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How Do Archaeologists Work?

Interactive exhibition in the Neues Museum with live excavations carried out by archaeology students at Freie Universität Berlin, open until April 19

№ 006/2020 from Jan 08, 2020

An interactive exhibition in the Neues Museum shows how archaeologists proceed with excavations, chronologically classify their finds, and recreate living environments from past times. Visitors can experience the reconstruction of archaeological finds live, for example at so-called block excavations, which are carried out in the museum by archaeology students from Freie Universität Berlin. In block excavations, blocks of earth containing archaeological objects are taken out of the ground and excavated later in detail under laboratory conditions. The objects are from excavations of an Ice Age site in Biesdorf-Habichtshorst in the Berlin district of Marzahn-Hellersdorf. They came from a teaching excavation in the Brandenburg town of Flatow in 2018. The live excavations in the museum are Thursdays and Fridays from 2 to 5 p.m., excluding holidays. The Research Area Biesdorf was conceived by the Museum of Prehistory and Early History in cooperation with the Landesdenkmalamt Berlin (State Monument Office). The Stadtmuseum Berlin, a youth project funded by the Berlin Project Fund for Cultural Education, and students from Freie Universität are also involved. The exhibition will run through April 19.

“The methods of block excavation are not usually taught at universities, as they rarely take place. This also applies to handling the urns in the blocks after excavation,” says archaeologist Dr. Morten Hegewisch from Freie Universität Berlin, who led the excavations at Flatow. During the 2018 spring/summer semester, he taught a class where students could learn the methods at the dig and later in the lab at the university. “Block excavations have the advantage that the recovered objects can be opened and excavated much later under controlled laboratory conditions and without time pressure,” explains Dr. Hegewisch. This is a good method for evaluating cremation remains in the urns, for example, according to age, gender, or diseases. Corroded remains of added objects such as knives or garment clips can also be preserved for scientific evaluation or museum purposes.

More than 50 urns from an urn burial ground were found during the excavations. “Burials from the 6th to the 1st century BC took place in ceramic vessels. The deceased were burned, the remaining pieces of bone were picked up, placed in ordinary vessels or organic mortuary containers such as pouches or wooden boxes, and finally buried in the ground or largely unprotected rubble,” says Dr. Morten Hegewisch. Agriculture, such as the use of plows, destroyed many of the ceramic vessels, so that only a few remains were preserved, for example the lower parts of the urns containing the cremation remains. “These meager, yet meaningful remains were excavated under great time pressure, wrapped in foil, and finally recovered as intact blocks,” he says.

“The students were very committed and brought new methods of documentation to the excavating of the urns at the university, such as the structure-from-motion process,” says Morten Hegewisch. In this process, a three-dimensional model of a recorded object is created from several images. It is necessary to record the area to be reconstructed from two to three different directions. In the end, a three-dimensional image can be rotated freely in space.

Time and Location of the Exhibition

  • Mondays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Live excavations, Thursdays and Fridays, 2 to 5 p.m. (excl. holidays)
  • Neues Museum, Bodestraße 1–3, 10178 Berlin

Link to More Information about the Exhibition



Dr. Morten Hegewisch, Institute of Prehistoric Archaeology, Freie Universität Berlin, Email: hegewisc@zedat.fu-berlin.de, Tel.: +49 30 838-55596