History of archaeological research about megaliths in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

The history of archaeological research about megaliths in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern must be seen as part of the history of archaeology in general (Trigger 1989; Schnapp 1996), and as part of the study and interpretation of megaliths in particular (Schirnig 1979; Mohen 1989: chapter 1).

The brief overview that follows is based mainly on the accounts of Ewald Schuldt (1972: 9f.) and Christoph Steinmann (1995). In addition, I have consulted the more specific histories of archaeological research by Ludwig Giesebrecht about the period between 1517 and 1737 (1847; 1850/2), by Ingeburg Nilius about Neolithic studies (1971: 9f.), by Horst Keiling about the history of the collection of antiquities and of monument protection (1983), and by Willi Lampe about northern Vorpommern (1991).

Beginnings in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries

The beginnings of an interest in archaeological sites in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern reaches back to the collections of curiosities, which included ancient finds, during the Renaissance (see Wollf 1995; cf. Schnapp 1996: chapter 2). The oldest written references to antiquities in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern date to the early 16th century. In 1517, Bugenhagen described various ancient sites, and at around the same time Nicolas Marschalk, who was probably already in charge of excavations on behalf of Duke Heinrich V. of Mecklenburg, described different sorts of burials and also depicted a megalith (Lisch 1837: 15f.; Wollf 1995: 200–204). Around 1535, the Pommeranian historian Thomas Kantzow described megaliths, which he called "tumuli gigantis", as consisting out of 6 side- and 3 cap-stones (Giesebrecht 1850/2: 139–147). During the second half of the 16th century the first lecture about prehistory was given at the University of Rostock (Leube 1965: 8).

The first recording of an explicit investigation of a megalith dates from 1594 when (probably) professors of the University of Greifswald excavated a site near Buggenhagen, where they found human skeletons as well as stone tools and ancient pots (Giesebrecht 1850/2: 157; see also Temme 1840: 213).

The 17th century was largely dominated by political and military events in connection with the Thirty Years' War and few people seem to have had an interest in archaeology. But it is known that Duke Philipp II had an interest in antiquities and his collection included not only ancient coins and art, but also some local finds, none of which have survived (Giesebrecht 1850/2: 150–161, 169).

The 18th century was the age of the enlightenment and various people, among them Pfarrer E.H.Wackenroder and Benjamin Printz, became interested in the ancient monuments and finds of their locality (e.g. Wackenroder 1730: part one). But several megaliths in Müggenhall had already been blown up with gun powder around 1700 (Lampe 1991: 5). In 1727, again professors from Greifswald started what may have been the first archaeological excavation in Germany with explicit scientific aims. They investigated an urn-cemetery of the pre-Roman Iron Age near Weitenhagen and the results were published by Professor Nettelbladt in 1729 (Giesebrecht 1847: 148–152). A village founded later at the same location was appropriately named Potthagen (Lampe 1991: 5)!

In the mid 18th century Duke Christian Ludwig II. of Mecklenburg supported the excavation of several burial mounds and made efforts to extend his collections of antiquities, which he hoped to become one of the largest in northern Germany (Lisch 1837: 3f.; Leube 1965: 9).

Antiquarians of the 19th and early 20th century

In the 19th century a particularly large number of megaliths was destroyed for road-building. This threat as well as the on-going fights against treasure hunters and grave robbers led to efforts of monument protection. Ancient monuments became more and more valued for their historical value and tokens of a national German identity, which emerged especially after the successful completion of the liberation wars against Napoleon in 1815 (Reifferscheid 1935: 266f.; cf. the work of Caspar David Friedrich).

The earliest official excavations of megaliths in Vorpommern were conducted at the end of the 18th century on Rügen by Pastor Franck, and near Parchim on behalf of councillor Loescher. Larger excavations started in Mecklenburg in the first decade of the 19th century on behalf of Grand Duke Friedrich Franz I of Mecklenburg, who hoped to extend his collection of antiquities—the "Friderico-Francisceum". F.W.Zink investigated at least 40 megaliths for him, but the detailed reports have not survived. Friedrich Franz was also responsible for the first German law for the protection of monuments, which he drew up in 1804 (Lisch 1837: 4–9).

Of particular significance in the history of archaeological research in Mecklenburg was the antiquarian Friedrich Lisch (1801–1883) who founded the Verein für mecklenburgische Geschichte und Altertumskunde (Society for Mecklenburgian History and Archaeology) in 1835 (Stuhr 1935). The annual publications (Mecklenburgische Jahrbücher) of that society contained general essays as well as numerous excavation reports and discussions of archaeological sites and finds (Jacobs 1995). Lisch as well as Pastor J.Ritter conducted many excavations of megaliths and their reports were published there too. In 1836, Lisch became the curator of Friedrich Franz' collection of antiquities. One year later he completed and published the comprehensive catalogue of the Friderico-Francisceum, which his predecessor Hans Rudolf Schröter had begun earlier (Beltz 1919).

In Vorpommern, the Verein für pommersche Geschichte und Altertumskunde (Society for Pommerian History and Archaeology) was founded in 1824. The major medium of publication for the area of (Vor-)Pommern became the journal Baltische Studien, which was founded in 1832.

