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A Roman Panpipe from Eschenz

Hansjrg Brem

Im Juni 2004 kam bei einer Notgrabung im rmischen Vicus von Tasgetium (Untereschenz) unweit
von Untersee und Rhein eine kleine Panflte aus
Buchsholz zum Vorschein. Das Musikinstrument
war unbeschdigt im 1. Jahrhundert n. Chr. in den
feuchten Boden gelangt. Kurz vor der Auffindung
erlitt es durch Austrocknung geringfgige Beschdigungen, die bei der Restaurierung grtenteils rckgngig gemacht werden konnten. Die kleine Flte
mit den Abmessungen etwa 11 x 8 cm ist nur etwa
13 mm dick, weist 7 Bohrungen auf und konnte an
einer Schnur oder einem Riemen um den Hals
gehngt werden. Diese Flte gehrt zu einer kleinen
Gruppe sehr hnlicher Instrumente, die zum grten
Teil aus Holz gefertigt sind und auch unter dem
Namen germanische Syrinx zusammengefasst
werden. Der Begriff sttzt sich dabei auf Fundorte,
die sich in Frankreich, England sowie Holland und
Deutschland befinden. Das Eschenzer Stck ist zweifellos eine der am besten erhaltenen der in rund
zwanzig Beispielen berlieferten Flten. Da in
Eschenz bereits seit Jahrzehnten immer wieder
bedeutende Holzfunde aus rmischer Zeit gemacht
worden sind, war das Amt fr Archologie auf den
Fund vorbereitet. Computertomographien vor und
nach der Restaurierung, eine ausfhrliche dendrologische Untersuchung sowie weitere Analysen wurden und werden durchgefhrt. Die Flte ist heute im
Museum fr Archologie in Frauenfeld ausgestellt.

Shortly before the morning tea break on June 2,
2004, a member of the excavation, Claudia
Husler, was sifting through the back dirt from the
ongoing excavation at Rmerweg in Eschenz1,
when she discovered a panpipe in the black boggy
soil containing wood fragments2. At the breakfast
table the finder and her colleagues immediately
realized that the find was a musical instrument.
This interpretation seemed quite logical indeed,

but we were not sure about it until a search in the

internet revealed a number of parallel finds3.
The small panpipe (Fig. 1) measures 11 by 8 by
1.5 cm and had obviously been dumped in a
wheelbarrow load onto the pile of excavated dirt.
It was possible to reconstruct its provenance as the
soil had come from a well-defined pit consisting of
a marshy cultural layer overlying a natural layer
of dirt, which we had removed with shovels and
spades. Therefore, it can be stated that the instrument was found during a regular excavation and
that its stratigraphic association was established.
However, the panpipe was not observed in situ.
The instrument underwent a conservation
process and a range of analyses. In November
2005 it was exhibited in the Museum of Archaeology in Frauenfeld, where it currently remains. It
has also been presented in various papers4. Several
replicas (Figs. 23) and a CD including a booklet5
produced by Susanna Rhling have made this special find famous: It is the earliest known, completely preserved musical instrument found in
Switzerland to date. What is still lacking is an
archaeological publication about the context of the
excavation and a detailed description of the instrument and its treatment up to now. An appraisal of
the artefact and its integration into ancient music
history including comparison with similar panpipes has been undertaken by Susanna Rhling
in a masters thesis submitted to the University of


The ancient name of Tasgetium refers to two topographically and historically separate areas of a
Roman settlement located at the effluence of the

On the excavation see: JbSGUF 88, 2005, 355357;

JbSGUF 87, 2004, 383; JbSGUF 86, 2003, 234.
Inv. No. 2002.051.2060.1.
Selected parallel finds are cited by Woltering 1999, 178181.
Brem 2004a; Brem/Leuzinger 2005; Brem 2007.
Musica Romana 2005.
Rhling 2006.

