Archaeology in the Former German Democratic Republic since 1989

By Gringmuth-Dallmer, Eike | Antiquity, March 1993 | Go to article overview
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Archaeology in the Former German Democratic Republic since 1989

Gringmuth-Dallmer, Eike, Antiquity

The breakdown of the regime in the German Democratic Republic and the subsequent unification of Germany has had a deep impact on archaeological research, as on most spheres of life. Not all the consequences of the problems that have arisen have yet become completely apparent, and the creation of new structures is not yet complete. As a result, the necessary temporal detachment -- and also the internal detachment important for the author, who is involved in this reorganization -- is not sufficient for this to be a suitably balanced overall picture. Many statements, if they go beyond pure interpretation of facts, will be subjective and should be accepted as such.

The changes that have taken place since 1989 can only be understood by people who are acquainted with the previous state of affairs, and so I shall refer back to that period throughout the paper. This is all the more necessary since there has not yet been sufficient re-examination of the state of archaeological research in the German Democratic Republic. Apart from the work of Hansen (1964), which deals only with the beginnings, there is only the account by Behrens (1984) which is, particularly in its assessments, not satisfactory. This can also be said of some of his reviews (especially Behrens 1990), where he tries to analyse the theoretical basis of the subject. After unification Hansel (1991) produced a summary of prehistoric research in Berlin, and in this he demonstrated in particular the connections between scholarship and politics; his overview, however, has not gone uncriticized (Gringmuth-Dallmer 1991). The statements in this paper cannot therefore be proved in all details, but they arise from the personal knowledge and experience of the author, who worked in the Academy of Sciences in Berlin from 1968 to 1991.

The paper will not consider the larger concerns of archaeological work -- research, teaching and Bodendenkmalpflege (protection of archaeological monuments) -- separately, but will instead discuss four aspects that confront nearly every scholar. These are:

* the factual aspect

* the political aspect

* the subjective aspect of dealing with facts and politics

* the organizational-administrative aspect.

The factual aspect

In evaluating the essence of archaeological research since 1989 and its future development, the question of whether an archaeology typical of the GDR ever existed -- which, considering the political system, could only have been a Marxist one -- is of decisive importance.

If only the material and its interpretation, particularly as manifested in journals (apart from the Ethnographisch-Archaologische Zeitschrift), are considered this question has to be answered in the negative. There is hardly any article or monograph about an archaeological excavation or find which could not have been published unchanged in any scientific periodical in the West. This is true for the vast majority of the work published in the GDR, and there is thus no cause to make any fundamental changes in the content of research work.

Alongside this objective treatment attempts were made early on to interpret finds on the basis of Marxism-Leninism, the only philosophy declared acceptable by the Communist Party and the government leadership. This period was introduced by an article by Otto (1953), whose first quotation came from Stalin. The author tried in this way to make a career for himself through the Party. He was soon promoted to the rank of professor and took up influential positions at the university, as well as, from 1964, at the Academy of Sciences. He tried to get archaeology on the officially approved course by means of his students, by editing the Ethnographisch-Archaologische Zeitschrift, and by chairing the Fachgruppe Ur- und Fruhgeschichte der Historikergesellschaft der DDR (Pre- and Early History Group of the Society of Historians of the GDR). Werner (1953) analysed the principles of Otto's efforts, and he responded to the criticism (Otto 1954).

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