Description of the project

Sheet on grave 17 from the cemetery of Tilsit-Splitter handwritten by Felix Peiser (PMA_0772_01.pdf: page 18). © Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

The project "The archaeological local files from Königsberg in East Prussia", which is connected to the Museum of Prehistory and Early History (Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte – MVF) in Berlin, deals with a particularly valuable archival collection from former East Prussia. The Prussia Museum in Königsberg possessed one of the most important collections of Pre- and Early History for the Baltic region as well as for pan-European research. Because of the Second World War, the collection was torn apart. Documents and finds lost their context, were damaged or destroyed. For a long time, researchers assumed that the unique collection had been completely lost. It was not until the political changes of the 1990s that it became clear that large parts had survived in Berlin as well as in Olsztyn and Kaliningrad. Since then, the collection has been gradually reconstructed, secured for research and made accessible.

The so-called Ortsarchiv, that is the pictorial and written documentation of the archaeological sites in East Prussia, is now held in trust in Berlin. In the course of sifting and reconstruction, the local files were newly compiled into a total of 2,184 file volumes. They document 2,006 sites. Generally these represent the local district of the same name, on whose area there may be a varying number of monuments, such as burial grounds, castle ramparts or hoard finds, dating from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages. The aim of the project is to make these archival records usable through their professional transcription, their systematic recording, indexing and their analogue and digital presentation.

The documents were written between 1826 and 1943 in German by hand or by typewriter. The authors are scientists and other employees in state or municipal institutions, but also teachers, pastors and civil servants who dealt with the prehistoric heritage in the region within the framework of the Physikalisch-Ökonomische Gesellschaft, the Altertumsgesellschaft Prussia or as “Kreispfleger” (volunteer assistants). Landowners and private persons also reported archaeological finds.

The records contain archaeological knowledge that has been largely unheard of to this day. Only a few of the sites discovered in the 19th and first half of the 20th century have been published on a larger scale. Even a site that was famous at the time, such as the Viking cemetery in the Kaup near Wiskiauten in Samland, was described in the daily press, but a scientific catalogue was never presented. In addition, the documents also offer a huge potential of facts and details about cultural life and its development since the early 19th century in the region. The people involved at various levels and their motives for dealing with local antiquities come alive in the files. The gradual institutionalisation and professionalisation can also be traced, as well as the political instrumentalization of archaeology and regional history from the 1930s at the latest.

Find report by the “Kreispfleger” Kurt Gettkant on a grave in Langenfeld, Kr. Gerdauen (PMA_1933_01.pdf: page 2). © Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

More than two thirds of the documents are handwritten in German Kurrentschrift, Sütterlin or Latin cursive. The former in particular are not easily readable today for non-German-speaking colleagues or younger researchers. The often fragmented or poor state of preservation of the papers and idiosyncratic personal handwriting of individual persons make deciphering them even more difficult. In order to make these documents accessible to a wide range of users, a group of volunteers has been transcribing the local files since 2014/15.

These transcripts will be editorially standardised and professionally revised in the project. In addition, their archaeological content is systematically recorded, indexed and then made available in digital form in the database of the Academy project "prussia museum digital". Thus, users have access not only to the digitised original document but also to the citable transcript.

The transcripts are revised according to districts. The naming and spelling of the districts and site names follows the official directory "Die Wohnplätze des deutschen Reiches" by Oskar Brunkow from 1892. The 'Brunkow' formed the basis for the extensive site thesaurus during the reorganisation of the site files at the Museum of Prehistory and Early History. This was then transferred to the database in the same form.

After editorial processing and indexing of the file volumes of a district, the respective transcripts are uploaded into the database. Under the heading "Local files by district”, a characterisation of the respective file material can be found with regard to the quantity of sites and documents, the scientific significance and the distribution on different categories of finds and monuments. The "Document of the district" provides a detailed view. Here, a single document is presented that may be particularly attractive, interesting or even curious. In the synopsis of all the "Documents of the District" there will be a cross-section of the various types of documents present in the Prussia local files, but also of the monument groups and the Pre- and Early history of East Prussia.

The local files from the Prussia Museum in Königsberg form a historical source inventory of German cultural heritage whose contents on archaeology and cultural history will be more easily accessible for national and international research in the future. This is important not only for modern archaeological heritage preservation, but also for university research and museum presentation of the diverse archaeological evidence and thus the long history of the region.