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Feb 21 2023

Goethe University’s Provincial Roman Archaeology department disproves previous assumptions during teaching excavation in Bad Ems

Hidden from the Romans: 200 tons of silver on the shores of the river Lahn

In their search for silver ore, the Romans established two military camps in the Bad Ems area near Koblenz in the 1st century AD. This is the result of research carried out as part of a teaching excavation that spanned several years and was carried out by Goethe University's Department of Archaeology and History of the Roman Provinces in cooperation with the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Several surprising findings were made during the process. For one, the exciting research story earned young archaeologist Frederic Auth first place at the Wiesbaden Science Slam

FRANKFURT: When Prof. Markus Scholz, who teaches archaeology and the history of Roman provinces at Goethe University, returned to Bad Ems toward the end of the excavation work, he was astonished: After all, all the photos sent by his colleague Frederic Auth showed but a few pieces of wood. Not surprisingly, Scholz was ill-prepared for what he saw next: a wooden defense construction consisting of sharpened wooden stakes, designed to prevent the enemy's approach. The martial-looking structure was intended to deter enemies from attacking the camp. Such installations – comparable, if you will, to modern barbed wire – are referenced to in literature from the time. Caesar, for instance, mentioned them. But to date, none had been found. The damp soil of the Blöskopf area obviously provided the ideal conditions: The wooden spikes, which probably extended throughout the entire downward tapering ditch around the camp, were found to be well preserved. 

Two previously undiscovered Roman military camps
The work of the Frankfurt archaeologists and Dr. Peter Henrich of the General Directorate for Cultural Heritage of the German federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, uncovered two previously unknown military camps in the vicinity of Bad Ems, situated on both sides of the Emsbach valley. The excavations were triggered by observations made by a hunter in 2016, who, from his raised hide, spotted color differences in the grain field, indicating the existence of sub-surface structures. A drone photo of the elevation, which bears the beautiful name "Ehrlich" (the German word for “honest"), confirmed the thesis: the field was crisscrossed by a track that could have originated from a huge tractor. In reality, however, it was a double ditch that framed a Roman camp. Geomagnetic prospecting later revealed an eight-hectare military camp with about 40 wooden towers. The archaeological excavations, carried out in two campaigns under the local direction of Dr. Daniel Burger-Völlmecke, revealed further details: the camp, apparently once intended as a solid build, was never completed. Only one permanent building, consisting of a warehouse and storeroom, was located there. The 3,000 soldiers estimated to have been stationed here probably had to sleep in tents. Burn marks show that the camp was burned down after a few years. But why? 

It was the student team, led by Frederic Auth, that identified the second, much smaller camp, located some two kilometers away as the crow flies, on the other side of the Emsbach valley. The "Blöskopf" is no blank slate when it comes to archaeology: Exploratory excavations carried out in 1897 uncovered processed silver ore, raising the assumption that a Roman smelting works was once located there. The thesis was further supported by the discovery of wall foundations, fire remains and metal slag. For a long time it was assumed that the smelting works were connected to the Limes, built some 800 meters to the east at around 110 AD. These assumptions, considered valid for decades, have now been disproved: The supposed furnace in fact turned out to be a watchtower of a small military camp holding about 40 men. It was probably deliberately set on fire before the garrison left the camp. The spectacular wooden defense structure was discovered on literally the penultimate day of the excavations – along with a coin minted in 43 AD, proof that the structure could not have been built in connection with the Limes. 

Roman tunnels located above the silver deposit
But why did the Romans fail to complete the large camp, instead choosing to abandon both areas after a few years? What were the facilities used for? Archaeologists have found a possible clue in the writings of historian Tacitus: He describes how, under Roman governor Curtius Rufus, attempts to mine silver ore in the area failed in 47 AD. The yield had simply been too low. In fact, the team of Frankfurt archaeologists was able to identify a shaft-tunnel system suggesting Roman origins. The tunnel is located a few meters above the Bad Ems passageway, which would have enabled the Romans to mine silver for up to 200 years – that is, if only they had known about it. In the end, the silver was mined in later centuries only. The Romans' hope for a lucrative precious metal mining operation also explains the military camp's presence: They wanted to be able to defend themselves against sudden raids – not an unlikely scenario given the value of the raw material. "To verify this assumption, however, further research is necessary," says Prof. Scholz. It would be interesting to know, for example, whether the large camp was also surrounded by obstacles meant to hinder an enemy approach. So far, no wooden spikes have been found there, but traces could perhaps end up being discovered in the much drier soil. 

