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Nazi archaeology

    Image:Ahnenerbe class.gif|thumb|right|280px|A class on Germanic runes at the Ahnenerbe

    Nazi Archaeology

    Nazi archaeology refers to the movement led by various Nazi leaders archaeologists and other scholars such as Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler to recreate the German past in order to strengthen nationalism This movement was based on ideas of Tacitus’ Germania which set out to bring the glory of the Roman Empire to the Germany


    The start of the search for a strongly nationalistic Aryan-centric national prehistory began after the loss of World War I in 1918 and was worsened by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles During this time period the country was in a financial and economical crisis and it was also the same time when Adolf Hitler began to rise to power Although Hitler was behind the parties funding for German prehistorical research the first inflectional prehistorian is said to be Gustaf Kossinna The theories and ideas of Kossinna were also picked by the Nazi organization Amt Rosenberg and Germanen-Erbe With the goal of findind proof of Germany as the start of civilization the Nazi Party were able to use psuedoarchaeology to manipulate the German people and pastArnold Bettina "The past as : How Hitler's archaeologists distorted European prehistory to justify racist" Archaeology July/Aug 1992: 30-37


    There were 5 basic tenets of Nazi archeological theory:
    1. Kulturkreis theory which stated that recognition of an ethnic region is based on the material culture excavated from an archeological site This theory gave the Nazi’s justification to try to take over of foreign lands such as the Poland and the Chez Republic For example in his article ‘The German Ostmark Gustav Kossina argued that Poland should be a part of the German empire since any lands where an artifact was titled “Germanic” was declared to be ancient Germanic territory "wrongfully stolen" by "barbarians"Arnold Bettina "The past as : How Hitler's archaeologists distorted European prehistory to justify racist" Archaeology July/Aug 1992: 30-37
    2. Social Diffusion theory which stated that cultural diffusion occurred from a process whereby influences ideas and models were passed on by more advanced peoples to the less advanced which they came into contact with Examples offered by Kossinna and Alfred Rosenberg presented a history of Germany equivalent to that of the Roman Empire suggesting that “Germanic people were never destroyers of culture- not like the Romans- and the French in recent times” Combined with Nazi ideology this theory gave the perfect foundation for the belief of Germany occurring the leading position in world civilizationChristopher Hale Himmler's Crusade: The Nazi Expedition to Find the Origins of the Aryan Racep200 Hoboken NJ: John Wiley & Sons 2003 ISBN 0-471-26292-7
    3. Weltanschauungswissenschaften or World View Sciences which stated that culture and science were as one and carried certain "race-inherent values" The theory suggested that older cultural models such as sagas stories and legends should be not only reincorporated into mainstream culture but that "the guiding principle in Germany must be to emphasize the high cultural level and the cultural self-sufficiency of the Germanic people” Examples were the use of Aryan-styled regalia such at the swatstika the use of German legends and runic symbols in the SS, and the idea that German scientists and their conclusions were more correct than the views of "lesser-race" scientists
    4. Zutreffenden Männer deutsche reinheit or Migration of Pure German Man suggested that Germans were pure Aryans who had survived a natural catastrophe and evolved a highly developed culture during their long migration to Germany It also suggested that Greeks were 'Germanic' claiming evidence that certain "Indogermanic" artifacts could be found in Greece This theory supported the Kulturkreis theory tangentally in that archeologists who did not approve of the uses of Kulturkreis theory (moderates) could support this theory
    5. The unspoken unpublished point of Nazi archology was summed up in the actions and purpose of the Ahnenerbe which was the wholesale creation of "archeology" that would support the propoganda machine of the Nazi regime

    Organizations and Operations

    (see Ahnenerbe This only deals with the Ahnenrbe's archological activities)
    The Ahnenerbe Organization commonly known as Deutsches Ahnenerbe – Studiengesellschaft für Geistesurgeschichte (German Ancestry - Research and Teaching Society) was an organization started as the Research Institute for the Prehistory of Mind and was connected to the SS in 1935 by Walther Darre In 1936 is was attached to Hitler’s Reichsfuhere-SS and led by chief of police Heinrich Himmler By 1937 it was the primary instrument of Nazi archology and archological propoganda subsuming smaller organizations like Reinerth's Archology Group and filling it's ranks with "investagators" These included people like Herman Weirt co-founder of the Ahnernerbe Organization who attempted to prove that Northern Europe was the cradle of Western Civilization Although it included some real archologists with extreme views such as Hans Reinerth and Oswald Meghin (who became high-ranking party officials due to their cooperation) much of the membership of Ahnenrbe were second-hand archologists or untrained scientists backed up by amateur enthusiastsKaterMichael; Das “Ahnenerbe” der SS 1935–1945 Ein Beitrag zur Kultur-politik des Dritten Reiches Munich 1997
    The main goals of the organization were:
    1. To study the space ideas and achievements of the Indo-Germanic people
    2. To bring the research findings to life and present them to the German people
    3. To encourage every German to get involved in the organization

