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Surveying a site with a Total Station and laptop. Cover Photo Credit: The State Museum of Prehistory, Chemnitz
In the course of my PhD I have had the privilege of visiting some truly inspiring museum spaces. Writing about archaeological museum exhibitions as materializations of past(s), I have been spoilt for choice in the Northern European museum landscape. Museum archaeology is colourful, playful and dynamic, and every exhibition I visit houses new experiences. Choosing only one from this ensemble is practically impossible, but I will zoom in on two of them that I find are particularly worthy of a visit for museum enthusiasts.
The permanent exhibition at The Archaeological Museum in Hamburg, Germany, (https://amh.de/en/) is a showcase of unusual showcases, displaying its magnificent collection in müsli bars, mackerel tins, dustbins and plexi glass domes. The exhibition is split in two; prehistory is staged on the ground floor as a dimly lit natural landscape with stony ground; modern day and our discoveries, usages and recontextualizations of archaeological finds dwells in crisp daylight on the first floor. The AMH is particularly worthwhile for younger visitors (or vigorous, arthralgia free adult ones…), as large proportions of the artefacts are exhibited on floor level and really should be marveled upon with one’s nose pushed against the plexi.
Preservation and care of field monuments in the district of Harburg. Photo Credit: The Archaeological Museum in Hamburg
The State Museum of Prehistory in Chemnitz, Germany, (http://www.lda-lsa.de/en/state_museum_of_prehistory/) is less playful in its execution, although it does feature its share of quirks, like the life size Rodin-esque Neanderthal that sits at the start of the exhibition, contemplating his fate (or perhaps studying the museum-goers) and the skeletal deer leaping “through” the wall, a fourth one only partly visible as all but its back hooves had disappeared into the plaster. The success of this space is precisely the contrast between classic, symmetrical, aesthetically consummate vitrine-based museum arrangements and these human and animal figures that frequently perforate the serene exhibition surface. The collection is vast and exquisite (it encompasses the Nebra sky disk, for instance), and can easily keep your occupied for a whole day, should you be able to keep the museum fatigue at bay. After visiting, a (barefoot) stroll through the nearby park and playground makes for some welcome downtime.
For the die-hard museum archaeology fan, I would also recommend Moesgaard Museum outside Aarhus in Denmark (https://www.moesgaardmuseum.dk/en/) for its thoroughly immersive, rather intense museum experience (good thing there are “quiet rooms” at hand), the LWL Museum of Archaeology in Herne, Germany, (https://www.lwl-landesmuseum-herne.de/) for its dig site themed exhibition and the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, The Netherlands, (http://www.rmo.nl/english) for the sheer brilliance of its collection (and a well-crafted and intriguing exhibition on Dutch archaeology tucked away on the top floor).
Some of the exhibitions of archaeology today do tend to completely overpower the exhibits with all their visual extravaganza, and a few really should curb their enthusiasm over all the audiovisuals and interactives at their disposal and show restraint. Flint tools easily lose out on the hunting grounds of visitor attention if their environments are too “loud”. Yet mostly, I find that the materializations of past(s) in Northern European museums are supportive of meaningful visitor – object encounters, and thoroughly enjoyable spaces to look up even for those with no interest in scythes, jars and arrowheads.