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Continuity of research and research of continuity

Dr. Timo Ibsen, Dr. Jaroslaw Prassolow, Annika Sirkin M.A.

Basic research on settlement archaeology of the Iron Age in the Baltic region

Brief description of the research project

The former East Prussia now lies partly in the Russian Federation (Kaliningrad Oblast) and partly – the southern portion – in Poland. Together with the neighbouring Baltic areas, it forms a unique research region from the archaeological point of view. Given its natural abundance of amber and its convenient location on the transportation routes between several major geographical regions of Europe, the area along the southeastern coast of the Baltic Sea has always been involved in trading activities and migration processes, absorbing cultural influences from all sides. The first millennium AD, in particular, is marked by a remarkable density of archaeological sites, which indicates an exceptional level of settlement continuity that has few, if any, parallels in the whole Baltic region.

Apuole in Lihuania

The long and fruitful continuity of pre-war archaeological research in the former East and West Prussian regions and in the adjacent territories of the Baltic States to the north collapsed almost completely in the political and territorial restructuring after the Second World War. The primary reason for this collapse was the loss, due to the war, of many museum collections of archaeological finds and, in particular, the accompanying original excavation records. Neither the literature published to date nor the post-war research undertaken in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and, especially, the Russian Kaliningrad area, has been able to compensate for this break in research continuity. Moreover, the academic interpretation of the archaeological source material became subject to the prevailing political viewpoint in the respective regions: this was very detrimental to an overall consideration of settlement-archaeology processes.

Prussia Collection, archive material

The rediscovery of large parts of the so-called Königsberg Prussia Collection, including its archaeological finds and, above all, the original German excavation records, has meant that a priceless, as yet untapped archive has again been available since the 1990s. International cooperation can now be brought to bear on a reassessment of this extraordinary archaeological region, with the inclusion of the most recent research results. At the same time, the archaeological use of new technologies (GIS-supported analyses of an area’s structure, large-scale geophysical surveys or scientific analytical methods), which are standard practice today, together with the opportunities for international fieldwork, have for the first time provided a solid basis for comprehensive settlement-archaeology research. Especially the numerous Burgwälle (fortified settlements) in the research area, which date to between 500 BC and AD 1250, are easily located starting points for investigations into the settlement processes in a highly interesting area of European culture. These must have served as structural hubs for society and settlement during the first millennium AD, which eventually led to the formation of local and supra-regional centres. They were also melting pots of cultural influences from north, south, east and west, which formed the basis upon which the later systems of ruling power were founded.

Map of the examined areaThe proposed project is to digitize, study and publish the rich archival and find material from the earlier German research, thus forging links both with the interrupted continuity of pre-war archaeological research and the post-war sources. The project would then address the investigation of settlement processes in the Baltic region by studying selected typical settlement areas using an interdisciplinary methodological approach. The principal question here is: What factors led to the development of long-term settlements in specific locations? The project will also consolidate existing archaeological traditions and integrate the academic cultures of eastern and western Europe. Concurrent investigations based on theoretical research will analyse and reappraise both past and future interpretation models in a critical and self-reflexive manner.

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