Research

The Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte (Museum of Prehistory and Early History) conducts continual research into its own collection and presents its findings to the public.

Forschungsprojekte des Museums für Vor- und Frühgeschichte

Since 2016 the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) has funded a research project at the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte in Berlin entitled ‘The territory of former East Prussia during the Roman Period and the Migration Period: the finds from the 1st to 7th century AD from the former Prussia Museum in Königsberg now in museums in Berlin (Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte) and Kaliningrad (Regional Museum of History and Arts)’.

The project aims to bring together, at least virtually, the unparalleled holdings of the Prussia Collection, now divided between Berlin and the Russian city of Kaliningrad. The work with the collections of the Prussia Museum encompasses the scholarly investigation and digital documentation of the surviving objects, as well as the reconstruction of the archaeological contexts of the graves and cemeteries in which they were found. International cooperation and concrete scholarly collaboration with the project partners in Russia, as well as in Poland and Lithuania, form essential components of the project. The analysis of these archaeological collections plays a key role in developing a better understanding of the history of the southern Baltic region in the first millennium of the Common Era.

The current documentation status of the Berlin holdings from the Prussia Collection can be viewed online: www.smb-digital.de and www.prussia-museum.eu

Contact: Dr. Christoph Jahn and Izabela Szter, research assistants, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte

Since 2010, Berlin’s Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte has been involved in an international archaeological research project in Romania, where the largest prehistoric settlement in Europe uncovered to date is currently being examined. The site is protected by four defensive walls with a total length of 33 km and covers an area of 17.2 square kilometres. After sondages (trial trenches) were dug over a period of five years from 2007 to 2013, archaeologists were able to date the fortifications to the late Bronze Age (about 14th or 13th century BCE). Through magnetometer surveys and systematic surface surveys it was possible to establish that dwellings once covered large areas inside the walls and that a city-like settlement must have existed. Further excavations are planned for the coming years. The main focus of the investigation will be on the structures within the fortifications: how were the dwellings constructed; how were they arranged? Moreover, the question arises as to what caused the demise of the huge settlement in the early Iron Age.

Since sommer 2013 this project is sponsored by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.
Contact person: Dr. Bernhard Heeb, research associate, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte
Duration: since 2010

In January 2012, the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte joined forces with the 'Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology' in Schleswig (close to the Danish border) to embark on a long-term research project.

The project, with the title 'Research Continuity and Continuity Research – Settlement-Archaeological Basic Research into the Iron Age in the Baltics', entails the reconstruction and re-evaluation of the many historical archaeological investigations made in the regions of former East Prussia. This archaeological tradition experienced an abrupt demise in the political and territorial restructuring that took place in the wake of the Second World War and the disintegration of the Prussia Collection (previously on display in Königsberg, now Kaliningrad). The rediscovery of the holdings in Kaliningrad, in Poland, and in Berlin means that since the 1990s archaeologists once again have recourse to an array of primary source material that was, for decades, believed lost.

The project is spearheaded by the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte (Prof. Dr. Matthias Wemhoff) and the Zentrum für Baltische und Skandinavische Archäologie in Schleswig (Prof. Dr. Claus von Carnap-Bornheim). Funding is provided by the Academy of Sciences and Literature, Mainz, (AdW). The project, due to run for 18 years, currently employs three scholars, and will provide up to 18 PhD students with practical training. Close ties already exist with institutions in Poland, Russia, Lithuania, and in several other countries, as a means to regain this dense archaeological landscape, once so rich in finds, and to safeguard the unique cultural heritage of this now fragmented East Baltic region and to make it accessible to researchers of all countries.

Contact person: Dr. Heide Eilbracht, research associate, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte
Duration: since January 2012

Initial scientific and archaeological studies verify the authenticity of the grave goods acquired in 2007. By dating the objects to the first half of the 5th century, they form a link between the late Roman graves of the ‘chef militaire’ and the early Merovingian ruler’s graves with gold-hilt spathae.

The find complex includes the gold-hilt spatha with matching equipment, including a locket with runic inscriptions, other weaponry, mounts from the belt and insignia. The high rank of the deceased is further evident in additional grave offerings of the horse harness and a rich set of glassware, bronze plates, and terra sigillata vessels. From a typological and chronological perspective, the complex appears to be a closed find. Analysis of fabrication technique and archaeometrical investigations should shed light on the cultural-historical background of the old find for which no records exist as to the exact location of its discovery.

Contact person: Dr. Marion Bertram, research associate, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte

Commission for the Research of Collections of Archaeological Finds and Documents from Northeast Central Europe (KAFU)

The political changes that swept across Europe after 1990 gave shape to the idea to reconstruct the former prehistoric and protohistoric collections of eastern Germany and the eastern Baltic region, which were broken up or destroyed after the Second World War. It was hoped that the selective re-examination of surviving remnants of archaeological collections and archival material would recreate the lost source material.

To this end the Commission for the Research of Collections of Archaeological Finds and Documents from Northeast Central Europe (KAFU) was founded in Berlin on 21 June 2001. A few years earlier, in 1997, German and Polish experts from museums and universities had already set up such a commission that provided the organizational basis for the project’s regional office that then opened at the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte in 2001 and which was funded by the German Archaeological Institute.

The KAFU is run from the offices of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage); according to its charter, its chairman is the director of the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte. Colloquia have been held every two years since 2001 and are designed to provide an overview of current progress made in interpreting the relevant sources and in fulfilling the tasks set by the commission. The KAFU also provides funding for scientific publications dealing with the material relevant to the tasks of the commission.

Contact person: Dr. Heino Neumayer, research associate, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte
Duration: since 2001

In a project that has been ongoing for several years and which is held between various scientific institutions, the thousands of objects in the Troy Collection (which spans some 9700 inventory numbers) are currently undergoing scientific analysis. The ‘Collection of Trojan Antiquities’ was presented as gift from the excavator Heinrich Schliemann to the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte in the 1880s. In an initial publication, released in 2008, large parts of the collection were presented in great detail. The second volume in the series is planned for 2014. The Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte is responsible for the scientific management of the project and is working closely with Prof. Dr. Dieter Hertel, University of Cologne, and Prof. Dr. Ernst Pernicka, University of Tübingen.

Almost all precious-metal objects in Schliemann’s collection were confiscated by the Soviet Union in 1945 as looted art. They are presently on show at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. The groundwork is being laid for a collaborative project with Moscow for the application of new analytical methodologies on the artefacts. Such studies have already been made on the few remaining gold and silver objects in Berlin, coordinated by our chief conservator Hermann Born.

Contact person: Dr. Bernhard Heeb, research associate, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte