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Museums: A Brilliant Past in Berlin Volume 57 Number 1, January/February 2004
by Andrew Curry

Left, identations ringing this Bronze Age conical gold hat from southern Germany are thought to form a complex calendar. Right, bronze bowls and ornaments from a cache found in eastern Germany. Both finds date to around 1000 B.C. (Klaus Göken, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte) [LARGER IMAGE]

For almost six decades, the extensive archaeological collection of the Prussian kings was housed in two museums separated by the Berlin Wall. Now, after two years of extensive renovations, the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte (Museum for Pre- and Early History) has reunited the collections, putting them on display along with impressive new finds.

Housed in the majestic, massive Charlottenburg Palace, the museum traces its roots back 175 years, to the Prussian state archaeological collection, later augmented by the personal collections of the kaisers and the thousands of objects German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann excavated from Troy. On the eve of the Second World War, the museum's artifacts were packed into crates and hidden around the country. When conflict ended, Germany's archaeological treasures were seized as war booty by American and Russian soldiers. Not until 1958 did thousands of the artifacts make their way back to a divided Berlin. But there are still some glaring gaps--in particular, the 1,538 pieces of "Priam's Treasure" that remain in Moscow to this day.

Even without the Trojan gold, the museum is a stop well worth making, and off the beaten path--most tourists gravitate toward Berlin's spectacular Pergamon and Egyptian museums. The displays here are devoted to the development of early culture in Europe: from Spain to the Baltic Sea, the Caucasus to France, and are no less compelling. The highlights of the exhibit are the weaponry and elaborate brooches and helmets made between 2300 and 800 B.C., Europe's Bronze Age.

Once it goes on display later this year, the centerpiece of the collection will be the museum's "Gold Hat," an elaborately decorated ceremonial hat made of thinly beaten gold. At least 3,000 years old, the conical hat is one of several objects discovered in the past few years, among them a 3,600-year-old astronomical disk that points to the sophistication of Central Europe's Bronze Age. Hundreds of precise stamps that ring the hat are thought to make up a complex lunar-solar conversion calendar.

Andrew Curry is an associate editor at U.S. News and World Report

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© 2004 by the Archaeological Institute of America