Located in the historic German town of Halle an der Saale, the State Museum of Prehistory provides fascinating glimpses into the past. The museum is located in an impressive building, which was completed in 1918, some way away from the centre of the town and besides the old town and churches it is one of the highlights of Halle. The museum is the central museum of the federal state of Sachsen-Anhalt and has much to offer, both for experts of prehistory and those entirely new to the subject. The museum contains one of the oldest and most impressive collections of archaeological objects in the whole of Germany.
The collection, consisting of more than 15 million objects, contains some unique objects, which are displayed in a highly informative and appealing manner throughout the. In one room, the skeleton of a wood elephant welcomes the visitor – a delightful display, particularly appealing for children. The size and importance of the collection is partly explained by the fact that there was no serious damage to the holdings in World War II and that it was actively supported by the regime of the GDR. The museum is divided into six thematic sections, which are also chronologically ordered. Taken together, the museum covers a period of more than 400.000 years – from the early Stone Age to the Roman Empire. In the following years, the permanent exhibition will be extended even further, to the Middle Ages and early modern period. The material traces that humans and animals left behind in this long time-span are accessible through an audio guide and informative descriptions. Illustrating the sheer number of objects are the walls covered in archaeological finds, or the many animal skeletons on display throughout the museum.
Of the many fascinating objects, two parts of the museum stood out to me. The first one were the burials of Eula (Bestattungen von Eula), a series of four burials of men, women and children, between one and forty years old. Instead of having the burials underneath the visitors, the bones are displayed upright, making it possible to look at the skeletons in great detail. Interesting explanations help the visitor to understand not only what happened to the people, but also what we can learn from the skeletons. The museum shows the most recent dating techniques and traces the ancestry between the people buried in this space. For example, one grave consists of father, mother and two children and archaeologists have also determined that five of the thirteen people buried in the graves died a violent death.
Perhaps the most impressive object in the exhibition is the sky disc of Nebra. Added to a blue-green disc, golden elements symbolizing the moon and stars, this disc is considered to be the oldest concrete depiction of the cosmos. It may have been used as an astronomical tool, but may have had religious significance as well and it is recognized as an object of particular importance by UNESCO. The disc was found with other tools and is displayed in a small, separate room, solely dedicated to this fascinating object. Much still remains a mystery about the disc, but extensive explanations help to put the disc, its history and significance into context. For this disc alone, the moderate price of entry would be worthwhile.
Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte
06114 Halle (Saale)
Adults: 8 €, concession 6€
* * *
Martin Christ is a post-doctoral researcher at the German Research Foundation funded Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations” (FOR 2779) at the University of Erfurt, Germany. He works on religious toleration as well as dying and death in urban contexts. He specializes in European history, c. 1500-1800, and is particularly interested in religious history. In his free time, he enjoys going to museums, historical and otherwise.