Hansjrg Brem

Untersee into the River Rhine (Fig. 4)7. While the

Imperial vicus of Tasgetium was situated on the
southern shore of the Untersee in the area of
present-day Eschenz/TG, the Late Antique fort
was built around A.D. 300 approximately 1 km
farther west on top of a hill (district of Stein a.
Rh./SH) (Fig. 5). The vicus extended over approximately 20 ha around the southern end of a wooden bridge across the Untersee, for which the island
of Werd was used as a supporting pier. Only a
small number of archaeological finds are known to
have been recovered from the northern shores of
the lake and the River Rhine.
The settlement of Tasgetium is mentioned in
ancient literature by Ptolemy II 12,3. Inscriptions
are also known, which mention the legal status of
the vicus, the time of construction of the fort and
the place name. According to this information, the
place, which undoubtedly owed its economic
boom to its favourable geographic location for
transport, must have been part of the Province of
Rhaetia during the Imperial period. Despite the
fact that the bridge across the effluence of the lake
has been proven to have existed and in one case
could even be dated through dendrochronology to
the years around A.D. 828, the further course of
the road to the north could not be determined. In
the south, there seems to have been a road leading
southeast to Pfyn (Ad Fines).
Finds made on the island of Werd illustrate an
interest in this region on the part of the Roman
army from the turn of the 1st century A.D.
onwards. From then on the vicus gained importance because of its bridge and port, and in the 2nd
century rather substantial construction phases are
indicative of a period of economic prosperity. The
construction of the Late Roman fort around A.D.
294 in a strategically favourable location at the
transition of the lake to the river was most definitely the reason why the settlement in Untereschenz was abandoned.
The remains of Tasgetium, in particular inscriptions and fragments of the bridge found in the lake
bed near the island of Werd, have attracted interest
since the 16th century. After a number of earlier
excavations had been carried out in the 19th century, it was mainly the fort that was investigated,
while the vicus and particularly Werd Island were
further examined archaeologically in the 1930s and
from 1975 onwards. The vicus of Tasgetium started its development as a number of timber buildings (so-called strip houses) lining a road that led
southeast from the bridge. As early as the beginning of the 1st century, workshops and installations such as potters kilns and smithies were set
up on the periphery of Tasgetium. Baths are the
only public buildings found to date, but inscriptions also provide evidence of the worship of

Rhenus and Fortuna. The Imperial Tasgetium

bears particular importance for Roman archaeological research in Switzerland because of its
exceptional preservation conditions for organic
materials such as wood (Fig. 6) and, with that, its
potential regarding dendrochronological dating
and natural scientific analyses9.
Due to the late advent of building activity in
Eschenz, it has been possible since the 1990s to
carry out archaeological excavations ahead of construction, and these are still ongoing. As mentioned above, the features are exceptional inasmuch as large parts of the vicus lie in waterlogged
ground, usually due to a substantial outflow of
ground or slope water and not because of its closeness to the lake. Excavations carried out thus far
on the actual shoreline have been very limited. The
water table in vast areas of Untereschenz lies
approximately 60 cm below the present-day surface, so that up to several metres of layers dating
from the Roman period have been preserved in
waterlogged conditions. This, for instance, has led
to the preservation of a timber basin from a well,
built in A.D. 200 as part of a monumental complex, near the location where the panpipe was
deposited. This complex indirectly provides a date
for the panpipe, as it was found above the layers
that contained the instrument.
Wetland preservation conditions are very
important, not only for the finds and features but
also for their dating. At this stage more than 250
dates have been obtained from oak and fir timbers,
and over 800 samples have been analyzed.


A archaeological analysis of the site Rmerweg
has not been completed yet, but a number of statements can be made regarding the panpipe, which
was discovered at the very end of an excavation
campaign (Fig. 7). The findspot of the instrument
was located south of a major Roman road, which
led from the bridge crossing in a south-easterly
direction. This road was constructed around the
time of the birth of Christ. In the south it was
accompanied by plots oriented at right angles to it,
which contained strip houses. These timberframed houses, the eaves of which probably faced
the road to the north and the backyard to the
south, measured at least 8 by 15 m and were built
first in the manner of post construction and later
in sill-beam construction. To the south, the houses


Hneisen 2005; Brem 2003; Hneisen 1993.

Brgi 1987.
Cf. for instance Pollman et al. 2005.

A Roman Panpipe from Eschenz

(which, however, have not yet been fully excavated

on their southern sides) had gardens, barns, pens,
workshops or storerooms, while some of the terrain as indicated by open ditches, fences and tree
trunks must have been left vacant. A potters kiln
and more simple wooden constructions are indicative of the existence of backyards. As opposed to
many other Roman sites, Eschenz has yielded
practically no pits; the permanently moist and
sometimes very wet ground, however, demanded
constant draining10. Parts of drains have come to
light in large numbers. Organic and inorganic
waste often seems to have been spread over the
surface in order to dehumidify the ground. However, it is difficult to ascertain whether the material
was gradually deposited on the site or whether it
was brought in from another location all at the
same time.
In the 2nd century A.D. the backyard terrain
was totally restructured and included the construction of more substantial stone buildings and
the timber well complex mentioned earlier. This
extensive redesigning, which was probably only
completed around 200 A.D., led to a significant
levelling of the subsoil and, with it, to the covering
of earlier settlement layers. At this stage, the panpipe was located in a layer that must have been
deposited earlier, i.e. during the first decades of the
use of the area as a backyard. As demonstrated by
a number of dendrochronological dates, the genesis of this layer can be dated beyond doubt to the
early 1st century A.D.


