The Legacies of Nazi Archaeology and Their Impact on Contemporary Prehistoric Research

Posted on December 7, 2015


Here are the last of the videos I did for the 2015 EAA conference in Glasgow. I learned a lot watching this presentations. While it should go without saying Nazis were and still are assholes it was interesting to learn about their treatment archaeologists- lots of them were killed. You were either a Nazi archaeologists or you were dead during the occupations of most of Europe. Something like 16 of 17 of Poland’s archaeologists were killed by the Nazis but you can watch the videos to learn more.

(if you are reading this via email or RSS you might not be able to see the videos or links)

Session Abstract:

Dr.Reena Perschke, Museum Lichtenberg. Dr.Martijn Eickhoff, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen. Mr.Daniel Modl,
Universalmuseum Joanneum
The Nazi rule in Germany and occupied Europe has had a significant impact on the development of continental prehistoric archaeology. One legacy is the creation of new departmens, which specialized in Germanic or Celtic history. Another effect was the development of national socialist archaeological terminology which is sometimes in use until today. In many European countries the occupation and repression between 1939 and 1945 included also the development of new monument acts, changes in academic education or reorganization of museums. Another legacy is the looting of museum objects by the Nazi organizations and the illegal export of excavation artefacts from occupied countries.This session aims to discuss those aspects of Nazi archaeology that continue to have an impact on the prehistoric research in contemporary Europe. How we should deal with the fact that the foundations of many contemporary doctrines, single technical terms, institutional structures and popular representations are dating back to the national socialist reign and thus may constitute national socialist legacies? What are the current efforts in the field of provenance research concerning looted archaeological objects? Building on the research on this topic of the last four decennia we especially aim to question what these legacies look like today and how we should continue to deal with them.

Introduction to The Legacies of Nazi Archaeology and Their Impact on Contemporary Prehistoric Research

The research of German archaeologist Robert Rudolf Schmidt in Croatia (1938-1943)

Ana Solter1, Dragana Rajkovic2, Jacqueline Balen1
R. R. Schmidt (1882-1950) was a German scholar active in the fields of archaeology, geology and ethnology, which he studied in Munich, Leipzig and Tübingen. He was the founder of Institute of Historical Research at the Tübingen University and headed the institution until 1929.However, under unclear circumstances, he left Germany and moved to the then Kingdom of Yugoslavia. He excavated three sites in Croatia: Vučedol (1938), Bapska (1938) and Sarvaš near Osijek (1942.-1943.) In the paper we will present circumstances of his excavations at Vučedol and Sarvaš, based on Archive material kept in the Museums in Zagreb and Osijek.The excavations at Vučedol Schmidt started in summer of 1938 without permissions of the Ministry of Culture, but V. Hoffiller, the director of the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb, reacted without hesitation and sent his associates to oversee the excavation and the safety of the excavated material, which Schmidt wanted to split without any legal right. Only with big efforts V. Hoffiller managed to store all of the archaeological finds from Schmidt excavation in Zagreb museum. In the midst of War Schmidt started another excavation in Croatia, at Sarvaš. For better understanding the circumstances of the research, the correspondence R. R. Schmidt maintained with prominent cultural workers and politicians of the Third Reich, as well as those of the Independent State of Croatia, plays a crucial role. This primarily refers to the researchers’ society Das Ahnenerbe and German ethnic group, which should have largely financed the excavations in Sarvaš.

Ethnic origin of past societies and contemporary land affiliation. Struggles between Polish and German prehistorians before, while and after World War II

Kamil Niedziółka
From the very beginning of Polish Archaeology as a modern academic field, researchers from Poland had to compete with German scholars. This struggle occurred on many fields of archaeological research and was also heavily influenced by political rivalry of Poland and Germany. Those difficult relations between academic representatives from two neighbouring countries were stoked by common and very complicated history of 20th century, especially during the inter war period. With the end of World War I Poland, as a recently restored country had to develop a strong legitimization for ownership of lands that previously were a part of The German Reich. Archaeology had to offer a significant help on this field. On the other hand German archaeologists conducted numerous efforts in the opposite direction. This situation became critical when the Nazi came to power. According to ideas developed by The Third Reich researchers, archaeology became rather a pseudo academic field, than a serious knowledge domain, with an unfortunately strong governmental support. The outbreak of The Second World War did not constrain the activity of German prehistorians; conversely it led them to conducting excavations in the occupied Poland, looting Polish museums or creating new and “archaeologically correct” names of Polish cities. To sum up, the main aim of this paper will be to show the “contribution” of Nazi archaeologist into research done on the
subject of Polish prehistory and its contemporary aftermath, with special attention to discussions of ethnic origin of prehistorical societies in the discussed area.

Race along the Dnieper – The rivalry of “Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg” and “Ahnenerbe” in Ukraine 1942/43 and the impact on current archaeological research

Daniel Modl1, Dmytro Teslenko2
During the German occupation of Ukraine in World War II major parts of the country were as “Reichskommissariat Ukraine” under German civil administration. As a result, numerous Ukrainian museums and the archaeological sites on the Crimea and the lower river course of the Dnieper were “playing fields” of German archaeologists. These were employees from two competing scientific organizations, the “Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg” (EER) and the “Ahnenerbe” of the SS, which competed for the best museum collections, archaeological sites and local prehistorians in Ukraine. However, the goal of both organizations was the same: the discovery of early settlement traces of Germanic tribes in order to legitimize the German occupation of the Ukraine. The talk focusses mainly on the archaeologists of the ERR under the guidance of Hans Reinerth (1900-1990). These archaeologists were in charge for the saving, reorganizing and re-opening of numerous Ukrainian collections and museums between 1942 and 1943, and also for extensive prospecting and excavations together with local researchers in the Dnieper Bend. The search concentrated mainly on tracks of the Migration Period (Völkerwanderungszeit), especially the Goths, who were counted among the Germans. The majority of the findings and the attendant field documentation have been deported by the end of 1943 to Nazi-Germany and are still missing today. This talk wants to show how the communist era has been dealing with the German research results and how the present Ukrainian archaeology is interpreting the sites which have been explored by the Nazis.

Ernst Sprockhoff and the development of German megalithic terminology

Reena Perschke
Since the 19th century, the German terminology for megalithic graves was part of the pan European system of Déchelette and Montelius. The monuments were defined as dolmen, passage grave or cist with predetermined criteria in their architecture (e.g. differences in the shape of entrance, chamber or tumulus). During the 1920s, the young archaeologist Ernst Sprockhoff (1892-1967) kept these terms to define North German monuments. But after the seizure of power of the National Socialism, he changed his definitions and introduced new German terms for the megalith graves to “prove” a Northern Proto-Indo-German origin of the monuments. His terminology was one of the foundations of the Reichsbund für Deutsche Vorgeschichte and the Ahnenerbe of the SS to declare megalithic regions in Europe as old Germanic settlement space which had to be “reconquered”. New terms like “Urdolmen” (“primal dolmen”) or architectural changes in the definition of a German “Ganggrab” (literally a “passage grave”) precluded henceforth the comparison of German and other European monuments. Sprockhoff, who had become in the meantime first director of the Romano-Germanic Commission, even compared Neolithic societies with actual politic conflicts. Finally, the Sprockhoff terminology was fixed in 1938 with his standard work about “The Nordic megalith culture” and his recording of about 900 German megalith graves in a multivolume catalogue. His terminology was taken over by archaeologists of both German states (GDR and FRG). Till today, it is exercised uncritically in contemporary academic teaching, while German and other European terms for megalithic structures still do not fit.


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