Archaeological Finds in the Early Modern Period

The unexpected discovery of finds from the soil has always exerted a great fascination. The excavation of archaeological material was an emotional experience for the finder which triggered a many-faceted interest in ancient times. Monumental megalithic tombs, marvellous "thunderbolts", mysterious ceramic vessels or metal ornaments posed riddles for the early modern mind. Such curious discoveries were interpreted both by philosophers and philologists and their interpretations were embedded in older or more recent views of the world. Because prehistoric cremation urns were originally believed to be subterranean plants, their interpretation as graves of the pagan ancestors became a competing historical interpretation. The recognition of archaeological finds as human artefacts resulted in establishment of excavation as a scientific method for exploring the ancestry of one's own "fatherland", of "region" and "nation" beyond the written tradition. Excavating, collecting and publishing of artefacts are cultural practices, ways of gaining and distributing archaeological knowledge. In the early modern period the increasingly systematic search for archaeological finds, which were frequently incorporated into cabinets of curiosities or church libraries, has left a printed tradition, manageable in size, but, as far as its reception goes, almost unexplored.

In order to encourage research into the early history of archaeology and to enhance access to these rare sources, a bibliographic database has been established and made accessible in the www. It contains key texts on archaeological practices and finds from the soil of the Holy Roman Empire (incl. Switzerland and Prussia) printed before 1806. The recording of provenances and marginalia for the individual books provides sources for the reception of the printed text and for the history of private libraries of certain early modern scholars. Books from the holdings of the HAB were fully digitised and indexed through a special thesaurus. The bibliographical database, digital images and thesaurus enable web-based source-readings in the history of archaeology before 1806.

Title page

Digitized imprints from the holdings of the Herzog August Bibliothek

In cooperation with AREA - Archives of European Archaeology (EU, Culture 2000); Institut national d'histoire de l'art, Paris; Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte und Archäologie des Mittelalters, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, Freiburg i. Br.



Vorwelten und Vorzeiten. Archäologie als Spiegel historischen Bewußtseins in der Frühen Neuzeit, ed. by Dietrich Hakelberg und Ingo Wiwjorra. Wolfenbütteler Forschungen 124 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2010).
Catalogue HAB Publications


Funding: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
Person in charge: Dietrich Hakelberg, Ingo Wiwjorra