The history of grave robbing is older than archaeology. In Germany there is nearly a stretch of land not being searched by illicit excavators. Their tools are metal detectors, spades and detailed maps. With that they not only steal important single finds, they also destroy the find context without which scientific insights into our past are impossible.
From 26 October 2013 to 26 January 2014 the Archaeological Museum Hamburg presented the exhibition “Illicit Excavators and Grave Robbers” (with the catchier German title “Raubgräber – Grabräuber”). Based on find stories it showed the fascinating methods and possibilities of modern archaeology and explained how grave robbery irretrievably destroys our cultural heritage. The exhibition adressed the problems that arise with illicit excavations and the trade with cultural properties nationally and internationally as well as the opportunities for everyone to meaningfully take part in archaeological research.
There were and still are a lot of illicit excavations all over the world. A really adventurous case is the find history of the Nebra sky disc. The exhibition showed many more problems associated with grave robbery from North Germany up to the Near East. Hamburg alone is riddled with more than 3,000 historic sites in the entire city. Repeatedly traces of unknown settlements and graveyards are unearthed during construction works. They are the remains of humans of bygone eras and thus part of the historic heritage and part of our culture and history.
The protection, the maintenance, the preservation and the research of all archaeological (historic) sites are regulated by the law of the Hamburger Denkmalschutzgesetz. The Archaeological Museum Hamburg accomplished this public duty for the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. According to the so-called “großes Schatzregal” (“great treasure trove”) archaeological finds become upon finding the property of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg if the former owner can not be determined. The exhibition shed a light upon the work of archaeologists and showed how they work together with “private” treasure hunters.
The exhibition concept supported a whole unique level of content especially for children: Additional child-oriented texts, join-in exhibits and an identification figure led through the exhibition and imparted playfully the knowledge of how archaeologists and paleontologists work when recovering lost artifacts.
“Illicit Excavators and Grave Robbers” was an exhibition from the Landesmuseum Natur und Mensch Oldenburg.
The Harburg Kulturtag (“culture day”) in the autumn of each year has become an integral part of the lively art and culture scene in Hamburg. This year it takes place for the 17th time. On Sunday, the 8th of November, from 12.00 to 20.00 all important cultural institutions from Harburg present themselves here.
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