Silver mining reserved for later centuries
The fact that the Romans abruptly abandoned an extensive undertaking is not without precedent. Had they known that centuries later, in modern times, 200 tons of silver would be extracted from the ground near Bad Ems, they might not have given up so quickly. The soldiers who were ordered to dig the tunnels obviously had not been too enthusiastic about the hard work: Tacitus reports that they wrote to Emperor Claudius in Rome, asking him to award the triumphal insignia to the commanders in advance so they would not have to make their soldiers slave away unnecessarily. 

All considered, an exciting research story, which Frederic Auth, who has led the excavations in Bad Ems since 2019, also knows how to recount in an exciting way. His account won first prize in an interdisciplinary field of applicants at the 21st Wiesbaden Science Slam in early February. The young archaeologist is already booked for further appearances: Auth will perform in Heidelberg on March 2, in Bonn on March 7, and in Mannheim on March 19. More information about the events can be found at: (in German). 

The research in Bad Ems was carried out jointly with the Directorate of State Archaeology in the General Directorate for Cultural Heritage of Rhineland-Palatinate, the Institute of Prehistory and Early History at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, and the Berlin University of Applied Sciences. Also involved were the hunter and honorary monument conservator Jürgen Eigenbrod and his colleague Hans-Joachim du Roi, as well as several metal detectorists with the necessary permits from the historical monument authorities. The project was financed with support from the Gerhard Jacobi Stiftung, the Society for Archaeology on the Middle Rhine and Moselle, and the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG). The wooden spikes have meanwhile been preserved at the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum in Mainz. 

Publication: A monograph on the archaeological excavations in Bad Ems is currently being prepared. 

Images for download:

Image 1: "Tractor Tracks". The excavations in Bad Ems were initiated by J. Eigenbrod, who spotted suspicious traces in the field from his high seat. The traces constitute changes in the vegetation, indicating ground interventions, in this case the ditches of the Roman camp on the "Ehrlich" (Photo: H.-J. du Roi)
Image 2: The geomagnetic prospection confirms the assumption that traces of the former usage of the “Ehrlich" hill would be found under the fields in the soil. (Photo: C. Mischka, FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg). 
Image 3: The big surprise for the archaeologists unfolded during the last days of the excavation campaign: A construction of wooden spikes had been preserved in the damp soil of the "Blöskopf" hill, meant to deter potential attackers. (Photo: Auth) 
Image 4: Although Caesar had told of comparable obstacles meant to deter the enemy's approach, so far no physical evidence of their existence had been found. For the most part, the wooden defensive constructions did not survive the test of the centuries. (Photo: Auth) 
Image 5: Winner among the interdisciplinary field of applicants at the 21st Wiesbaden Science Slam: Goethe University's archaeologist Frederic Auth (3rd from left) with moderator Rainer Holl (from left) and science slammers Maria Bruhnke, Christopher Synatschke, Nina Lanzer and Uwe Gaitzsch. (Photo: 

Further information
Prof. Markus Scholz
Archaeology and History of the Roman Provinces
Institute for Archaeological Sciences, Department II
Goethe University
Tel. +49 (0)69 798 32265
Fax +49 (0)69 798 32268

Editor: Dr. Anke Sauter, Science Editor, PR & Communication Office, Tel: +49 (0)69 798-13066, Fax: +49 (0) 69 798-763 12531,


Feb 21 2023

Frankfurt microbiologist honored as "Class of 2023 Fellow"

Goethe University’s Volker Müller inducted into the American Academy of Microbiology

Prof. Volker Müller, a microbiologist at Goethe University Frankfurt, is one of three Germans and a total of 65 scientists from around the world who have now been inducted as fellows into the American Society for Microbiology's (ASM) Academy, the professional society announced. With some 30,000 members, the ASM is one of the world's largest scientific associations in the life sciences. The Academy is ASM's think tank and honorary governing body, and each year appoints 65 excellent microbiologists as fellows

FRANKFURT Outstanding achievements in their field and a strong commitment to teaching and mentoring – these are the criteria employed by the jury of senior scientists from the American Society for Microbiology to select 65 fellows from among the 148 high-caliber nominations from basic and applied research, teaching, public health, and industry. 

