About the collection

The Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte (Museum of Prehistory and Early History) presents its collections in the Neues Museum on the Museumsinsel Berlin. The collection contains more than 340,000 objects, and a concentrated selection from this staggering number is on show at any time, representing the cultural development of Europe and its bordering regions, ranging in date from the Palaeolithic Age into the High Middle Ages. Several displays are supplemented by artworks from other collections on the Museum Island: the Antikensammlung and Museum für Byzantinische Kunst, as well as numismatic objects from the Münzkabinett.

Our collection highlights include precious segments of what is known as the ‘Treasure of Priam’ from Heinrich Schliemann’s collection of Trojan antiquities, as well as the important Cyprus collections. Palaeolithic exhibits include the famous skull of the Neanderthal from Le Moustier and a selection of stone implements from the Dordogne. Representing the Neolithic Period, the collection boasts several small, fascinating female statuettes and painted pottery from the Balkans. A group of exquisite precious-metal objects from the Bronze Age remain an enduring and engrossing attraction, the most dazzling of which being the ‘Berlin Gold Hat’, with its spellbinding, mysterious symbols. The room devoted to the pre-Roman Iron Age contains the impressive finds from the Slovenian excavations led by the Duchess of Mecklenburg, including a breastplate and other outstanding bronze objects. Our rich collection of artefacts from the Roman provinces is on display in the historicizing ambience of the Römischer Saal. A tour through the collection ends with the ceremonial sword found in Taman (South Russia), dating from the Migration Period, as well as Merovingian jewellery from the Boulanger collection of objects from northern France and magnificent Baltic finds. Current excavations in central Berlin, often running parallel to construction work, provide a steady stream of new accessions.

The origins of the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte go back to the Kunstkammer (or 'cabinet of arts') of the House of Hohenzollern, in which were kept antiquities from the Prussian provinces. In 1829, under the title 'Museum of Antiquities of the Fatherland' (Museum Vaterländischer Altertümer), they were put on display in the Monbijou Palace, which lay opposite the present Bode-Museum on the north bank of the Spree. Thanks to expeditions, excavations and donations, the collection was enormously enriched in the decades that followed. In this process, the museum’s greatest patron was the medical doctor and anatomist, Rudolf Virchow. His contribution, and that of the succeeding generation, was to broaden the scope of the collection to encompass the whole of the European continent and its neighbouring regions. It was thanks to his agency that, in 1881, the museum received the gift from Heinrich Schliemann of the famous finds he had excavated in Troy.

The steady growth of the collection necessitated several moves. Under the name 'Collection of Nordic Antiquities', and later the 'Prehistoric Department', it was put on display in the Neues Museum, which was opened in 1855. In 1886, it was moved to the building where the Museum für Völkerkunde was then housed, in what is today Stresemannstrasse. Finally, in 1921, it was transferred to the Gropius Bau on the opposite side of the road, and in 1931 was given independent status as the 'Staatliches Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte'.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the museum had one of the finest prehistoric collections in the world, comprising over 150,000 objects from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages. The Second World War brought painful losses and the end of this unparalleled status. Important parts of the collection, including all the precious-metal objects, were taken to the Soviet Union in 1945 as looted art. To this day, many of them are still in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the Pushkin Museum and the Historical Museum in Moscow.

In addition, the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte was split in two by the partition of Berlin. In 1960, a permanent exhibition of the objects in West Berlin was opened in the Langhansbau of Schloss Charlottenburg and was augmented with numerous special exhibitions over the years. The return of some of the items which had found their way back from the Soviet Union to East germany in 1958 led, in 1963, to the opening of the Museum für Ur- und Frühgeschichte, housed in the Bode-Museum.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall the two parts of the collection could be reunited. In 2009, they found a splendid permanent home in the newly restored Neues Museum on the Museumsinsel Berlin. Since 2012, the administration and archives of the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte have been grouped together with other institutions of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in the newly built Archäologisches Zentrum immediately next to the Museumsinsel Berlin.