Deer Antler Mask from Biesdorf Added to the Permanent Collection of the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte

Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte

A remarkable archaeological find dating back to Berlin’s prehistoric era is now on display as part of the permanent collection at the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte: the roughly 11,000-year-old deer mask from Biesdorf will be housed in its own display case in the Neues Museum’s Stone Age hall.

The deer mask from Biesdorf is among the oldest human-made artefacts found in the Berlin region. It was unearthed in 1953 in the course of construction work conducted along the Wuhle river in Berlin-Biesdorf. The mask is approximately 11,000 years old and was preserved in the calciferous silt of what was once a lake depression. The back of the deer’s head has been cleanly sliced off, and both of its antlers have been bisected lengthwise, thereby retaining only half their weight. Objects such as this were most likely worn as ornamental headdresses – a hypothesis that is substantiated by the decision to reduce the weight of the antlers and by the fact that other similar artefacts had holes drilled into them that were presumably used to fasten the masks to a person’s head, for example using leather straps. Similar finds have been made in England and Germany dating back to the early Mesolithic period – around 9000 to 8000 BC. Deer antler masks – especially those that have been as pristinely preserved as the mask from Biesdorf – are incredibly rare, and provide us with invaluable insight into the ritual practices of Stone Age humans.

Collaboration with the Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin

Until recently, the Biesdorf deer mask was on display at the Stadtmuseum Berlin. Ever since it was founded more than 190 years ago, the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte had collected archaeological artefacts – first from Prussia, and later from all over Europe. When the Märkisches Provinzialmuseum was founded in 1874, a second institution was created that went on to amass a collection of artefacts pertaining to the prehistory and early history of Berlin and Brandenburg. After the Second World War, the prehistoric collection of the Märkisches Museum was held in trust at the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, negotiations were conducted regarding the question of where the archaeological collections should be held.

A recent cooperation agreement with the Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin (formerly the Märkisches Museum) stipulates that the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte is to preserve Berlin’s archaeological artefacts in trust on a long-term basis. This decision sees the deer mask move from Biesdorf to the Neues Museum, where it will join other extraordinary finds dating back to the end of the last ice age and the beginning of the current interglacial period, including the Hansaplatz Elk and the Combe-Capelle Skull. This special piece of Berlin’s prehistory will be displayed in a central position in the museum and will be housed in its very own display case.