Goethe University President Prof. Enrico Schleiff congratulated the new fellow, saying: "In the past year alone, Volker Müller has attracted the scientific community's attention with his high-profile work on the fixation of the greenhouse gas CO2 using bacteria, and with the concept of a hydrogen battery driven by bacterial enzymes. I congratulate him on this great honor. His induction into the Academy is a testimony to the international visibility Goethe University enjoys thanks to outstanding scientists like Volker Müller." 

Prof. Volker Müller, Head of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Bioenergetics at Goethe University, was delighted about the accolade: "The distinction is both a pleasure and an honor. Throughout my career, I have had and continue to have the great fortune and privilege of working with excellent students on exciting questions, ranging from the beginnings of biochemistry and bioenergetics in ancient bacteria on early Earth to the development of these bacteria as production platforms in a CO2-based bio-economy or as catalysts in hydrogen technology. These acetogenic bacteria have been and continue to be a veritable goldmine." 

The ASM promotes microbial sciences through conferences, publications, certifications, and educational opportunities. Its goal is to improve laboratory capabilities around the world. The ASM provides a network for scientists from academia, industry, and clinical settings. Its Academy's “Class of 2023 Fellows" is made up of researchers from 11 different countries: Argentina, China, Germany, France, India, Israel, Canada, Austria, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States. 

How bacteria gain energy through CO2 fixation

Researchers from Goethe University Frankfurt develop new biobattery for hydrogen storage: 

Image for download: 

Caption: Prof. Volker Müller of Goethe University Frankfurt (Photo: Uwe Dettmar for Goethe University) 

Further information
Professor Volker Mueller
Department of Molecular Microbiology & Bioenergetics
Institute for Molecular Biosciences
Goethe University
Tel: 49 (0)69 798-29507
Twitter-Handle: @goetheuni @ASMicrobiology

Editor: Dr. Markus Bernards, Science Editor, PR & Communication Office, Tel: +49 (0) 69 798-12498, Fax: +49 (0) 69 798-763 12531,


Feb 17 2023

Three substances fight tumour growth and reduce liver metastases

Liver cancer research: iron-dependent cell death could be the key to novel combination therapies

Iron-dependent cell death (ferroptosis) is a type of programmed cell death by means of which the body kills off diseased, defective or superfluous cells. This process can be used to make immunotherapies against liver cancer more effective. Researchers at Georg-Speyer-Haus, University Hospital Frankfurt and Goethe University Frankfurt have now been able to show this in mice with liver cancer. The combination therapy was also effective against colon cancer metastases that had settled in the liver. 

FRANKFURT. Ten years ago, a new type of programmed cell death was discovered: iron-dependent cell death or, to use the scientific term, ferroptosis. Unlike apoptosis, a long-known type of programmed cell death, in ferroptosis the cell absorbs larger amounts of iron. The iron is metabolised in the cell and eventually leads to the destruction of the cell membranes. Such types of cell death are among the body's important control mechanisms, for example in development processes and the elimination of defective or degenerate cells. 

For some years now, immunotherapies have established themselves as a treatment option in the battle against cancer. Here, the body's own defence system is stimulated so that it acts against cancer cells. A number of these immunotherapies successfully target key points in the immune system, known as checkpoints, where the immune system is subdued. 

Immune checkpoints are a kind of “off switch" on the surface of T cells (cancer-fighting immune cells), with which their activity can be down-regulated. This “off switch" is operated by certain “key" proteins. Many tumours form such “key" proteins to protect themselves against attacks by T cells. That is why blocking the “off switch" by means of drugs, i.e. immune checkpoint inhibitors, are now part of the standard treatment in some types of cancer. Unfortunately, in other types of cancer, such as liver cancer, the response to the immune checkpoint blockade is low. 