The panpipe, which had suffered slight damage
from drying during the short time that it lay in the
dirt pile, was placed immediately after its discovery in a water bath, where it subsequently
remained when not being analyzed. At this point
we were faced with the problem of how to gain
insight into the interior of the instrument, i.e. the
course of its tubes. We were further confronted
with the problem of how to avoid touching the
fragile artefact as much as possible, while still providing a concrete model for third parties.
As we had previously collaborated with the
Canton Hospital Frauenfeld for X-rays, we
approached them again. A few days later Senior
Consultant S. Duewell MD personally examined
the object using their new computer tomography
equipment and produced a set of data that still
forms the basis for documentation (Figs. 89). At a
later date, other sets of data were collected at the
EMPA (Federal Materials Science Institute) in
Dbendorf and at the Frauenfeld Hospital, but the

initial set still serves as a starting point for all

analyses. The layer thickness (distance between
two X-rays) in this tomography was 0.4 mm. Incidentally, the medical apparatus proved far superior
to the technical equipment of the EMPA, because
the images were completed and accessible after a
much shorter period of time.
The question of reconstructing the panpipe
basing upon the gleaned data led us to the Institute
of Anthropology at the University of Zurich,
where the staff is highly experienced in dealing
with polymer lasers. Stated simply, polymer lasers
enable the manufacture of plastic 3D-models from
sets of data. However, the problem was that the
hollow spaces in the tubes were filled with water
and consequently did not provide enough contrast; this made it necessary to painstakingly reprocess the data on the computer. Christoph Zollikofer and Marcia Ponce de Leon mastered this
task and eventually produced a repaired set of
data, which essentially reproduces the original
appearance of the panpipe without the damage11.
Therefore, there are two versions of plastic replicas, one based on the original set of data collected
a number of days after the discovery and a second
set based on the re-processed and repaired data
with the latter replicating the estimated original
appearance (Fig. 10). Of course, both replicas feature the same measurements, as they are based on
the same set of data.
The dendrological analysis of the panpipe was
carried out by Werner Schoch12. During the excavation, we had already presumed that the material
was boxwood; Schoch provided the additional
information that the tubes had been carved tangentially from a section of trunk from an at least
60 to 70 year old box tree, which had not had a
completely round diameter. There are indeed trees
of such diameter in Central Europe nowadays
whether this was also the case in Roman times is
still being discussed. We are of the opinion, however, that it was13.
Flute-maker Martin Wenner in Singen was
given the task of producing a new panpipe based
on the parameters of the example from Eschenz. It
was not the intention to create an antique replica,
but to have a modern expert recreate an analogous


Cf. Jauch 1997.

On the process see Zollikofer/Ponce de Len 2005.
Report compiled by Werner Schoch on 27/7/2005; Archaeological Department of Canton Thurgovia.
In contrast to Fellmann (1991, 26) trunks of the thickness
necessary to make a panpipe can also be found in this
region (Fig. 1). Boxwood has been proven to have been
used in the manufacture of wooden implements and in
particular in woodturning in the immediate vicinity in
Eschenz, Oberwinterthur and Vindonissa in Roman times.

Hansjrg Brem

instrument using contemporary tools. Martin

Wenner carefully documented the individual step
in production photographically and thus also provided us with the ability to make certain comments on the manufacture of the original instrument.
The conservation of the syrinx was carried out
in Konstanz by Ralf Riens and Inka Potthast, after
it had been documented extensively while it was
still waterlogged. It was a bonus that the laboratory staff had already gained experience while conserving the Early Medieval lyre from Trossingen14.
It was interesting to see that the panpipe showed
only a limited degree of shrinkage (less than 5 %
of the measured values) when it was transferred
from a waterlogged to dry condition, which means
that we can now exhibit the instrument in an old
but yet original condition in the museum in
Frauenfeld. Whether the restored original instrument can still be played has never been tried,
except by the finders. As subsequent CT scans
showed, there are certain areas on the inside of the
instrument where the wood has decayed quite significantly. This loss of material can barely be seen
from the outside, but manifests itself in the weight
of the panpipe, which now weighs approximately
80 g, while the practically identical replicas weigh
between 93 and 104 g. The re-processing of the
computerized tomographic images provided a
similar picture, inasmuch as areas of highly
degraded material were clearly visible. The
changes in the instrument due to the long time it
spent in the ground (water absorption) and its subsequent conservation (extraction of humidity,
shrinkage, etc.) have by no means followed a linear
pattern, but have remained rather limited. Nevertheless they make it impossible to reconstruct the
original appearance of the panpipe using precise
measurements. This uncertainty must be emphasized, in particular as far as musicological studies
are concerned.

