Research

The Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte (Museum of Prehistory and Early History) conducts continual research into its own collection and presents its findings to the public.

Research projects of the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte

Since 2010, Berlin’s Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte has been involved in an international archaeological research project in Romania, where the largest prehistoric settlement in Europe uncovered to date is currently being examined. The site is protected by four defensive walls with a total length of 33 km and covers an area of 17.2 square kilometres. After sondages (trial trenches) were dug over a period of five years from 2007 to 2013, archaeologists were able to date the fortifications to the late Bronze Age (about 14th or 13th century BCE). Through magnetometer surveys and systematic surface surveys it was possible to establish that dwellings once covered large areas inside the walls and that a city-like settlement must have existed. Further excavations are planned for the coming years. The main focus of the investigation will be on the structures within the fortifications: how were the dwellings constructed; how were they arranged? Moreover, the question arises as to what caused the demise of the huge settlement in the early Iron Age. Sice sommer 2013 this project is sponsored by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.

Contact person: Dr. Bernhard Heeb, research associate, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte

The Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte is currently developing plans for its new permanent exhibition on prehistory. The Pre-Roman Iron Age Department and its collection of artefacts from Europe and Eurasia will feature a special display on 'iron as the new raw material'. Special showcases featuring current research projects will also be incorporated into the exhibition, with presentation concepts developed in conjunction with projects in the Topoi research group. The display will reveal how the new iron technology spread, the cultural upheavals that it brought with it, the practice of smelting, and its technological advancement.

With regard to evidence of early iron use and iron processing, organizers aim to make a thorough survey and analysis of holdings in the collection to see whether they match up to the findings produced by current research. Organizers plan to include actual museum finds in their scientific investigations to determine their provenance and the location of iron smelting sites.

The project will also include historical analysis of past museum activities: When did iron as a new epoch-defining material become a focal point of museological interest? To this end, the relevant museum archives will be re-examined.

Contact person:
Dr. Angelika Hofmann, research associate, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte

In January 2012, the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte joined forces with the 'Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology' in Schleswig (close to the Danish border) to embark on a long-term research project. The project, with the title 'Research Continuity and Continuity Research – Settlement-Archaeological Basic Research into the Iron Age in the Baltics', entails the reconstruction and re-evaluation of the many historical archaeological investigations made in the regions of former East Prussia. This archaeological tradition experienced an abrupt demise in the political and territorial restructuring that took place in the wake of the Second World War and the disintegration of the Prussia Collection (previously on display in Königsberg, now Kaliningrad). The rediscovery of the holdings in Kaliningrad, in Poland, and in Berlin means that since the 1990s archaeologists once again have recourse to an array of primary source material that was, for decades, believed lost.

The project is spearheaded by the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte (Prof. Dr. Matthias Wemhoff) and the Zentrum für Baltische und Skandinavische Archäologie in Schleswig (Prof. Dr. Claus von Carnap-Bornheim). Funding is provided by the Academy of Sciences and Literature, Mainz, (AdW). The project, due to run for 18 years, currently employs three scholars, and will provide up to 18 PhD students with practical training. Close ties already exist with institutions in Poland, Russia, Lithuania, and in several other countries, as a means to regain this dense archaeological landscape, once so rich in finds, and to safeguard the unique cultural heritage of this now fragmented East Baltic region and to make it accessible to researchers of all countries.

Contact person: Dr. Heide Eilbracht, research associate, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte

The medieval finds from the collection of the former Prussia Museum in Königsberg have been the subject of a DFG-funded research project since autumn 2011. The Prussia Museum, a now-vanished key cultural institution in former East Prussia, once housed the archaeological heritage of the area that spans from the Vistula river in the west to the Neman river in the northeast. Its many finds were unearthed in the 19th century. The collection’s unique holdings that bore testimony to all periods of Baltic history were lost in World War II or were subsequently divided up and separated. In 1990, an important part of the large collection found its way to the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. On the basis of digital records made of these objects, Baltic material culture (including weapons, equestrian equipment, jewellery, implements) of the 9th to 15th century will be scientifically evaluated and historically classified. The project aims to extensively research this large source of prehistoric material, comprising around 20,000 objects, which due to events of recent history have, for the most part, gone unexamined, and to make the cultural heritage of this now divided region accessible again to study.

Contact person: Dr. Norbert Gossler and Dr. Christoph Jahn, research associates, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte

Initial scientific and archaeological studies verify the authenticity of the grave goods acquired in 2007. By dating the objects to the first half of the 5th century, they form a link between the late Roman graves of the ‘chef militaire’ and the early Merovingian ruler’s graves with gold-hilt spathae. The find complex includes the gold-hilt spatha with matching equipment, including a locket with runic inscriptions, other weaponry, mounts from the belt and insignia. The high rank of the deceased is further evident in additional grave offerings of the horse harness and a rich set of glassware, bronze plates, and terra sigillata vessels. From a typological and chronological perspective, the complex appears to be a closed find. Analysis of fabrication technique and archaeometrical investigations should shed light on the cultural-historical background of the old find for which no records exist as to the exact location of its discovery.