Researchers at Georg-Speyer-Haus, together with University Hospital Frankfurt and Goethe University Frankfurt, have now observed in mice with colorectal cancer that a substance which triggers ferroptosis leads to the activation of certain immune cells (T cells). Such T cells can systematically kill off cancer cells. 

The problem was that two independent mechanisms immediately put a halt again to T cell activity: firstly, the cancer cells formed a “key" protein to operate the “off switch" of the T cells (the immune checkpoint receptor PD-L1). Secondly, other cells of the immune system, known as myeloid suppressor cells, came onto the scene, whose task is equally to subdue the body's immune response. 

However, when the researchers gave the diseased mice a triple combination of a ferroptosis activator, an immune checkpoint inhibitor and a substance that prevents the attraction of myeloid suppressor cells, this significantly reduced the liver tumours' growth. 

In further tests on mice, the scientists established that the combination therapy was also able to reduce the number of liver metastases originating from a metastasising colorectal tumour. The colorectal tumour itself, however, did not respond to the combination therapy. 

Professor Fabian Finkelmeier, one of the two first authors of the study, says: “The combination therapy is apparently dependent on the liver's microenvironment and not on the primary tumour. This indicates that our combination therapy could be effective against liver metastases from any type of cancer." 

Dr Claire Conche, the second first author, explains: “With this new combination therapy, we attack the immune system from three sides. First, we make the cancer-fighting T cells reactive towards the tumour cells. Then we remove the obstacles facing the cancer-fighting T cells: the suppression cells and shielding by PD-L1." 

Professor Florian Greten, director of Georg-Speyer-Haus and spokesperson for the LOEWE Centre “Frankfurt Cancer Institute", says: “The study underlines the pivotal role of the tumour microenvironment in cancer therapy. We have concentrated here on the immune compartment of the tumour microenvironment and how to modulate the immune system in the direction of a strong anti-tumour response. Our data in preclinical models are an encouraging basis for improving immunotherapy options for patients with hepatocellular carcinoma and liver metastases."

Claire Conche, Fabian Finkelmeier, Marina Pešić, Adele M Nicolas, Tim W. Böttger, Kilian B. Kennel, Dominic Denk, Fatih Ceteci, Kathleen Mohs, Esther Engel, Özge Canli, Yasamin Dabiri, Kai-Henrik Peiffer, Stefan Zeuzem, Gabriela Salinas, Thomas Longerich, Huan Yang, Florian R. Greten: Combining ferroptosis induction with MDSC blockade renders primary tumours and metastases in liver sensitive to immune checkpoint blockade. Gut (2022) 

Picture download: 

The light microscope image shows the liver of a diseased mouse in which many tumours have formed. The tumours are slightly darker in colour, have a rounded shape and are demarcated from the healthy tissue (haematoxylin-eosin stain). The new triple therapy reduced these tumours very significantly. Larger, white areas: preparation artefacts; dark spots: cell nuclei. Photo: Fabian Finkelmeier, University Hospital Frankfurt. 

Further information:
Professor Florian R. Greten
Institute for Tumour Biology and Experimental Therapy / Goethe University Frankfurt
Tel.: +49 (0)69 63395-232
Twitter: @FCI_health, @UK_Frankfurt, @goetheuni

Editor: Dr. Markus Bernards, Science Editor, PR & Communication Office, Tel: +49 (0) 69 798-12498, Fax: +49 (0) 69 798-763 12531,


Feb 8 2023

Game Theory Study by theoretical physicist Professor Claudius Gros 

Goethe University study: Investors also suffer in unregulated competitions for freely available resources

Uncontrolled competitions for freely accessible resources such as fish stocks or water can have fatal consequences not only for the resources themselves. In such competitions, investors, too, are ultimately driven to their subsistence level, a new game-theoretical study by Professor Claudius Gros, theoretical physicist at Goethe University, shows.

