Europe uncovered: a spectacular exhibition for autumn 2018

10.08.2017
Gropius Bau

Europe below the surface. In 2018, the Gropius Bau will host an exhibition, organised jointly by the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte and the Verband der Landesarchäologen (Association of Federal State Archaeologists), entitled "Restless Times: Archaeology in Germany".

It has been fifteen years since the last exhibition went on show about archaeology in Germany, but now plans can be unveiled for a major-funded, 1,600-square-meter exhibition, due to open in autumn 2018. Over one thousand outstanding objects from every state of the Federal Republic will be on display in Berlin’s Gropius Bau. The exhibition Restless Times: Archaeology in Germany is being organised under the aegis of the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and its director, Matthias Wemhoff. In what will be European Cultural Heritage Year, Wemhoff is keen to demonstrate, above all, the things which first knit our restless continent together:

  • Mobility
  • Exchange
  • Conflict
  • Innovation

Through spectacular new archaeological finds, and new perspectives on old ones, the exhibition will show how the foundations of modern Europe were laid, and how a unique network of cultural interaction developed in a period of human history long before the written word.

This is the first time that an exhibition of this sort will be arranged thematically, rather than chronologically. For example, the atrium of the Gropius-Bau will recall the Roman harbour on the Rhine at Cologne. On display will be a 3.5 m high, 12 m long section of Roman wooden shuttering, used to construct a concrete foundation wall. Build of massive planks of oak, it was excavated ten years ago during construction work on the Cologne underground, and is excellently preserved. The wall formed part of the Roman harbour gate complex, and dendrochronological analysis of the wood has made it possible, for the first time, to date the harbour unambiguously to the late first century AD. Some two million further finds excavated from the harbour and the city wall prove that the ancient city of Cologne was a hub for people and goods criss-crossing the whole of the Roman Empire. The extent to which people on the move have always left their mark on Europe is shown, too, by sections of roadway and street surfacing from various periods and locations, as well as the wooden remains of the pile bridge from Kirchheim-Niederwald (Hessen), which spanned more than 26 meters of boggy ground in the Celtic period.

On the theme of migration there is also evidence from as early as the Neolithic period. The first wave of migrants from south-eastern Europe brought with them a sedentary lifestyle, based on agriculture. From the evidence of the numerous wood-lined wells and other settlement finds belonging to the Linear Band Culture which have recently come to light, particularly in the lignite-mining regions of northern Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia, archaeologists can now confirm that this new way of life established itself in some Central European regions  more comprehensively and in a far shorter time than previously thought, and new discoveries tell of large expanses of land being brought under cultivation for the first time in the early Neolithic period.

But there was also early conflict on the continent: according to the latest research, the oldest battle in Central Europe was fought in the Bronze Age, in the valley of the small Tollense river in Mecklenburg. The two armies which faced each other here engaged in the type of professional and structured warfare for which the only written evidence we have relates to south-eastern Europe and is to be found in Homer’s Iliad.

For the moment, we must content ourselves with anticipation of all these spectacular finds, for the exhibition will not be opening until September 2018 and will be on show until January 2019 in Berlin’s Gropius Bau.