Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte (Halle)

Halle is a city in the southern part of the German state Saxony-Anhalt. Halle is an economic and educational center in central-eastern Germany and the birthplace of Georg Friedrich Händel. Since I once had close relations with the Max-Planck-Institute of Microstructure Physics in Halle, I was there a lot - and never saw anything of the city.
Meanwhile I changed that and I'm glad. There is a lot to see and the "Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte", i.e. the Museum of the German state of Sachsen-Anhalt dedicated to prehistory, is not only a highlight but a must for anybody interested in the stone age and early metals.
You'll find an unbelievable amount of stone and bronze objects in mint conditions. This is mostly due to heavy surface coal digging since the 19th century but also to some recent luck; I'll get to that.
The museum is housed in an imposing early 20th century building with large and airy rooms. Most of the objects are displayed in an old-fashioned way, meaning that not only can you actually see the objects, there are also well-written explanations, readable without using a flashlight while lying on your belly. Moreover, there are good models, many highly interesting maps, and fascinating artistic impressions of what things might have looked like.
The high point of the museum is the famous "Nebra sky disk". I have referred to it before.
 
Nebra sky disc
Nebra sky disc
Large-scale picture.
Source: Photographed in the Museum in April. 2018
     
The disc is a unique one-of-its-kind object. That would be sufficient to make it famous. It was "discovered" by treasure hunters who tried to sell it; illegally of course. Two elaborately made bronze swords (shown here and in large scale here) and a few smaller items completed the loot. The finders were eventually caught by international police forces in a highly spectacular way, and the objects found their way into the museum.
The Nebra sky disc is from about 1600 BC and features the oldest concrete depiction of the cosmos worldwide. In June 2013 it was included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register and termed "one of the most important archaeological finds of the twentieth century".
The whole thing was a stupendous sensations with all kinds of repercussions. The museum spared neither time nor effort to accommodate these fabulous objects in style. A special room was dedicated to the Nebra things, and the rooms given to middle bronze age were completely redone. That's partially quite unfortunate since the museum then succumbed to the dreaded "Keep-things-in-the-dark disease", like so many others before. While the Nebra objects are perfectly illuminated and displayed, this cannot be said for many other things; I'll get to that.
First, however, let's look at some stone age stuff. Below you see why I like this museum so much. It gives a whole case with good explanations and pictures to a really unassuming tiny object:
     
   
Landesmuseum Halle; birch bark tar.
Birch bark tar; 80.000 years old from Neandethals
Source: Photographed in the Museum in April. 2018
     
Well - it's the oldest man-made material: Birch bark tar or birch pitch. Absolutely essential to early humans. I've told you about that elsewhere.
The next example also pays tribute to the museums old but great ways of presenting their stuff.
     
Landesmuseum Halle
Woman from Bad Dürrenberg. (7.000 - 6.600 BC)
Source: Photographed in the Museum in April. 2018
     
Just an elderly lady? Yes - but a special one. Read the description! The stuff in her grave indicates that she wielded power, probably as a shaman. The close inspection of her skull indicated that she had a kind of bone deformation that allowed her to induce semi-consciousness or trance by certain movements of her head. Clear texts and pictures guide you through the details.
To top it off, an artists interpretation of what she might have looked like is provided, based on some of the things in her grave, that really tickles your phantasy:
     
Landesmuseum Halle
Woman from Bad Dürrenberg. (7.000 - 6.600 BC); artists conception
Large size
Source: Photographed in the Museum in April. 2018
   
Pictures like that do help your imagination (possibly in more than one way). That's why I give you another one:
     
Landesmuseum Halle
Homo Sapiens; around 40.000 BC
Brought along some technology like designer cloth (and good looks)
and replaced (after some mingling) the Neandethals.
Source: Photographed in the Museum in April. 2018
     
It's time for the more serious stuff. I've seen many stone axes with holes before but never wondered how those stone age guys drilled the holes. They definitely did not have the usually assumed hollow copper drill. The museum shows and explains how it was done. Go there yourself to find out.
It suddenly became clear to me that all that hole drilling after copper tools became available was nothing new to the ancient artisans. They had done it before for thousands of years with less sophisticated tools
     
Landesmuseum Halle
Partially drilled stone axe and some drilling cores. 6.900 - 6.600 BC;
definitely no copper drills then.
Source: Photographed in the Museum in April. 2018
     
Another impressive feature is the wall of a huge room. It is covered with many thousands of stone tools. Far better than to keep all that in some dark basement.
 
Landesmuseum Halle
Stone tools and how you work wood with them
Large size
Source: Photographed in the Museum in April. 2018
     
  One could spend a long time in this room alone - and I haven't even mentioned the ceramics there and elsewhere. I learned a lot about early cultures in middle Europe, including a thing or two about the influx of copper and bronze technology from the South-East. For example, how it spread (see below), what kind of trade was of importance, and why the area changed between being rich and prosperous to being rather poor a few times. Many clear and detailed maps and drawings were very helpful in this respect; below is one:
     
Landesmuseum Halle
Map showing the spread of copper technology
Slightly modified for clarity
Large size
Source: Photographed in the Museum in April. 2018
     
Let's turn to the unbelievably rich collection of bronze objects in the newly redone room. Here is the centerpiece, showing just parts of what is there:
   
   
Landesmuseum Halle
Some of the many bronze objects in a dark room
From around 2.000 - 1.800 BC; when the region was rich
Large size
Source: Photographed in the Museum in April. 2018
   
Note the objects marked with a white arrow. They are almost at floor level and appear to be made from gold. No description is visible. If you want to find out what it is, you must either lie down on your belly our point your camera and hope that you will be able to look at a clear picture later.
Here is the best I got:
     
Landesmuseum Halle
Floor decorations?
Source: Photographed in the Museum in April. 2018
     
  Aha! After heavy contrast enhancement it became possible to read the inscription on the glass. It tells you that these pieces are modern bronze casts. They are supposed to give you an impression of what bronze things looked like when they were new and shiny. How anyone with an IQ above that of an avocado can come up with such a design is a mystery to me.
Of course you will see magnificent bronze swords and other objects (including mysterious ones), too. Here is an example
     
Landesmuseum Halle; Bronze swords
Shield and swords from typically 8th - 9th century BC
Large size showing more
Source: Photographed in the Museum in April. 2018
     
If we now move to iron and iron technology, there is not all that much. What there is, however, is interesting. Celtic and Roman artifacts and, as before, good explanations. I learned, for example, that the ubiquitous bipyramidal shape of trade iron was so popular since it helps the smith to make plenty of small objects by drawing out just a little iron from the "tails" as needed. The museum provides a fascinating poster showing what iron was mostly used for:
     
Landesmuseum Halle
A double-pyramid bar and what was made from it.
Source: Photographed in the Museum in April. 2018
     
Enough! You must go there. When you leave, make sure to buy the booklets explaining the things you saw. They are brief (for museum books) but very well written and highly interesting. I have learned a lot from reading them and can highly recommend them.
 

With frame With frame as PDF

go to Critical Museum Guide

go to Critical Museum Guide: "The Vikings" Special Exhibition from Oct. 2014 - Jan. 2015 in the Martin-Gropius-Bau

go to Critical Museum Guide: Moesgaard Museum in Aarhus; Denmark

go to The Ages

go to Early Pyrotechnolgy - 2. First Technical Uses

go to 10.3.2 The Iron Trade

go to 11.1.2 The Bronze Sword

go to Large Pictures V

© H. Föll (Iron, Steel and Swords script)