FRANKFURT. Without regulations for their use, the condition of freely accessible resources such as fish stocks, water or air can deteriorate dramatically. In economics, this is referred to as the "Tragedy of the Commons". In 2009, Elinor Ostrom became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics for her studies on this topic. Ostrom's question of how to prevent this "tragedy" is just as relevant today as it was some 20 years ago.

Game theory deals with situations in which a number of agents compete with each other, with each participant trying to maximize his or her own profit individually. One speaks of a "Nash equilibrium" if players cannot increase their returns further. The "Tragedy of the Commons" is a game theoretical scenario in which the actors do not compete directly, but indirectly: If someone takes a piece of a common pie, there will be less for everybody else.

Instead of investigating how to avoid the "Tragedy of the Commons", Claudius Gros from Goethe University’s Institute for Theoretical Physics examined the resulting Nash equilibrium, with unexpected results: If a common good is divided more or less equally among N interested parties, then each receives a share of the order 1/N. However, the respective investment costs still need to be deducted. Gros' calculations show that, in equilibrium, the actors increase their engagement until the resulting investment costs almost reach the value of the resources the individual investor can secure for her- or himself. Mathematically, the theoretical physicist was able to show that the final profit of the individual investor scales as 1/N².

The original expectation, that investors each receive a proportional share from the resource, remains correct, as Gros' research shows. However, this does not translate into an overall return of the same proportion, which is smaller by a power in the number of investors. Gros denotes the dramatic deterioration of the net profit as "catastrophic poverty", as it implies that unregulated competition drives the individual actor close to the profitability limit, viz to the subsistence level. Similarly, Gros was able to show that catastrophic poverty can be avoided when the actors cooperate with each other. Cooperation leads to a net profit corresponding to the number of investors in simple power, the classical result.

The result of the investigations is therefore that the "Tragedy of the Commons" can cause substantially more damage than previously assumed. Uncontrolled access not only leads to a potentially excessive exploitation of the resource, a topic that has been the focus of many previous studies. In addition, investors suffer themselves when only maximizing their own profits. Mathematically, Gros was able to show that technological progress intensifies this process and that either all, or the vast majority of participating investors are ultimately affected by catastrophic poverty. If anything, only a few investors – the oligarchs – stand to gain more.

Publication: Claudius Gros, “Generic catastrophic poverty when selfish investors exploit a degradable common resource”, Royal Society Open Science (2023)

Images for download:

Caption: Professor Claudius Gros, Goethe University Frankfurt. Credit: Uwe Dettmar for Goethe University

Further information
Professor Claudius Gros
Institute for Theoretical Physics
Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany
Tel. +49 (0)69 798-47818

Editor: Dr. Markus Bernards, Science Editor, PR & Communication Office, Tel: +49 (0) 69 798-12498, Fax: +49 (0) 69 798-763 12531,


Feb 2 2023

Institut franco-allemand de sciences historiques et sociales now under dual Franco-German leadership

Franco-German research as an expression of Franco-German friendship

The Institut franco-allemand de sciences historiques et sociales (Franco-German Institute for Historical and Social Sciences) has a new leadership: After eleven years, Prof. Pierre Monnet has passed the baton on to historian Prof. Xenia von Tippelskirch and historian Dr. habil. Falk Bretschneider.

FRANKFURT. "France owes you a great deal of gratitude" – those are the words France's ambassador to Germany, H.E. François Delattre, had traveled all the way from Berlin to Frankfurt to say. He was addressing Prof. Pierre Monnet, outgoing director of the Institut franco-allemand de sciences historiques et sociales (IFRA-SHS / Institut français Frankfurt). At a ceremony, held in the Trude Simonsohn and Irmgard Heydorn Hall on Goethe University's Westend Campus, Monnet was bid farewell and the new dual leadership introduced. In the future, Prof. Xenia von Tippelskirch and Dr. habil Falk Bretschneider, both historians, will steer the institute's fortunes.

