The aim of Stage I of Project Ostbalticum was to share the surviving fragments of the inventory books of the Prussia-Museum. This material invaluable for research surfaced unexpectedly a few years ago in the Museum of History and Art in Kaliningrad, was subjected to conservation treatment and restored in the laboratory of the State Archive in Olsztyn and returned to the Russian partner.
The documentation of interest represents a very modest relic of the rich collections of one of the most respected and best known museum institutions of north Europe. Its founder was the Altertumsgesellschaft Prussia society, established in 1844 in Königsberg which soon started to build up a collection of archaeological objects, from materials held by older research corporations and materials recovered by the society members during their individual excavations. With time the collections of Prussia-Museum would include objects of art, as well as ethnographic and historical objects, including the famous Moskowitersaal group documenting the military history of Prussia. At first the Prussia-Museum was housed in one of the buildings of the University of Königsberg, the Königshaus, but soon the museum was moved to Königsberg Castle where it would remain until the end of World War II.
Without exaggeration the collection of the Prussia-Museum was one of the largest in this part of Europe, with a significance which went far beyond the boundaries of East Prussia. Its archaeological collections were of key importance for understanding the past of the region and attracted famous researchers from Europe to Königsberg to study and analyze this material – e.g., Gustav Kossinna, Martin Jahn, Feliks Jakobson, Nils Åberg, Carl Axel Moberg, Marta Schmiedehelm and Harri Moora. Basing on the pieces from the collections of the Prussia-Museum, Otto Tischler, outstanding researcher associated with Königsberg, developed a system of relative chronology for the archaeology of the Roman and the Early Migrations Periods, still used today, only with some modifications.
From the spring of 1945 until the late 1960s when it was blown up by the Soviet authorities the site of the Königsberg Castle was searched, both by authorized and unauthorized parties. The result of investigations made in 1967–1969 by the regional museum in Kaliningrad was the discovery, next to a few hundred finds, in the southern wing of the castle, of a fragment of museum documentation in the form of several inventory books. A few years later they attracted the attention of Russian researchers and were even published to some extent although the quality of these publications departed substantially from that of the originals.
Wider access to the inventory books was not possible then and time was against them – they continued to deteriorate. In 2007, thanks to cooperation between the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the Museum of History and Art in Kaliningrad, and State Archive in Olsztyn, they were subjected to conservation. This project was financed by the Polish partners.
A group of expert conservation specialists from Olsztyn – Monika Bogacz-Walska and Andrzej Ulewicz (with cooperation from Elżbieta Aftyka, Ewa Mikulewicz and Paweł Borkowski) – worked to save the invaluable archival record of the Prussia-Museum. The main cause of deterioration of the inventory books was microbiological degradation resulting from the contact of paper with moisture. Most of the pages were so water-damaged that they had lost their structure of paper and were partly stuck, forming a lump. The pages were torn and no longer in their original order. Another negative consequence of the action of humidity and microorganisms was the blurring and fading of the text written in ink. Drawings and notes made in Indian ink proved to be more resistant and were still legible. Photographs, especially vulnerable to microbiological corrosion, were beyond repair. All the covers were seriously damaged – book spines, corners and page edges were all missing. Before starting conservation treatment the inventory books were disinfected in a special fumigation chamber to prevent microbiological infection.
The next task was complicated and painstaking – to arrange the pages in their original order. Because most of them no longer retained their pagination or foliation, in most cases the sequence was established basing on the partly surviving inventory numbers and on the damage – the shape of the breaks in the paper, pattern of blotches, traces of drawings impressed onto the opposite pages and mycelium growth.
Once this work was completed it became apparent that the material submitted for conservation comprises 15 incomplete volumes, with a total number of 1584 pages. These were first cleaned mechanically, removing some of the mycelium, rust, dust and sand; next, they were stabilized by pasting onto sheets of very fine absorbent paper. After this they were washed in water to remove impurities and deacidify the paper. The surviving fragments of pages were restored to their full double folio format, using a special cellulose solution and a machine for filling in the breaks in the paper.