THE PANPIPE (Figs. 1113)
The shape of the panpipe with seven tubes of identical diameters but varying lengths is approximately trapezoidal, and the edge, across which the
tubes were blown, is very slightly convex. The
exterior measurements are approximately 11 by 8
by 1.5 cm. The diameters of the seven parallel
tubes uniformly measure around 0.8 cm (perhaps
0.78 cm). The tubes have various lengths; however,
tubes 4 and 5 (counted from the longest to the
shortest) have almost the same lengths15 (Fig. 8).
The ratios of the lengths of the tubes between the
shortest and the longest are approximately 1:1.9;

the ratios among the individual tubes vary

between 1.17 and 1.05. The edges of the tubes are
filleted all around, while on the blowing edge the
fillet is designed steeper and shorter.
As seen in other panpipes of this type, the outside of the instrument (i.e. the side facing away
from the player) is decorated. Two ring-and-dot
motifs were added deliberately as ornamentation;
however, initially I had preferred their interpretation as drilling attempts. A third bore hole actually
perforates the instrument and served as a suspension hole for a piece of string or a strap. Horizontally incised lines at the front and back must probably be viewed as suggesting a binding around the
bundle of tubes. Whether or not these lines were
added at a later date remains unknown.
The precision with which the tubes were
drilled and the edges filleted, in particular the
blowing edge, is remarkable; the surface treatment
is also striking and is reminiscent of other objects
turned in boxwood. We are definitely not dealing
with a chance object made by a hobby carver,
which is indicated by the choice of wood alone16.
It has been determined that the boring of the
tubes was done with the same drill, which had a
diameter of just under 8 mm. At this stage of the
analysis we believe that the worked piece was
moved against the drill. This assumes that some
kind of lathe was used. In any case, both elements,
drill and worked piece, must have been aligned
and the movement must have been carried out in a
controlled manner. Nevertheless, the tubes are not
drilled exactly parallel to each other. The main
striking feature of the Eschenz artefact is that two
of its tubes are of practically identical length. It
remains unclear whether these tubes were finetuned using some other material. Despite our best
efforts, we were unable to detect any other materials in the holes. As shown in experiments using the
plastic models, the range of sound comprises
approximately one octave.
The extreme care and attention to detail exhibited in the manufacture of the tubes and their similarity with other finds of this type raise the
inevitable question as to where they were made.
Because turned boxwood vessels occurred in most
parts of the Roman Empire and worked pieces
provide evidence of woodturning workshops in
various locations, we are of the opinion that these
instruments were rare but indeed ordinary everyday objects made by specialized woodworking

See Theune-Grokopf, this volume.

Lengths of the tubes (in mm): 73; 62; 53.2; 45.7; 45.7; 42; 39.
On the use of boxwood for implements see for instance
Pugsley 2003, 6869; Saedlou 2002, 66; Hedinger/Leuzinger 2002, 2829; Fellmann 1991, 26.

A Roman Panpipe from Eschenz


It was clear to us from the day of the discovery that
we would need to discuss any potential questions
about the panpipe in detail and in the context of its
restoration and documentation. To this end, we discussed and scrutinized the find in all of its aspects at
a colloquium and in numerous individual contacts
with various experts. The fact that Susanna Rhling
was able to work on the instrument from the very
beginning was certainly an advantage, as was the
extensive experience in the field of preservation of
wetland finds on the part of our department. The
experts in all of the disciplines that have already
been referred to I would also like to mention Alex
Furger from Augst and the interest shown by a
long list of panpipe enthusiasts have speeded up the
analyses. The decisive factor for us was and is to
have presented the remarkable artefact to the public
as quickly as possible. At this stage, many Thurgovians know that an original instrument from the
Roman period is on display in their museum.