Medieval historian Pierre Monnet served as director of the institute from 2011 to 2022. Initially called Institut français d'histoire en Allemagne, it became the Institut franco-allemand de science historiques et sociales in 2015. Having already held a professorship at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) since 2005, Monnet received an adjunct professorship at Goethe University in 2013. Under his leadership, the institute's scientific projects and networks were developed further and its impact on Frankfurt's urban society strengthened, with formats such as the "Café Europa" in the Romanfabrik and the “EuropaDialoge" as part of the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften. In his laudatory speech, Prof. Christophe Duhamelle, Director of the Centre interdisciplinaire d'études et de recherches sur l'Allemagne Paris, pointed to the deepening and the intensification of Franco-German cooperation as common threads throughout Monnet's tenure.

"Goethe University thanks Prof. Monnet for his many years of commitment in establishing the IFRA and wishes the new Franco-German dual leadership, who will lead the institute into the future, much ambition, energy and success in the implementation of their plans. IFRA is our clear commitment to Franco-German scientific cooperation and to the strategic partnership with the EHESS. IFRA's research priorities yield synergies with topics pursued not only across all of Goethe University, but also within the framework of the Rhine-Main University Alliance, and in France," said Goethe University President Prof. Enrico Schleiff, adding: "Our actions have a strong signal effect and will promote positive developments in European research."

IFRA-SHS / Institut français Frankfurt is a Franco-German institution supported by the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs (MEAE), Goethe University and the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) Paris. On the one hand, it carries out research and promotes scientific exchange between Germany and France in the field of humanities and social sciences. On the other, as the Institut français Frankfurt, it also serves as a French cultural institute that addresses a broad public with a rich cultural program all year round. With its Franco-German directorate, its international team and its dense network of cooperation partners, it is an important component of Franco-German and European academic exchange and intercultural cooperation.

After the previous director Pierre Monnet was seconded from the French EHESS, Falk Bretschneider from EHESS and Xenia von Tippelskirch from Goethe University will share responsibility for the institute in the future.

Xenia von Tippelskirch, born 1971, has been working as a professor of history at Goethe University since late 2022. Her focus is on the cultural and religious history of the early modern period; in particular, she has worked on religious practices and knowledge transfer between France and the Holy Roman Empire. Falk Bretschneider, born 1974, has been living and working in France for many years. His research focuses primarily on the history of the Holy Roman Empire and that of early modern criminal justice. Both Tippelskirch and Bretschneider have long been engaged in Franco-German academic cooperation, including directing the Franco-German doctoral college "Thinking Differences", of which Goethe University is also to become a partner in the future. Under their leadership, two central research axes will determine IFRA-SHS' work in the coming years: The joint project "Religious Dynamics" and the project "Imperial Spaces". There are numerous other projects at the institute, many of them carried out with partner institutions in Germany or France.

Some 90 guests attended the ceremony held in Goethe University's casino building, including numerous university researchers as well as several of Frankfurt's cultural figures.

Images for download:

Image 1: Matthieu Osmont, Director of the Institut français Bonn and Attaché of the French Embassy, Dr. Leopoldo Iribarren. Vice President International of the École des hauts études en sciences sociales Paris, H.E. François Delattre, French Ambassador to Germany, Prof. Xenia von Tippelskirch, Prof. Pierre Monnet, University President Prof. Enrico Schleiff, Ilde Gorguet, French Consul General Frankfurt, Dr. habil. Falk Bretschneider, Prof. Rainer Maria Kiesow, Vice President Research of the École des hautes études en sciences sociales. (Photo: Jürgen Lecher)
Image 2: The Institut franco-allemand's new dual leadership: Falk Bretschneider and Xenia von Tippelskirch. (Photo: Jürgen Lecher)
Image 3: The new dual leadership with their predecessor: Falk Bretschneider and Xenia von Tippelskirch with Pierre Monnet (center). (Photo: Jürgen Lecher)

Further information
Dominique Petre
Cultural Officer IFRA-SHS / Institut français Frankfurt
Tel. +49 69 798-31900

Editor: Dr. Anke Sauter, Science Editor, PR & Communication Office, Tel: +49 (0)69 798-13066, Fax: +49 (0) 69 798-763 12531,