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Missing Berlin museum inventory lists discovered in Dresden

Neues Museum

Several historical catalogues of works that once belonged to the Berlin Museum of Prehistory and Early History have recently been found in Dresden and were officially returned to the National Museums in Berlin on 30 March 2011.

The three very unassuming books resurfaced during a review of documents held at the local authorities' archaeology offices in Saxony. Two of them belong to the 'Inventarium Vaterländischer Altertümer' (or 'Inventory of Ancient Artefacts of the Fatherland') which has been missing since 1945 and originally encompassed six, hand-written folios. Illustrated with numerous drawings by hand, the museum catalogue contains detailed information on important archaeological finds from across the whole of Prussia which were absorbed in great numbers into the holdings of the Prussian State Museum of Prehistoric Archaeology after its founding in 1829. The objects had previously been held in the 'Kunstkammer', or cabinet of art, of the Hohenzollerns, a German royal family. Historian Dr. Leopold Freiherr von Ledebur (1799-1877), the founding director of the Prussian archaeological institute, which was housed in the Neues Museum from 1849, compiled the first volumes himself as far back as 1835 and preceded to maintain them single-handedly for more than 40 years. The third of the rediscovered catalogues, a record of archaeological acquisitions dating from the 1880s, includes details of several of the donations made to the Berlin Museums, by such figures as Rudolf Virchow (pathologist) and Heinrich Schliemann (excavator of Troy), to name but a few. It was the citing of names such as these that caused Dresden historian Ivonne Burghardt to suspect the valuable source materials were of Berlin provenance, after she came across them last year.

The three volumes found their way to Dresden via Russia. In 1958, when many museum artefacts were returned en masse by the USSR to the GDR, Soviet museum workers mistakenly attributed the volumes as belonging to the Dresden Art Collections. Now, some 53 years later, they have been returned to the museum whose oldest archaeological holdings they document. The delight among Berlin museum workers at their rediscovery was palpable. Their hope that all six folios of the 'Inventory of Ancient Artefacts of the Fatherland' will one day be reassembled in their rightful place, now no longer seems entirely unrealistic, in view of what has been dubbed the 'Dresden inventory find'.