Lost ruins of ‘Atlantis of the North Sea’ located after sunken church reappears

The storm formed along the blue-gray horizon and began moving closer. It surged — a wall of impending doom — toward the medieval town. The collision was devastating. Homes were torn apart, roads flooded, lives lost.

The entire medieval trading center of Rungholt was lost during the storm surge, often called the “Great Drowning of Men,” in 1362, according to Kiel University.

But the memory of Rungholt lived on in local legends, poetry and writings, the German newspaper Focus Online reported. Some believed the rich town had become immoral and was destroyed as a punishment from God.

Others said the town’s church bells could still be heard ringing across the mudflats on a calm day, NDR, another German newspaper, reported.

The lost city of Rungholt became known as the “Atlantis of the North Sea,” Heritage Daily reported.

Researchers extract sediment to analyze the buried settlement’s remains.
Researchers extract sediment to analyze the buried settlement’s remains.

“Based on archaeological finds and historical maps,” archaeologists narrowed down the location of Rungholt to somewhere in the Wadden Sea mudflats around Hallig Südfall, asmall island off the coast of Germany’s North Frisia region, according to a 2022 study.

In this area, archaeologists found indications of an important medieval settlement. Excavations uncovered “imported goods from the Rhineland, Flanders and even Spain, namely pottery, metal vessels, metal ornaments and weapons,” the study said. They also found the remains of a medieval water control system.

Researchers had not located a town center as the ever shifting, frequently flooding mudflat environment made the area hard to study, the paper said.

But that all changed with the reemergence of a sunken church, Kiel University said in a May 23 news release.

Archaeologists excavate a small area at low tide.
Archaeologists excavate a small area at low tide.

Archaeologists surveying the mudflats around Hallig Südfall found a string of 54 medieval mounds stretching over a mile long. The mounds included a drainage system, sea wall “with a tidal gate harbor,” ruins of two “smaller churches” and “a large main church,” the release said.

Foundation ruins of the large church indicated the building was about 130 feet by about 50 feet in size, archaeologists said.

“The special feature of the find lies in the significance of the church as the center of a settlement structure, which in its size must be interpreted as a parish with superordinate function,” archaeologist Ruth Blankenfeldt said in the release.

Archaeologists identified the ruins as the location of Rungholt. After 661 years, the ruins of the lost “Atlantis of the North Sea” has finally been found.

Although finally located, the remains of Rungholt are far from secure, Hanna Hadler, an expert involved in the excavations, told Kiel University. “Around Hallig Südfall and in other mudflats, the medieval settlement remains are already heavily eroded and often only detectable as negative imprints. This is also very evident around the church’s location, so we urgently need to intensify research here.”

The news release did not specify the next steps for excavations of Rungholt.

Germany’s North Frisia region is the country’s northernmost region, about 255 miles northwest of Berlin and near the Germany-Denmark border.

Google Translate was used to translate the articles from NDR and Focus Online.

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