© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, photo: Thomas Meyer
The Archäologisches Zentrum unites all archaeological facilities and operations at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin under one roof for the first time.
The various museums on the Museum Island have been at the very forefront of international archaeological research for more than 150 years. Their excavations have not merely shaped, but written archaeological history. Scholars from the institutions on the Museum Island have driven forward the discovery and scientific exploration of several of the most culturally important sites in Europe, the Ancient Near East, and the Mediterranean region, such as Amarna, Assur, Babylon, Miletus, Pergamon, and Samarra, as well as the research of the medieval settlements of Berlin and Cölln. This pioneering work has always collectively advanced a wide variety of disciplines at once, including: ancient Near-Eastern archaeology, Egyptology, classical archaeology, Assyriology, ancient philology, epigraphy and numismatics. This tradition is now being continued into the future with the establishment of the Archäologisches Zentrum.
Now in the early 21st century, in an age of rapidly increasing connectivity through digital media in the social and academic domains, the interconnectedness of scientific and academic disciplines has become more important than ever before. Five archaeological collections of international renown will be able to use the Archäologisches Zentrum as an interdisciplinary platform for their staff, for their research and scientific work, and for their laboratories and research instruments. The five collections are: the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection, the Collection of Classical Antiquities, the Museum of Islamic Art, the Museum of Prehistory and Early History and the Museum of the Ancient Near East.
The Masterplan Museumsinsel Berlin, the SMB's long-term development plan for the Museum Island, not only envisages that the archaeological collections be consolidated in the buildings that originally housed them. It also foresees that the study collections, conservation and restoration workshops, libraries, archive, and administrative offices are to be gathered in one place, directly beside the Museum Island. That place is the Museumshöfe.
In October 2007 the official go-ahead was given for the site's development, allowing Harris + Kurrle architects to be awarded the contract to plan the centre. The Stuttgart-based architecture office Harris + Kurrle have designed a building that creates the optimal conditions in which to carry out research, documentation, conservation care, and restoration of the thousands of artefacts held by the various divisions of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (SMB). Study and reading rooms have been conceived in such a way that users can work with textual sources and artefacts at the same time. This is just one more reason why the Archäologisches Zentrum is guaranteed to be a magnet for specialists from both within Germany and abroad, for students and the next generation of scholars and scientists. Its transparent and open style of architecture creates spaces for the spontaneous interaction between members of various disciplines, facilitating the sharing of ideas and experiences, as well as creating room for researchers to develop joint project ideas.
The Archaeological Library, set up and run by the Kunstbibliothek, represents a first for the SMB: for more than 150 years the various museums that comprise the Museum Island have compiled a unique collection of literature on archaeology that has never been accessible to the public in its entirety until now. The holdings, spanning 150,000 items, are now installed in a space covering more than 1000 square metres, systematized in accordance with international library standards. They are now available for use by researchers from all over the globe.
The Kunstbibliothek's archaeological department has been conceived as a lively place of research, where archival and source studies, research with objects from the collections, library use, and the provision of electronic data are all possible from a single site. The Kunstbibliothek will run the Archaeological Library at the Archäologisches Zentrum as well as at its main location at the Kulturforum at Potsdamer Platz.
Also housed in the Archäologisches Zentrum is the SMB's Central Archive which holds files, archival collections, and personal collections of manuscripts bequeathed to the SMB. The archives represent the collected history of what was once called the 'Royal', now 'National' Museums in Berlin or SMB. The Central Archive's reading room is open to its users. The Central Archive sees itself as a site of research and learning but also as the home to the 'collective memory' of the museums. Supplementing the archives, the Kunstbibliothek also provides open-shelf literature on the history of the individual museums, as well as a complete collection of all published material on the holdings and research conducted by the SMB since its foundation in 1830. The holdings of the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection are cared for at the Archäologisches Zentrum by five separate conservation workshops, which are divided according to material: stone, ceramic, metal, papyrus, wood and other organic matter. The conservators and storeroom managers are responsible for caring for the objects during storage, exhibition, and lending periods. The Archäologisches Zentrum houses workshops and depositories, workspaces for specialist staff, as well as the internal library, which is also administered by the Kunstbibliothek.
The Museum of Prehistory and Early History was the first archaeological collection at the SMB to move into the new premises, in May this year. The Museum of Prehistory and Early History is one of the main users of the Archäologisches Zentrum and occupies several rooms spread over the first floor. Its director and most of its research staff now work in well-lit rooms in the western low-lying part of the building, while the collection's archives are situated in the front of the building, facing the courtyard.
Visitors are welcomed to the building by a 'resurrected' Aramaean tomb figure from Tell Halaf, now on display in the capacious foyer. The tomb figure, dating from the early 1st millennium BCE, perfectly encapsulates the work of the various facilities at the Archäologisches Zentrum. Discovered in 1912 at Tell Halaf, in what is now north-eastern Syria, the basalt sculpture was completely destroyed in the Second World War. It was later painstakingly pieced together again from approximately 1200 fragments as part of the Tell Halaf Project, one of the largest restoration endeavours to be undertaken in recent times, organized by the Museum of the Ancient Near East. The museum's basalt figure is a visible demonstration of the achievements and capabilities of researchers and staff at the SMB in the field of archaeological study and restoration.
At the SMB, we see the museum as a new kind of research institute, where scholarly research takes on a new meaning in a global context. The museum is mutating into an organization of knowledge that sees material objects and text-based knowledge, analogue and digital information, the cultural sciences and natural sciences, European and non-European knowledge traditions, libraries, digital media, museum and archive collections, universities and museums all as part of a larger whole.
The opening of Archäologisches Zentrum on 31.10.2012 is the first concrete step in this direction. Further stages in this development are in the pipeline. They include the expansion of the Kulturforum into the SMB's centre of excellence dedicated to the history of art, and the establishment of the Humboldt Forum as a site of experimentation and a forum for knowledge on the cultures of the world.