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Archäologie und sächsische Identität

Sommer, U; (2007) Archäologie und sächsische Identität. In: Rieckhoff, S and Sommer, U, (eds.) Auf der Suche nach Identitäten: Volk - Stamm -Kultur-Ethnos. (pp. 205-213). Archaeopress

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prehistoric finds and monuments lies at the roots Saxon archaeology. After it was generally accepted that pots and stone implements were indeed artefacts, already in 1781 the Oberlausitzische Society in Görlitz offered a reward for essays on the question of whether “Germans or Sorbs were the first inhabitants of the Oberlausitz”. At first, only written sources were utilised in the pursuit of the first Saxons. The actual archaeological finds only served as illustrations. In the 1820ies a number of authors started to deduce criteria for an ethnical ascription of the finds from the written sources. Thus, for example hillforts were identified as Germanic, as Slavs were of an decidedly peaceful character and thus not in need of fortifications. Since the middle of the 1830ies the distribution and associations of finds are used as arguments as well. Thus, K. B. Preusker advocated a systematic comparison of Saxon finds with those from purely Germanic and purely Slavonic settlement areas in order to be able to assign them unequivocally to one people. Writers like Karl August Engelhardt (1802) and Karl Benjamin Preusker (1841) comfortably managed to incorporate prehistoric finds in the history of the Saxon fatherland. But no consensus was reached about the identity of the first inhabitants of the Meißen margravate. While the ascription of individual finds and assemblages was hotly debated, the question as such does not seem to have created any real conflicts. The reason might be that Saxon identity could find a foundation in either of the possible forebears - depending on the author’s political orientation. Whilst the Celts slowly disappeared into the romantic mists they had emerged from, the Germani stood for warlike prowess and political freedom, and the Sorbs (Slavs) for economic success and peaceful culture. In the main without the help of a genealogical succession line, the Saxons of the 19th and 20the century recognized themselves in the stereotyped descriptions of the industrious Slavs originating with Herder and Polish and Czech panslavic authors. It was at least partly the attempt to solve the problem of ethnic ascription that led to an increasing professionalisation of archaeology. Subsequently, this created an increasing rift between scholarly research and popular interpretation. For one, the simple account of a timeless - be it idyllic, be it rude - past was rapidly becoming obsolete because of the rapidly increasung time-depth of prehistory and the concommitantly improving methods of chronological classification. On the other hand, the the singular find was torn out of its connection with a holistically perceived landscape and popular tradition by systematic inventarisation and mapping und reduced to a simple dot on the map. A specifically Saxon interpretation of prehistory was hard put to keep it’s own in the 20th century. The predominating historical master-narratives now no longer formed part of a regional, but a National framework. During the “3rd Reich”, Saxony was seen as a bulwark against the East and the model of a successful re-germanisation. In the GDR, the positive role of the Slavs was emphasised. Research concentrated on Slavic early feudal structures to counter the NS-claim of their missing nation-building abilities. But in historical overviews the germanocentric worldview was is still pertinent, even if the general assessment had changed. It was mainly K. H. Blaschke who managed to create a new narrative about a specifically Saxon identity. Saxony was described as an age-old place of transit, where the positive typically Saxon qualities originated by the mixture of many different peoples. While this fits better into the political climate of our times than a recourse on the Germani, it still is based on the model of a group-identity that is genealogically founded and transmitted over a long period of time, and thus has exclusive connotations.

Type: Book chapter
Title: Archäologie und sächsische Identität
ISBN-13: 978 1 4073 0149 5
Keywords: Ethnicity Nationalism region identity
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Institute of Archaeology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Institute of Archaeology > Institute of Archaeology Gordon Square
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/45570
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