The work of Friedrich von Hagenow (1797–1865) has become very important for modern archaeological research about Rügen. His unique map of the ancient monuments on Rügen from 1829, which has been described as the first archaeological survey of antiquities in Germany (Leube 1965: 10), gives important evidence of the state of preservation at that time and thus the number of megaliths and barrows destroyed since then. His written work was later published by Rudolf Baier (1904), who was the first director of the regional museum in Stralsund. During the second half of the 19th century another scholar from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern made his name as an archaeologist and contributed decisely to the development of the whole discipline: Heinrich Schliemann.

The successor of Lisch as curator of the stately collection of antiquities became Robert Beltz (1854–1942) who also excavated and published several megaliths. Beltz lay the foundations for all archaeological research and monument protection in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern until the present day. He retired from his position after 50 years in office, in 1930.

Archaeologists of the mid and later 20th century

During the 1930s, new excavations of megaliths took place, for example in Lütow-Netzelkow on Usedom. Contemporary archaeologists of some merit included Otto Kunkel and Wilhelm Petzsch (Lampe 1991: 7). During the National Socialist government (1933–1945) archaeological research in Germany received a general boost, although during the last few years of the war and for about a decade afterwards, virtually all research was put on hold (cf. Arnold and Haßmann 1995).

From 1938 onwards, Ernst Sprockhoff (1892–1967) undertook a systematic survey of megaliths in northern central Europe, as part of which he also visited and catalogued the megaliths of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Interrupted in his studies by the war, he concluded his work afterwards, and published altogether three volumes on the megaliths in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in 1967. His work is monumental in itself, containing full descriptions, plans, maps and photographs of all megaliths known to him.

Sprockhoff's work was out-dated within years when Ewald Schuldt (1914–1987) published the results of his major research campaign (1964–1972) in 1972 (for an evaluation of Sprockhoff's work by Schuldt, see pp. 10–12). Both scholars worked mainly from a culture-historically informed antiquarian perspective: they were interested first and foremost in the material evidence itself as well as in typologies and relative chronologies. This research tradition was continued throughout the time of the GDR and up to the present-day.

In the German Democratic Republic (1949–1990), archaeology as whole was well organised and flourished (see Coblenz 1983). An important new law for the protection of archaeological sites in the GDR was passed in 1954. The central role for the archaeology of the northernmost part of the East German state was performed by the Museum für Ur- und Frühgeschichte in Schwerin which had responsibility for the museum as well as all for all rescue and many research activities in the area. This institution was founded in 1953 under the directorship of Ewald Schuldt, who remained in the same position until his retirement in 1981, when he was suceeded by his deputy Horst Keiling. All work in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern was organised from the Museum functioning as a central head office in Schwerin, with branches in Stralsund and Waren (see map). Besides the professional archaeologists, many lay-people played important roles in rescue work all over the country, and small journals kept them informed about wider issues and new research.

The Museum für Ur- und Frühgeschichte in Schwerin, which employed eleven archaeologists, generated a great number of publications, and there was also important work published by the Akademie der Wissenschaften in East Berlin. The main publication forum for current archaeological research in the districts of Schwerin, Rostock and Neubrandenburg were the annual year-books Bodendenkmalpflege in Mecklenburg (since 1953) which the museum published. Since 1959 there were also picture catalogues about collections of the museum published annually. In addition, a prestigious academic monograph series was founded in 1976, the Beiträge zur Ur- und Frühgeschichte der Bezirke Rostock, Schwerin und Neubrandenburg.

Much of the research about megaliths was published by Schuldt himself in a staggering series of papers and a separate monograph (1972). But other archaeologists made substantial contributions too; among them were Adolf Hollnagel, Erika Nagel, Günter Rennebach, and Ulrich Schoknecht. Other relevant publications include Ingeburg Nilius' monograph about the Neolithic in Mecklenburg from 1971, and Hans-Jürgen Beier's dissertation B (habilitation) about the megaliths in the GDR, which was published in 1991. My research is based on the work of many of these earlier scholars, especially Schuldt, and would not have been possible without their thorough and comprehensive reports. Based on Schuldt's list (1972a: table A) I studied the records of all known megaliths in present-day Mecklenburg-Vorpommern for associated later prehistoric evidence.

Archaeological research since 1990

Since German unification in 1990, archaeological research in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has been thoroughly transformed.

The Departments (and chairs) in pre- and protohistoric archaeology at the Universities of Rostock and Greifswald were first established in 1940 and continued to operate during the entire period of the GDR. In 1997, the section for pre- and protohistory within the Institut für Altertumswissenschaften in Rostock was decided to be closed down .

Shortly after 1990, the Museum für Ur- und Frühgeschichte was replaced as a research institution by the Landesamt für Bodendenkmalpflege in Lübstorf near Schwerin. Friedrich Lüth became the new director of both the Museum and the Landesamt, a position which is now called Landesarchäologe (state archaeologist). The Landesamt continues to work also from the two old branches in Waren and Stralsund. It has continued the main publication series of the former Museum; only the titles were adapted to the new administrative system.

The permanent exhibition of the Museum für Ur- und Frühgeschichte (now Archäologisches Landesmuseum) was closed in 1992, but a recent temporary exhibition presented an overview over archaeological rescue work in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern since 1991 (Lüth 1995). Part of the Archäologisches Landesmuseum is the open-air museum in Groß Raden.

A new law for the protection of archaeological (and historical) sites was passed in 1993.


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© Cornelius Holtorf