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Prehistoric antiquities from the Art Cabinet of the Prussian House of Hohenzollern form the core of the collection that was exhibited in Monbijou Palace under the name "Museum Vaterländischer Altertümer" (Museum for Antiquities of the Fatherland) beginning in 1830. In the following decades, the collection, first renamed "Sammlung Nordischer Altertümer" (Collection of Nordic Antiquities) and the "Prähistorische Abteilung" (Prehistoric Department), was shown in the Neues Museum and subsequently, from 1886 in the building from the Ethnological Museum. In 1921 the location again changed, to the Martin Gropius Bau. A decade later the collection was separated from the Ethnological Museum to become the Museum of Pre- and Early History.
Holdings grew dramatically from the second half of the nineteenth century onwards, thanks to donations, an energetic acquisition policy, and the museum's own archaeological fieldwork. The famous pathologist Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902) was the most important patron of the museum in his days. His contribution and that of following generations was to expand the geographical scope of the collection to cover the entire European continent and the bordering regions beyond.
By the beginning of the twentieth century Berlin's Museum for Pre- and Early History ranked among the three most important collections of its kind in the world. But World War II altered this situation dramatically. Among the significant losses suffered as a result of the war and its aftermath were all the objects made of precious metal. In 1945 they were taken as booty to Russia where they remain down to the present.
Soon after the end of the war, the museum resumed its work. Since 1960 the collection has been housed in the Langhansbau of Charlottenburg Palace. Following on the unification of Germany, holdings which had been in East Berlin since the war were integrated into the exhibition in Charlottenburg so that nowadays the mission of the museum to represent European pre- and early history can be pursued almost unreservedly.
Since October 2009 the Museum for Pre- and Early History shows its exhibition at the Neues Museum.