    Although the organization claimed to have a goal in research Himmler had no official training in archaeology and was known for having interest in mysticism and the occult Himmler defined the organization as working toward a prehistory that demonstrates the pre-eminent position occupied by the Germans and their Germanic predecessors since the beginning of civilization He is quoted as saying “A people lives happily in the present and the future so long as it aware of its part and the greatness of its ancestors”Arnold Bettina "The past as : totalitarian archaeology in Nazi Germany" Antiquity Sept/Dec 1990: 464-478The Ahnenerbe had a large problem in finding scientists to work on the projects and was run by mainly scholars from branches of humanities which made their research more amateurish The group went on to be responsible for psuedo-archaeology such as open-air displays of Germanic idolatry such as the Externsteine a sandstone formation that was thought ot have been a key Germanic cult site Another example is the Sachsenhain were allegedly 4500 Saxons were executed as a punishment for Widukind’s uprising This site was used as an ideal shrine to the sacred Germanic people and their readiness for self-sacrefice
    Many other cases were censored from the public since they did not have the correct Germanic interpretations The sites choosen to excavate were limited to those of Germanic superiority such as Erdenburg were the Ahnenerbe claimed to have clear evidence of the victorious campaign of the Germani against the Romans
    Some of the Ahnenrbe's more extreme excavations:
    • Edmund Kiss tried to travel to Bolivia in 1928 to study the ruins of temples in the Andes mountains He claimed their similarity to ancient European construction indicated they were designed by Nordic migrants millions of years earlier
    • In 1938 Dr. Franz Altheim and his research partner Erika Trautmann requested the Ahnenerbe sponsor their Middle East trek to study an internal power struggle of the Roman Empire which they believed was fought between the Nordic and Semitic peoples
    • In 1936 they had an expiditions to German island of Rügen and then Sweden to examine rock-art which they concluded was 'proto-Germanic'
    • They took a huge interest in the Bayeux Tapestry going so far as to attempt archeological digs to find other contemporary artwork that would support their assertion of Germanic might
    KaterMichael; Das “Ahnenerbe” der SS 1935–1945 Ein Beitrag zur Kultur-politik des Dritten Reiches Munich 1997

    Goals of Nazi Archology

    To the Public

    Nazi Archology was rarely conducted with an eye to real pure research but was a propoganda tool designed to both generate nationalistic pride in Germans and provide scientific excuses for conquest The German people were drawn into the idea of Germany as the site of the origins of civilization through several things For one there were a series of movies put out by Lothar Zotz with titles like Threatened by the Steam Plow Germany’s Bronze Age The Flames of Prehistory and On the Trail of the Eastern Germans These moives used the appeal of myths older times and German triumph over change to reinforce the idea that German history was something to be proud of, while at the same time taking advantage of the fact that since these periods of history were little known to the general public they could include heavy doses of propoganda
    Additionally public journals gained popularity such as Die Kunde (The Message) and Germanen-Erbe (Germanic Heritage) With the journals and movies the citizens thought they were being given good visuals and interpretations of different archaeological sites and learning more about the 'true' German prehistory
    The Nazi’s also pushed the public to get involved in the search for the past using the appeal of patriotism as a tool For example one amateur organizations membership flyer of the Amt Rosenberg stated “Responsibility with respect to our indigenous prehistory must again fill every German with pride!” The goal of the organization was also stated as, “the interpretation and dissemination of unclassified knowledge regarding the history and cultural achievements of our northern Germanic ancestors on German and foreign soil”
    Along with appealing to public patriotism there were open-air museums that reconstructed Neolithic and Bronze Age lake settlements at Unteruhldigen This public musems also gained immense popularity and pushed the people to believe and search for there Germanic past
    All of this gathered together created a skein of Germanic pride that was used to reinforce the nationalistic facist message Adolf Hitler was crafting with his speeches open-air meetings and public imageHeim Susanne Autarkie und Ostexpansion Pflanzenzucht und Agrarforschung im Nationalsozialismus 2002

