(Römisch-Germanische Kommission des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Frankfurt/M., Germany)
In 2003 the German Research Foundation (DFG) decided to support a research programme studying the so-called ”princely sites” (”Fürstensitze”) of the Early Iron Age (Hallstatt/Early Latène) in Middle Europe. These sites and their (social) meaning have been the subject of intensive debate by numerous archaeologists. Undoubtedly they are the manifestation of a change in settlement behaviour, perhaps also in social culture, between the Late Bronze Age and the beginning of the Celtic Iron Age. One part of the programme is the project “’Princely sites’ & Environs”. With the help of Geographical Information Systems we will investigate different types of settlements (open settlements, hillforts, ”chiefly sites”, ”princely sites”) and burials/cemeteries from the Late Bronze Age (Urnfield period) to the end of the Early Iron Age Late Latène period), connecting them with aspects of their natural environment as part of their area of economic and cultural activities. Another aim is the investigation of territories and of lines of communication and transport which should also contribute to the detailed analysis of problems such as the visibility of individual sites, landmarks or astronomic fixed points which can provide an indication of how prehistoric peoples realised their surroundings. The paper will focus on the theoretical and methodological background of the investigation and will also present the results of the first two years of research.