Nazi Archaeology

Pseudoarchaeology is a very attractive topic for the public. Even though this topic exposes the uneducated person into the world of archaeology, it does not do so correctly. These “fun” and “glamorous” topics are harmful to the preservation of our history and can be harmful to the public (especially if those employing the archaeological fallacies using public interest to make a profit or gain power.) Although pseudoarchaeology is ubiquitous today, it has also played a drastic role in history. The particular extension of pseudoarchaeology I will explore is Nazi archaeology.

During Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler was on the quest for tangible proof that Germanic people were the descendants of the Aryan race using archaeology. He also aimed to use this research as an explanation for why it was okay for the Germans to invade other countries. Himmeler, who was under Hitler’s command, was responsible for founding a research institute called the Ahnenerbe. The institute’s goal was to discover German ancestry “using exact scientific methods.” Those who were a part of the institute were sent to places like Bulgaria, Greece, Russia, Iceland and North Africa to excavate. They took a special interest in Iceland because it was there that was believed to be where the origin of the Aryan race began. They had found a cave believed to have been a place of worship for ancient Aryans. However, the cave later was proved to not have been inhabited until the 18th century, debunking any proof of the area being used by the ancient civilization. According to “How Stuff Works,” there was little or no evidence that Germanic people were linked to ruling in prehistoric times and out of 18 funded excavations, none of them provided evidence that Hitler and Himmeler were searching for.

The Nazi Party’s quest for archaeological “breakthroughs” is an excellent example of promoting pseudoarchaeology for power and ethnocentric reasons. They used their findings as propaganda to gain followers and excuse their actions. The sources that I have used state that motivations to pursue archaeology had little to do with scientific curiosity and more to do with political motives. For instance, the Nazi party tried to use archaeological finds to excuse their invasion of Poland in 1940 because they had “legitimate claims” to the land. Also, the fact that there was virtually no evidence to any of the claims made by the archaeologists is another reason why Nazi Archaeology falls short. There is no science to back up any of the “evidence” they did find (including the cave found in Iceland.) And as discussed in class today, the belief of the Aryan race stems from a fictional continent conceived in the mind of the philosopher Plato. Nazi archaeology has no scientific foundation in which to be structured upon. Thus it falls flat.

2 thoughts on “Nazi Archaeology

  1. I agree that what the Nazis did is a great example of pseudoarchaeology. It is truly amazing to me though that they were able to get away with such excavations and claims based on no proof or scientific evidence. This shows what power and fear can do to the public and oppressed peoples. Its also interesting how high Hitler was on himself and his culture to think about a “superior Aryan race” and even a fictional continent. He was a powerful man, but not a very bright one. Your example of the cave in Iceland is somewhat comical, just because the Nazis actually believed they had evidence of the origin of the Aryan race. “Evidence” that ended up having absolutely no ties to German culture. Putting that aside, it is intriguing to think about all the effort and money probably put into Hitler’s pseudoarchaeology campaign. A lot of resources were put forth trying to prove claims that were never going to be possible. This point definitely ties in with other pseudoarchaeology topics too; wasted money and resources that could have been put towards something important. As someone who is really interested in World War Two and the Holocaust, I had never realized or known that the Nazis were so invested in pseudoarchaeology. It’s a shame people at the time believed their claims and evidence, as like you said, none of it was backed up by science.

  2. What first got my attention was the title of your article; who knew the Nazis were interested in archaeology? After Hitler was sworn in as the Chancellor of Germany in 1933, he gained control of all of the state’s institutions (including the universities). He used his power to change the curriculum to match that of the doctrines of the Nazi Party- an example being that “the Germanic people were descendants of the original Aryan ‘master race.’” Hitler sent teams of archaeologies places throughout the world to prove his theory. After the invasion of Poland, he even sent archaeologists there to prove that they were there first. Archaeologists were sent by Ahnenerbe, formed by top members of the SS,to places all over the world, but Iceland was of particular interest because it was thought to be the place of origin for the Aryan race. Unfortunately, Hitler and the Nazi regime used archaeology solely for political purposes. By creating false theories and explanations of the origins of the Germanic race, Hitler was using pseudoarchaeology to his advantage. Shows like Ancient Aliens and America Unearthed are harmless compared to how the Nazis used pseudoarchaeology to oppress millions of people. I think these articles are very important in showing how pseudoarchaeology can be so damaging.

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