Contact person: Dr. Marion Bertram, research associate, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte

and Documents from Northeast Central Europe (KAFU)
The political changes that swept across Europe after 1990 gave shape to the idea to reconstruct the former prehistoric and protohistoric collections of eastern Germany and the eastern Baltic region, which were broken up or destroyed after the Second World War. It was hoped that the selective re-examination of surviving remnants of archaeological collections and archival material would recreate the lost source material. To this end the Commission for the Research of Collections of Archaeological Finds and Documents from Northeast Central Europe (KAFU) was founded in Berlin on 21 June 2001. A few years earlier, in 1997, German and Polish experts from museums and universities had already set up such a commission that provided the organizational basis for the project’s regional office that then opened at the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte in 2001 and which was funded by the German Archaeological Institute.

The KAFU is run from the offices of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage); according to its charter, its chairman is the director of the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte. Colloquia have been held every two years since 2001 and are designed to provide an overview of current progress made in interpreting the relevant sources and in fulfilling the tasks set by the commission. The KAFU also provides funding for scientific publications dealing with the material relevant to the tasks of the commission.

Contact person: Dr. Heino Neumayer, research associate, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte

Some 120 pieces of decorative bronze sheet-work, dating from the Geometric, Archaic, and Classical periods, found at the Temple of Zeus at Olympia were examined in March 2008 using x-radiographic imaging. In a follow-up study, the large lion’s head protome B 4999 and fragments of other, often monumental lion’s heads will undergo archaeological and technical analysis from 2013. The investigations aim to shed light on where and how these bronzes were produced, the possible reason for them being brought to Olympia, and where and how they were displayed in the temple. This interdisciplinary and inter-institutional work is conducted together with the archaeologist, bronze specialist, and former member of staff of both the German Archaeological Institute (Athens Department) and University of Frankfurt am Main, Prof. Dr. Hanna Koenigs-Philipp, Munich.

Contact person: Hermann Born, chief conservator, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte

Some 70 inhumation graves were transported to Berlin in the late 19th century, after being found at the archaeological site of Rössen (Leuna-Neurössen, Kreis Merseburg, Saxony-Anhalt), from which the Neolithic Rössen Culture derives its name. The graves themselves and the grave goods were severely damaged after the Second World War, with many objects lost. Besides historical photographs taken of 21 graves, crates containing skeleton remains, pottery, and stone implements have survived. The museum’s exhibitions since the war have featured a male and female grave, each containing typical grave offerings. In preparation for the new showing of the collection at the Neues Museum, planned for 2014, the skeletal remains were examined by the anthropologist Bettina Jungklaus to help shed light on the individuals’ living conditions, state of health, and cause of death. The results showed that the bodies in the two graves had been assembled from skeletal components, not from a single individual, but from several. In addition, further analysis of bone material is due to take place to determine the age of the individuals.

Contact person: Almut Hoffmann, research associate, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte

In a project that has been ongoing for several years and which is held between various scientific institutions, the thousands of objects in the Troy Collection (which spans some 9700 inventory numbers) are currently undergoing scientific analysis. The ‘Collection of Trojan Antiquities’ was presented as gift from the excavator Heinrich Schliemann to the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte in the 1880s. In an initial publication, released in 2008, large parts of the collection were presented in great detail. The second volume in the series is planned for 2014. The Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte is responsible for the scientific management of the project and is working closely with Prof. Dr. Dieter Hertel, University of Cologne, and Prof. Dr. Ernst Pernicka, University of Tübingen.

Almost all precious-metal objects in Schliemann’s collection were confiscated by the Soviet Union in 1945 as looted art. They are presently on show at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. The groundwork is being laid for a collaborative project with Moscow for the application of new analytical methodologies on the artefacts. Such studies have already been made on the few remaining gold and silver objects in Berlin, coordinated by our chief conservator Hermann Born.

Contact person: Dr. Alix Hänsel, research associate, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte

The Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte presents its unique objects at the Neues Museum on the Museumsinsel Berlin.

Click here for addresses, opening times, admission prices, and public transport links.

For queries surrounding your visit, please contact the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin infoline:

Tel.: +49 (0)30 / 266424242 (Mon - Fri 9 am - 4 pm)
Fax: +49 (0)30 / 266422290
service[at]smb.de

Postal address:
Geschwister-Scholl-Straße 6
10117 Berlin
Germany

Tel.: +49 (0)30 / 266425301
Fax: +49 (0)30 / 266425303
mvf[at]smb.spk-berlin.de 

Director: Prof. Dr. Matthias Wemhoff
Deputy Director: Dr. Alix Hänsel