Research

The Vorderasiatisches Museum (Museum of the Ancient Near East) is the only museum specializing in the history and material culture of ancient Near Eastern civilizations in the German-speaking region and, with over 600,000 objects, is one of the largest museums of its kind in the world. The extensive collections from archaeological excavations in Iraq and Syria (e.g. Assur, Babylon, Uruk; Tell Halaf, Habuba Kabira), which came to Berlin as its share of the division of the archaeological finds, give the museum its particular international distinction.

As a non-university research institution with a traditional emphasis on object- and collection-based fundamental research, the Vorderasiatisches Museum has at its disposal the full range of scientific competencies necessary for the documentation, development, and educational museum presentation of its collections in the Pergamonmuseum. The museum’s primary mission, particularly with regard to the dissemination of knowledge to the general public, consists in presenting the unique collection of objects in such a way that these material witnesses of ancient Near Eastern civilizations are not perceived only as isolated “works of art”, but can be experienced in their particular materiality, and understood within the contexts of archaeology, cultural studies, research and museum history, and cultural politics. Digital media for research, presentation, and education based on 3D models of archaeological sites and cultural monuments play a prominent role in this process.

In accordance with its mission statement the Vorderasiatisches Museum regards itself as a research museum for the archaeological cultural heritage of ancient Near Eastern civilizations that focuses on a target audience and presents its collections primarily as testaments to cultural practice. In so doing the museum consistently investigates the research history, provenance, and cultural-political significance of the objects in its collections, based on current approaches to cultural science and post-colonial theory.

In the context of the significant threats to archaeological cultural heritage in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya, the Vorderasiatisches Museum increasingly also engages in the protection of cultural heritage. This engagement is reflected in the institution’s scholarly profile, which today includes transdisciplinary cultural heritage research as well as training and professional development projects for museum experts.

ILLICID is a collaboration of arts scholars, information- and social scientists, cultural authorities and security agencies under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Markus Hilgert. The overall objective of this expert collaboration is to develop, document and implement best-practice tools and procedures for shedding light on the murky area of illegal trading in cultural artefacts in Germany.

In an explorative pilot study, focussed on the sub-area of black-market traffiking in ancient cultural artefacts from the eastern Mediterranean, as much data as possible will be collected about the objects traded, the scale of the trafficking, the parties involved, their networks and routine operations, and, in particular, the potential for money-laundering. The latest political developments in such countries as Syria, Iraq and Egypt have led to an unprecedented intensification of the problem in the eastern Mediterranean, which has witnessed the systematic and comprehensive destruction of cultural assets, above all through illegal excavation and plunder. ILLICID is being conducted in collaboration with the GESIS – Leibniz-Institute for the Social Sciences and the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology.

This project, coordinated by Prof. Dr. Markus Hilgert, aims to make available, as a matter of urgency, museum-quality materials for the storage of cuneiform clay tablets. The measure is urgently required because thousands of cuneiform tablets have been brought to the National Museum of Damascus from provincial museums since 2012 in order to save them from being plundered, especially by the so-called Islamic State. Without suitable storage, these unique early examples of human history documented in written form are at risk of very rapid decay, because of the climatic conditions and their precarious state of conservation. After several weeks of intensive planning in consultation with restorers from Damascus, suitable storage materials are therefore to be acquired and placed at the disposal of the National Museum of Damascus. The project is financed by funding from the German Foreign Office.