The stabilized pages were arranged in the order determined earlier and bound using the surviving fragments of the book covers as a model. The original covers could not be reused as they were too damaged and reuse would have destroyed the fragments of pages which had become impressed or glued on their inside.
The result of scientific analysis of these materials are two publications in a three language version (Polish-German-Russian). The first is a brochure introducing the subject “Ocalona historia Prus Wschodnich. Archeologiczne księgi inwentarzowe dawnego Prussia-Museum. Ostpreußens gerettete Geschichte. Die archäologischen Inventarbücher aus dem ehemaligen Prussia-Museum. Spasennaja istorija Vostočnoj Prussii. Archeologičeskije inventarnyje knigi byvšego muzeja «Prussia»“ (Warszawa 2008, 100 pages, Fundacja Przyjaciół IAUW [Friends of Institute of Archaeology Foundation], MKiDN). The second is a comprehensive publication “Archeologiczne księgi inwentarzowe dawnego Prussia-Museum. Die archäologischen Inventarbücher aus dem ehemaligen Prussia-Museum. Archeologičeskije inventarnyje knigi byvšego muzeja «Prussia»” (Olsztyn 2008, 448 pages, State Archive in Olsztyn).
This second publication is the effect of the work of a team of researchers from Poland, Russia and Germany: Monika Bogacz-Walska and Andrzej Ulewicz, State Archive in Olsztyn, Christine Reich and Wilfried Menghin, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte in Berlin, Aleksandra Rzeszotarska-Nowakiewicz, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology Polish Academy of Sciences, Anna Bitner-Wróblewska, State Archaeological Museum in Warsaw, Tomasz Nowakiewicz and Wojciech Wróblewski, Institute of Archaeology University of Warsaw, and Anatoly Valuev, Museum of History and Art in Kaliningrad. The book’s excellent graphic form is the work of ELSET publishing house in Olsztyn.
The publication presents an overview of archaeological research in East Prussia, the history of the Prussia-Museum, the fate of its collections in the period 1943–2008, methods of conservation of the inventory books, and discusses the content of these books; there are colour plates of 250 sheets from the inventory books.
The principal sites which are now much better understood thanks to the record of the inventory books include Babienten (now Babięta, voiv. Warmińsko-Mazurskie, Poland), Daumen (now Tumiany, voiv. Warmińsko-Mazurskie, Poland), Kellaren (no longer exists, Poland), Laptau (now Muromskoe, Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia), Lehlesken (now Leleszki, voiv. Warmińsko-Mazurskie, Poland), Macharren (now Machary, voiv. Warmińsko-Mazurskie, Poland), Mingfen (now Miętkie, voiv. Warmińsko-Mazurskie, Poland), Schulstein (now Volnoe, Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia), Zophen (now Suvorovo, Kalinigrad Oblast, Russia). An example of a “new” location, i.e., known from the historical sources but previously not documented by archaeological material, could be e.g., a known Teutonic centre at Ragnit (now Neman, Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia). Book no. 9, the best preserved, furnished data on finds from over 70 sites spanning Stone Age to the Middle Ages. Many of them had been identified during fieldwalking surveys or small sondage excavations – without the inventory books of the Prussia-Museum they would have been irreversibly lost to science.
Identification of materials recorded in the inventory books was similar on many occasions to the work of a detective, sometimes only very careful observation, determination and the ability to match different pieces of information, brought the desired effect. It was so with book no. 4, where only scraps of just a few pages had survived, with excellent drawings of archaeological finds dating from the 5th and the 6th century but no longer any information on their site of discovery. Only when these pages were examined in tandem with the private archive of Feliks Jakobson, Latvian archaeologist (see Stage II of Project Ostbalticum), who had studied the collections of the Prussia-Museum in Königsberg in the 1920s, it was possible to identify the site as a cemetery of the Olsztyn Group (masurgemanische Kultur) at Waplitz (now Waplewo) in Masuria, and to attribute the material in question to individual grave assemblages.
The inventory books of the Prussia-Museum have furnished a new vast set of source evidence for a comprehensive study of the history of Masuria, Sambia and Memelgebiet (the Klaipėda Region) making it possible to reconstruct a significant fragment of the archaeological heritage of former East Prussia.