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Research

The collection of the Vorderasiatisches Museum (Museum of the Ancient Near East) comprises works of architecture, art and handicrafts, as well as everyday objects, primarily from archaeological excavations in Mesopotamia, Anatolia and the Levant. The collection provides a glimpse into 6,000 years of cultural history, from the first human settlements and the development of writing through to the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires. The highlights of the museum include the unique monumental reconstructions of architectural structures.

The collection reflects the foundations that were built upon by the cultures of the ancient world and the Islamic cultures that followed on from them, as can be seen in the artefacts on display in the Pergamonmuseum.

Along the central axis of the museum are the monumental, brilliantly coloured architectural structures of Babylon, with the Processional Way, the Ishtar Gate and the Throne Room of King Nebuchadnezzar II, dating back to the 6th century BCE. The dark-blue wall surfaces are adorned with depictions of lions, bulls and dragons, symbols of the chief deities of Babylon.

Likewise reconstructed are the façades of the temple of Eanna from the ancient Sumerian city of Uruk, with mosaics made from coloured, baked-clay cones, and a temple façade with figural decorations. The city of Uruk is also intimately connected with the earliest stages in the development of writing in the 4th millennium BCE. Clay tablets and seals featuring cuneiform script document the spread of writing throughout the whole of the ancient Near East.

Imposing gatekeeper figures in the form of mythical creatures, casts of originals from Nimrud, watch over the reconstruction of a palace interior from the era of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, whose colourful wall decorations are based evidence from excavation finds. Praying figures from the Ishtar temple in Assur and masterfully produced works in stone, clay and metal from temple deposits underscore the skills of the inhabitants of Assur through the millennia.

The Vorderasiatisches Museum is one of the most important institutions when it comes to research into the cultural history of this region, both in Germany and around the world. Because a larger portion of the objects in the collection come from archaeological excavations and came to Berlin through partage, the objects themselves and the documentation of the contexts in which they were found represent an important resource for research in the field. With more than 30,000 items of cuneiform script, the museum also houses one of the biggest collections of Sumerian and Akkadian writings.

The Vorderasiatisches Museum collaborates closely with universities and museums right around the world.

ILLICID is a collaboration of arts scholars, information- and social scientists, cultural authorities and security agencies. The overall objective of this expert collaboration is to develop, document and implement best-practice tools and procedures for shedding light on the murky area of illegal trading in cultural artefacts in Germany.

In an explorative pilot study, focussed on the sub-area of black-market traffiking in ancient cultural artefacts from the eastern Mediterranean, as much data as possible will be collected about the objects traded, the scale of the trafficking, the parties involved, their networks and routine operations, and, in particular, the potential for money-laundering. The latest political developments in such countries as Syria, Iraq and Egypt have led to an unprecedented intensification of the problem in the eastern Mediterranean, which has witnessed the systematic and comprehensive destruction of cultural assets, above all through illegal excavation and plunder. ILLICID is being conducted in collaboration with the GESIS – Leibniz-Institute for the Social Sciences and the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology.

Project Director: Prof. Dr. Markus Hilgert
Funding / Project partner: ILLICID is being conducted in collaboration with the GESIS – Leibniz-Institute for the Social Sciences and the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology.

This project aims to make available, as a matter of urgency, museum-quality materials for the storage of cuneiform clay tablets.

The measure is urgently required because thousands of cuneiform tablets have been brought to the National Museum of Damascus from provincial museums since 2012 in order to save them from being plundered, especially by the so-called Islamic State. Without suitable storage, these unique early examples of human history documented in written form are at risk of very rapid decay, because of the climatic conditions and their precarious state of conservation. After several weeks of intensive planning in consultation with restorers from Damascus, suitable storage materials are therefore to be acquired and placed at the disposal of the National Museum of Damascus. The project is financed by funding from the German Foreign Office.

Project Director: Prof. Dr. Markus Hilgert
Funding / Project partner: The project is financed by funding from the German Foreign Office.