der Geschichte der Archäologie Österreichs (Münster/Hamburg/Berlin/Wien/London/Zürich 2016), 217-257.

M. Auer / H. Stadler (Hrsg.), Von Aguntum zum Alkuser See. Zur römischen Geschichte der Siedlungskammer Osttirol, Ager Aguntinus. Historisch-archäologische Forschungen 1 (Wiesbaden 2018).

M. Auer, Municipium Claudium Aguntum. Excavations in the city centre (2006-2015), in: M. Janežič / B. Nadbath / T. Mulh / I. Žižek (Eds.), New Discoveries between the Alps and the Black Sea. Results from Roman Sites in the period between 2005 and 2015. Proceedings of the 1st International Archaeological Conference, Ptuj. 8th and 9th October 2015. In memoriam Iva Mikl Curk (Ljubljana 2018), 93–113.

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Excavations at the „episcopal church“ in Lavant

Beginnings

Kirchbichl vonLavant

"Kirchbichl" at Lavant

Oswald Menghin published comments on the archaeology of the "Kirchbichl" at Lavant in the 1940s. He considered Lavant as a late antique successor of the imperial Aguntum. Franz Miltner carried out the first excavations in 1948 and interpreted the settlement at "Kirchbichl" as a late antique refuge fort. He based his interpretation on sparse remains of a defensive wall, which he dated to late antiquity. Today we know that the fortification dates to the 15th century. Also, a rectangular building on the hilltop (below the present church of St. Peter) can be interpreted as a medieval watchtower and not, as suggested by Miltner, as a Celtic temple.

From 1950 to 1952, Miltner discovered the up to now most important building at the archaeological site of Lavant. The early Christian church, called "episcopal church" by Miltner, was uncovered in the course of the construction of a new street leading to the current church of St. Ulrich. From today's perspective, there are some open questions regarding the constructional sequence of the church. These go back to the rapid excavation and the restoration of the walls that took place while the excavation work was still underway. W. Alzinger tried to answer these questions using several small test trenches, realized from 1966 to 1981.

Up to 2017

The fieldwork was strongly concentrated on the “episcopal church” and its surroundings. Again, the construction of a new road in 1985 led to extensive excavations until 1991. These revealed a continuously used settlement during the Bronze and Iron Age and a period of prosperity in late antique times. After 1995, modern building activity led to some small-scale excavations. Besides some residential buildings, the most important discovery was another early Christian church, detected under the current St. Ulrich church in 1994.

Current fieldwork

Bischofskirche Lavant
"Episcopal Church"

The excavation at the “episcopal church” started again in 2017. The background of this restart was the demand for renewing the restoration of the church. The poor condition of the stone walls and the marble inventory made this necessary. The primary goal of the excavation is clearing the construction phases of this exceptional early Christian church. Based on the first small-scale fieldwork in 2017, large-scale excavations took place in 2018 and 2019. These allow reconsidering the construction phases and creating a quite differing picture compared to the one published by Alzinger. For instance, we now know that the church did not have an apse in the first phase but was enclosed by straight walls in the first phase. The erection of the so-called “Memorial Church” (Eastern part of the building) led to an extensive alteration of the whole church. The Covid-19 Pandemic interrupted the fieldwork in 2020. Therefore it will be a matter of future research to connect the Baptistery and the Narthex to the newly established construction phases.

Literature

O. Menghin, Archäologische Forschungen in Osttirol 1943 und 1944, Schlern 23, 1949, 232-242.

F. Miltner, Die Ausgrabungen auf dem Kirchbichl von Lavant in Osttirol, Jahreshefte des Österreichischen Archäologischen Instituts 38, 1950, Beiblatt, 37-102.

F. Miltner, Die Ausgrabungen in Lavant/Osttirol. Zweiter vorläufiger Bericht, Jahreshefte des Österreichischen Archäologischen Instituts 40, 1953, Beiblatt, 15-92.

F. Miltner, Die Grabungen auf dem Kirchbichl von Lavant/Osttirol. Dritter vorläufiger Bericht, Jahreshefte des Österreichischen Archäologischen Instituts 41, 1954, Beiblatt, 43-84.

F. Miltner, Die Grabungen auf dem Kirchbichl von Lavant/Osttirol. Vierter vorläufiger Bericht, Jahreshefte des Österreichischen Archäologischen Instituts 43, 1956-58, Beiblatt, 89-124.

K. Winkler, Die Ausgrabungen im Inneren der Pfarrkirche St. Ulrich, Gemeinde Lavant, Osttirol, in: Th. Lorenz / G. Erath / M. Lehner / G. Schwarz (Hrsg.), Akten des 6. Österreichischen Archäologentages (Graz 1996), 185-188.

M. Pizzinini / M. Tschurtschenthaler / E. Walde, Der Lavanter Kirchbichl. Ein heiliger Berg in Tirol. Archäologie- und Kirchenführer (Lavant 2000)

G. Grabherr / B. Kainrath (Hrsg.), Die spätantike Höhensiedlung auf dem Kirchbichl von Lavant. Eine archäologische und archivalische Spurensuche, Ikarus 5 (Innsbruck 2011).

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