The Eschenz panpipe measures approximately 11
by 8 cm, has 7 tubes and was made of narrow-

ringed boxwood. The artefact must have been lost

at the latest during the middle third of the 1st century A.D. in the backyard of one of the houses in
the vicus of Tasgetium and must have been undamaged when it was deposited in the ground. This
context indicates that the instrument was lost by
mistake. The significance of the Eschenz syrinx
lies in the fact that it was possible to study the find
immediately after its discovery in the context of a
methodical excavation and with all the methods at
our disposal today. It is also worth mentioning
that the object was largely intact when it came to
light and that it was discovered in an excavation
context that could be chronologically assessed and
interpreted. Preliminary work in terms of documentation and conservation could be undertaken
by us as archaeologists; the scientific study from a
musicological viewpoint, however, is still pending17.
Translation by Sandy Haemmerle


In order to protect the instrument it is not possible to play

the original; however, replicas as well as a reproduction
manufactured by an instrument maker and plastic copies
are all available for experimentation.

Neue Erkenntnisse zur Datierung der Holzstatue von Eschenz, Jahrbuch Archologie
Schweiz 91, 134140.
BREM, H. 2003
Die Rmer am Wasser der kaiserzeitliche
vicus von Tasgetium, in: E. Roth/A. Siefert
(eds.), Was haben wir aus dem See gemacht?
Kulturlandschaft Bodensee, Teil 2 Untersee. Zweite Tagung der Projektgemeinschaft
des Arbeitkreises Denkmalpflege am Bodensee 12. Oktober 2001, Landesdenkmalamt Baden-Wrttemberg Arbeitsheft 12, 9197. Stuttgart.
BREM, H. 2004a
Eine Flte fr Pan aus Eschenz, Instrumentum
Bulletin 20, 19.
BREM, H. 2004b
Reger Austausch ber den Rhein. Von den
Inselleuten auf Werd zum rmischen Vicus
Tasgetium, in: A. Troll/J. Hald (eds.), Zeitreisen am Bodensee, 8889. Konstanz.
BREM, H. 2007
La flte de Pan dEschenz: Une syrinx en Bois

dcouverte en Suisse, Dossiers darchologie

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Tabula rasa. Holzgegenstnde aus den rmischen Siedlungen Vitudurum und Tasgetium,
Antike Welt 34, 6972.
Eschenz, Stein am Rhein, in L. Flutsch/U. Niffeler/F. Rossi (eds.), Epoque romaine. La Suisse
du Palolithique laube du Moyen Age 5,
377397. Ble.
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22, 123134.
BRGI, J. 1987
Rmische Brcken im Kanton Thurgau,
Archologie der Schweiz 10, 1622.
Die Rmer in der Schweiz, 515519. Stuttgart.
Hlzerne Kleinfunde aus dem Vicus Vitudurum-Oberwinterthur, in: H. F. Etter/R. Fell-

Hansjrg Brem

mann Brogli/R. Fellmann/S. Martin-Kilcher/

P. Morel/A. Rast (eds.), Beitrge zum rmischen Oberwinterthur Vitudurum 5, Berichte
der Zrcher Denkmalpflege, Archologische
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(exhibition catalogue). Frauenfeld.
HNEISEN, M. (ed.) 1993
Frhgeschichte der Region Stein am Rhein.
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Rhein-auf Burg), in: N. Hasler/J. Heiligmann/
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A Roman Panpipe from Eschenz

Fig. 1 Panpipe upon a box tree trunk (section of the trunk of a tree from the Hri peninsula in Germany, gift from
W. Tegel, Bohlingen). Departement of Archaeology of Canton Thurgovia.

Fig. 2 Susanna Rhling playing a replica,

Fig. 3 M. Wenner playing a replica,


Hansjrg Brem

Fig. 4 Map, Eschenz indicated by a

triangle. Archaeology Department of
Canton Zurich.

Fig. 5 Aerial photograph of Eschenz. Department of Archaeology of

Canton Thurgovia.

Fig. 6 Excavation site with wooden basin. Department of Archaeology of

Canton Thurgovia.

Fig. 7 Eschenz excavation 2002

2004. Department of Archaeology of Canton Thurgovia.

A Roman Panpipe from Eschenz

Fig. 8 Tomography (longitudinal section). Spital Thurgau AG, Canton

Hospital Frauenfeld, S. Duewell.


Fig. 9 3D-model based on the data from the

tomography. The significant decay of the wood
in certain areas of the longest tubes is clearly visible. Institute of Anthropology at the University
of Zurich, Ch. Zollikofer and M. Ponce de Leon.

Fig. 10 Plastic copies made with polymer lasers. Institute of Anthropology at the University of Zurich, Ch.
Zollikofer and M. Ponce de Leon.

Fig. 11ac Syrinx as found. Department of Archaeology of Canton Thurgovia.


Hansjrg Brem

Fig. 12ab Restored syrinx (back and front). Department of Archaeology of Canton Thurgovia.

Fig. 13 Syrinx. Drawing by E. Belz, Department of Archaeology of Canton Thurgovia.