The buried beauties of Hamburg

Only few of the field monuments in Hamburg are above ground. The work of Hamburg‘s preservation and care of field monuments is focused on exploring the medieval and modern history of the old town centers of Hamburg, Harburg and Bergedorf.

The Archäologischen Museum Hamburg / Stadtmuseum Harburg Helms-Museum has carried out an extensive archaeological excavation at the cathedral square in Hamburg from 2005 to 2006. The results were included in the exhibition “HAMMABURG AND THE BEGINNINGS OF HAMBURG” in the Google Arts project



Department preservation and care of field monuments at the Archaeological Museum Hamburg
Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg
Dr. Elke Först (Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg)
Phone: 040/42871-3690
Meetings by appointment.
We will happily inspect your findings during the museum‘s general office hours on Wednesdays, from 10 am to 12 noon and 2 pm to 4 pm.


Current Excavation

In the immediate vicinity of the Hafencity and the Elbphilharmonie, in the area of the so-called Cremon Island the Archaeological Museum Hamburg conducts an excavation lasting until November. Due to a future building to be erected on the premises ‘Bei den Mühren 2-5’ the archaeologists save all traces of the past on the once island. They hope to find information about settlement development, colonialization and use of the area from the medieval period to the Modern Age.
The area of the examination consists of the back parts of the premises that border the 1946 filled Katharinenfleet (‘Fleet’ being a kind of channel) to the north. The Cremon Island is a marsh island situated in the estuary where the Alster meets the Elbe. Its name probably derives from its first landowner ‘Fredhericum de Crimun’. The island was likely settled in the 12th / 13th century and mentioned together with the Katharinenfleet 1247 in a document for the first time. It is believed that in the early days of the settlement a circular dyke was erected running the course of today’s streets Cremon, Katharinenstraße, Steckelhörn, Bei den Mühren and Bei dem neuen Kran. The former premises inside this dyke are supposed to have taken up the whole width of the island. In the following centuries the premises became ever smaller plots.
The current excavation’s goal is to proof these theories. The oldest images of the city on which the Cremon Island can be identified are from between 1585 and 1588. On them the smaller plots with houses can be made out, ranging up to Katharinenfleet. Parts of this development are the recently excavated dwelling sites and a waste pit filled with pottery used for sugarloaf production. The shards date to the 18th / 19th century. More than 100 sugarloaf and molasses pots proof that this site was used for sugar refinery, with Hamburg being the heart of Europe’s sugar refinery between 1750 and 1850. Revealingly, there was a distillery around 1850 in the immediate vicinity: you need sugar to create brandy.
Written records from the earliest development stage tell us that the house fronts leading to the Katharinenfleet were in a ruinous condition, broken debris polluted the Fleet and endangered shipping. We also learned from a 1894 building application that into one of the excavated buildings a bowling alley and a stove were to be installed. Sewage pipes made of wood and limestone show that in the 16th century waste was led from the anterior buildings directly into the Fleet. In the 15th century, however, this yard area was not yet developed, as proven by archaeological finds. Nearly 4.5 meters (15 feet) beneath today’s surface an old bank reinforcement was found that shows the Katharinenfleet expanded at least 2 meters (6.5 feet) to the south and that the yards had open access to it.
In addition to numerous local as well as imported pottery an amber bead was found. Amber, the ‘gold of the Baltic Sea’, was a sought-after commodity and surely the loss of the bead caused its former owner some grief.
Until November 2017 the archaeologists want to dig 1.5 meters (5 feet) deeper into the ground to get a grip on the phase of first settlement. What future mysteries might be discovered cannot be foreseen and so the excavation stays exciting.

photos: Peet Behm