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390 Million Years of History

May 11, 2003

An exhibition of the most spectacular finds from a quarter of a century of archeological excavation in Germany is on show in Bonn.

A Roman facemask unearthed in Germany is just one of the many archeological masterpieces on display.Image: Museum und Park Kalkriese, Bramsche

Archeology conjures up images of lost cultures and dusty treasures in faraway lands in most people’s minds. But now an exhibition showcasing some of the most extraordinary archeological finds in Germany over the past 25 years enables visitors to see first-hand the fruits of this obscure field of research.

Take for example the Messel fossil pit in the state of Hesse. The site was set to become a waste disposal site in the 1980s. Then its wealth of plant and animal fossils came to light, giving scientists access to traces of life 49 million years ago, in a lush primeval forest with a nearly tropical climate. The site, deemed Germany’s only UNESCO World Natural Heritage site in 1995, has not yet been fully explored and continues to reveal more about prehistoric times.

Until August 24, 2003, around 4,000 of the most spectacular finds of the past quarter century will be accessible to the public in the exhibition “Peoples through Time and Space -- Archeology in Germany" at the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn.

The exhibition, which took five years to compile, is grouped into 26 sections, moving chronologically from prehistoric times to modern history. It pursues the question of whether the Neanderthal -- first discovered in the Neander Valley near Düsseldorf in 1856 -- was actually a predecessor of homo sapiens. Visitors can also see the oldest spears in the world as well as a flute made from a swan’s bone, presumably the oldest musical instrument on earth.

Celts, Romans and Germans

Goldene Kreuzfibel
A Celtic cross from a burial site.Image: Archäologisches Landesmuseum, Stuttgart

Artifacts from the Celtic city of Manching, including burial graves and shrines, loot from pillaging Germanic groups and the routes of a Roman legion in 15th century B.C. are all explored in the show.

The exhibition’s curator Wilfried Menghin wasn’t afraid to deal with Germany’s darkest chapter either. The Nazi era occupies archeologists on a daily basis in Germany. Before construction workers erect new buildings, archeologists are ushered in to ensure that cultural and historical artifacts are not sealed in. Such was the case in Rathenow in the state of Brandenburg in 2000. On show are archeological finds from prisoners in an outpost of the concentration camp Sachsenhausen from 1944 and 1945.