Archeology and Nationalism

Levent Yilmaz (University Professor, Prestige-Marie Curie Fellow)

18 October 2018, 16:00-18:00, Sala del Capitolo, Badia Fiesolana

We will try to analyse how the system of the ages is used and abused in its immediate national(ist) contexts: the categorization of the human past into three distinct periods —the ages of stone, bronze, and iron— was first developed around 1830 by Christian Jürgensen Thomsen, who was the director of the Royal Museum of Nordic Antiquities in Copenhagen, in order to classify the museum’s collection according to the materials out of which the artifacts were made. Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae, who did most of his work in the context of the First Schleswig War (1848-1851), briefly knew Thomsen, and applied his theory of the “three ages” to the findings of archaeological digs, synchronizing them with the field of stratigraphy. Philologists including Jacob Grimm helped provide arguments to the German nationalists seeking to invade Denmark, suggesting that the latter country had been founded by Germans. In a polemic against Grimm as well as the Norwegian Peter Andreas Munch (uncle of the famous painter), Worsaae maintained that according to archaeological data, prehistoric people could not be identified with any modern people —the dimensions of the deep past allowed for no such judgment. For Worsaae, Grimm’s use of this past was a “playground for political fantasies.” In his 1849 pamphlet, one finds the first use of the word “prehistory”: the pamphlet’s title, Om en forhistorisk, saakaldet “tydsk” Befolkning i Danmark, translates to “On a Prehistorik, So-Called ‘German’ Population in Denmark.”

Benoit Vaillot

Doctorant en histoire Arche EA 3400 (Université de Strasbourg) / PhD Researcher (European University Institute, Florence). Coordinateur du séminaire doctoral « Nationalism Working Group » hébergé à l'Institut Universitaire Européen.

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