Contemporary Archaeology

Some people scoff about the term ‘contemporary archaeology’, and sometimes their claims are legitimate. A lot of contemporary archaeology, the study of recent-past material culture, can get a bit off the wall, or even be unnecessary. But as with all research fields, some of the work can also be quite interesting.

There’s a fascinating story coming out of Germany right now about an architect who, while renovating an apartment complex, discovered an apartment that was abandoned by East Germans in 1988, about a year before the Berlin Wall fell. Everything was left in situ (in place) and it looks like the resident simply up and disappeared, by his own volition or not. It’s a great time capsule of what a Lepzig home looked like under communism, which is especially nice to see because it was so difficult to get such information out while the communist government was in charge.

This is one of the only photographs I’ve seen so far. It’s from Spiegel Online

UPDATE: I just found a link to a page in German that has more photos, check them out

The architect who found it, Mark Aretz, compared the find to the Tomb of Tutankhamen, but I think he’s underestimating it, really. When Howard Carter found that Tomb, which was particularly significant because it had not been looted, so everything was in place, he was still looking at the burial place of an elite member of Egyptian Society. This apartment shows the day-to-day realities of an average person living in East Germany under communism. It can tell a much greater story than that of King Tut’s Tomb. Finding the house of Willi Stoph, one of the Prime Ministers of East Germany, would have given us little perspective on the life of a typical East German. I think this find is much more interesting, even if the artifacts are Cola-Hit bottles, instead of gold statues.

We had a similar find in Lansing, MI 4 or 5 years ago, though I can’t seem to find the information on it anymore. While renovating a downtown building, the architects discovered that the stairway from the 2nd to 3rd stories of a building had been removed. They entered the third story through a window, and discovered abandoned untouched rooms that were at least 30 years old. The tilework was amazingly beautiful. And there was a really old, frightening looking Dentist’s chair in one office. However, these offices had been cleaned out, so the information available from them was fairly limited, unlike the Lepzig find. According to reports from Germany, the architect went through the whole place with a photographer to document it (good work!), so it should be interesting to see what he found and recorded. It just goes to show you, you never know what you’ll find in the most unexpected places.

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