Nazi Archaeology: Means to an End

Archaeology, like any field of study today, is expected to be worked on empirically via the usage of scientific methodologies. To assure that such work is kept as objective as possible, governments and archaeological institutions across the globe have set guidelines for archaeologists to follow in excavating, observing, and publishing their work. With this said, one cannot forget more recent examples of an organization’s ability to bend the objective into a means to an end (an all too subjective end at that). Such is what occurred with Germany’s archaeological efforts under the Nazi regime.
In post-WWI Germany, the Nazi’s took advantage of the nation’s dire poverty by promising that they would rebuild Germany into the kingdom of her glorious past. With this in mind, Nazi officials began to incorporate into their dogma the idea that Germany was once the place where all civilization had begun. To back this idea, Hitler and a few of his SS subordinates established the Ahnenerbe Organization- a “research institution” whose job it was to utilize psuedoarchaeology in order to further propagate the idea that the German people were naturally superior to other cultures. Behind this organization stood five tenets: 1) to propagate the Kulturkreise (round circles) theory of Archaeologist Gustaf Kossina. This theory suggested that ethnic regions are determined by the material culture found within a given area. While this doesn’t sound like a completely radical idea, the Nazis used the basis of this theory as a means to further justify their conquest of Czechoslovakia and Poland. 2) The Social Diffusion Theory, which stated that ideas were passed down from superior cultures to other inferior cultures that they came in contact with. This theory was highly stressed by Kossina as well as Nazi archaeologist Alfred Rosenberg with the claim that it was the ancient German peoples who spread civilization throughout Europe. 3) To blend culture with science. This concept led the Nazis to suggest that the efforts of science were more inherent prospects in particular races (namely the German race in the Nazi’s case). With this in mind, the Nazis stole symbols of the ancient world, such as the Hindu swastika, and incorporated them into their society. 4) To propagate the Deutsche Reinheit (Pure German Man) concept , which suggested that the Germans were descendants of a race of “Pure Aryans” who had migrated all across Europe (Supposedly, the Ancient Greeks were also “Pure Aryans” according to Nazi beliefs). 5) To create (yes, create and not rediscover) archaeological evidence that would further support Nazi propaganda.
The take home message of this is that state/government institutions can sometimes be dangerous when engaging with scientific efforts. In studying something empirically, people should remember that the objective understanding of things is fulfilling in that it gives us a real picture of how the past may have been. So, in studying archaeology, one should try to leave their ulterior motives (whether religious, political, etc.) at home. In the end, one will find that the objective truth really is an end in itself.

2 thoughts on “Nazi Archaeology: Means to an End

  1. Garzajos, great post. This was interesting to read and enlightening to learn about because before you brought this up I hadn’t thought about archaeology taking that sort of effective on civilizations before. Reading through this post made me think about other times when countries may have done this as well but this is the only example I could come up with where a nation such as Germany would go to such lengths to rid themselves of their ancestry to create a new one because these authorities believe they are superior to those of other cultures. The 5 tenets talked about in the post made me shake my head in thinking what were some of the citizens of Germany were thinking when they went along with this type of situation. The ways the Nazi’s would take other world symbols and say it there’s now or claiming they are the Pure Aryans is remarkable to hear about but after the display of power and force Hitler put amongst those he ruled over doesn’t make it anymore unbelievable when heard about. As for Nazi Germany I’m glad they are long gone and hope to never hear about another country as large as that wanting to create a new history forgetting about their ancestors. I would agree with you as to that when one is out to study archaeology they need to leave their religious and political views behind because they may get in the way of their work if they are focused to much on on factor of the site or area. It would be good for these subjects to think about this type of situation before they head to the site and can get a clear idea of what they want to see but once they are there they should be focused on the task at hand because weather is very unpredictable as well as the resource of money to fund a site isn’t always the easiest to come upon.

  2. I really liked the idea behind this post, I wish I had though of it myself. It was truly interesting and enlightening. I remember hearing this in books here and there every once and a while, but no one really emphasized on the fact. I even remember seeing the depiction of this idea in a few movies over the years. It’s mind boggling how Nazis, in a sense, created their own history to use for propaganda for a war-torn country. Saying that all of the ancient civilizing was done by ancient Germans. I would never even think that doing something like that would be a viable option. It had to be very hard for those “archaeologists” to create a whole new history for a country in order to believe that they are superior to all other cultures. I do not know if it is just me, but I find that absolutely crazy that it could even be accomplished (but I guess in a sense they did). Besides all of that, I really liked how this all concentrated on the point of not bringing one’s own motives into archaeology, or any science as a matter of fact. This was also a topic in another student’s post about finding Jesus’s tomb. As you could expect, this caused a little dispute between facts and religious beliefs. This also goes back to the point that you cannot let your own personal beliefs interfere with archaeology, even though that at times it can be tough especially on sensitive and important topics. All in all though, I loved the post it was very interesting .

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