    To Archologists

    Prior to the formation of the Ahnenrbe there was little funding for or interest in Germanic archology This made it even easier for the Nazi’s to push their ethnocentric views onto the uninformed public but the true effect was felt in some scholarly circles German scholars that specialized in archaeology had long been envious of the advancements in archaeology their neighbors to the near east had made However there was little such archologists could do.
    With Hitler that changed : the funds were made available for scholars to make great advancements beyond their neighboring countries Under the Nazi rule archaeology went from having one chair in prehistory in Marburg in 1933 to having nine chairs in 1935 Once archaeology started gaining popularity scholars were also able to excavate castles old ruins and the like and bring back pieces for display in museums The Romisch Germanisches Zentral Museum in Mainz became the Zentral Museum fur Deutsche Vor und Fruhgeschichte in 1939Arnold Bettina "The past as : totalitarian archaeology in Nazi Germany" Antiquity Sept/Dec 1990: 464-478
    In their enthusiasm for the Nazi regime's support of archology many German Archeologists became pawns and puppets of the real goals behind the movment They answered to the requests of the Ahnenrbe and not always in the interests of pure archology For example at the prehistoric site Biskupin in Poland the Nazi destroyed the entire site since it did not present a "germanic" viewpoint

    Notable Figures

    Gustav Kossinna

    Gustav Kossinna was the main person responsible for the misuse of prehistory in Nazi ideology Trained as a linguist at university in Gottingen Leipzig Berlin and Strasbourg but eventually earned the chair for Germanic Archeology at the University of Berlin Kossinna laid the ground theories for an ethnocentric German prehistory One of his theories Kulturkreis theory was a basis on which Nazi archeology was founded Kossinna also published for mass distribution books that were useful tools for German propoganda and created archological "expeditions" that allowed for the Nazi's to use Kulturkreis theory as an excuse for territory expansion In one of his most popular books Die deutsche Vorgeschichte-eine hervorragend nationale Wissenschaft (German : a Pre-eminently National Discipline) Kossinna brings forward the idea of an Aryan superior to all peoples the Germani and shows Germany as the key to an unwritten history The point of the novel is clear from the beginning as the dedication reads “To the German people as a building block in the reconstruction of the externally as well as internally disintegrated fatherland” Kossinna died at in 1931 13 months before Hitler seized power Arnold Bettina "The past as : How Hitler's archaeologists distorted European prehistory to justify racist" Archaeology July/Aug 1992: 30-37

    Alfred Rosenberg

    Alfred Rosenberg a Nazi Party ideologist who spent most of his time involved in excavation and the study of provincial Roman Germany He stated as a summary of his research and thoughts that “An individual to whom the tradition of his people and the honor of his people is not a supreme value has forfeited the right to be protected by that people” Rosenberg’s prospective on German prehistory led mainly to racist distortion of data which did not directly apply to the Germanic people Rosenberg’s book Der Mythos des 20. Jahrhunderts( The Myth of the 20th Century) gave Hitler the material he needed to move the public to the concept of a new Germanic religion Rosenberg’s theory Weltanschauungswissenschaften was implicit in the idea that Germany had the right to crush other nations or even exterminate them since German culture was "superior" He also tried to prove the existence of Atlantis and that Jesus was not a JewArnold Bettina "The past as : totalitarian archaeology in Nazi Germany" Antiquity Sept/Dec 1990: 464-478

    Hans Reinerth

    Hans Reinerth was the main archaeologist Rosenberg used Reinerth is famous for his excavations at the Federsee and he saw the Nazi Party a tool he could use to work his way up in society This is just what occurred and in 1934 Rosenberg appointed him to the position of “Reich Deputy of German Prehistory” This made him the spokesman for the “purification and Germanisations of the German prehistory" Reinert followed Hitler’s theory Zutreffenden Männer deutsche reinheit Though this theory never really came into full effect Reinerth pushed it heavily as Reich Deputy and encouraged archological exploration His archological group along with the Ahnenerbe organization was used to the Nazi’s full advantage since it was "professional"Harke Heinrich Archaeology Ideaology and : The German Experience Frankfurt: Peter Lang 2002

    Other Nazi Archologists

    • Franz Altheim
    • Erika Trautmann
    • Yrjö von Grönhagen
    • Assien Bohmers

    See Also