team work

Monrepos – the museum is open!

Since the Day of Archaeology on Friday and my last post, a lot has happened – in particular, a lot of work! During the whole weekend, many of us continued being busy with final preparations such as arranging exhibits, painting texts on the walls, labelling artefacts, glueing QR codes to the show cases and supplementary booklets, and an awful lot of cleaning!

The funny thing is that even though prehistory is often covered with dirt – well, at least the artefacts… and, occasionally, our field plans and equipments… and most of the time our clothes –, exhibits need to be perfectly clean.

Yet, cleaning is one of these works most people don’t expect when thinking of prehistoric archaeology but actually it’s a huge part of our job: On excavation we constantly clean profiles, the planum, the camera lenses and other equipment such as our glasses, afterwards the finds are cleaned, the data is cleaned from errors, outliers, false recordings, then we clear our minds to look at the result in a least biased way, well, and then we make everything extra clean and clear to exhibit the lessons we have learned… Hence, archaeologists are basically born cleaners!
For example, Dr. Elaine Turner usually studies hominid subsistence patterns based on faunal assemblages from Middle Pleistocene sites such as Schöningen or the Czech Kůlna Cave to Late Pleistocene Moroccan cave Taforalt but on this weekend she wiped the floors.

Dr. Alejandro Garcia Moreno, the GIS-specialist of the Schöningen and Neumark-Nord projects, polished the vitrines together with our trainee Nicola Scheyhing M.A. and also tidied the entrance together with Dr. Radu Ioviță. So by mid-day Monday, Monrepos was spick and span!

However, besides the exhibition, the official opening ceremony had to be prepared:

Tables and chairs had to be put up, huge umbrellas had to be opened outside the main entrance of the museum due to the disappointing weather forecast, decoration had to be made and spread, the buffet arranged, concession stands equipped, glasses filled, bottles with more wine, sparkling wine, water, rose syrup, birch syrup, and elder syrup, that Juliane Weiß M.A. had made, had to be spread on the stands, a speaker’s desk had to be set up, microphone and speakers had to be synchronised for the hall and so on and so on…

But it was not just our staff and our colleagues from Mainz or the supporting actors who are going to be the guides – family members and friends were also helping such as Aritza’s wife Dr. Pauline Buthaud and our future fellow, Dr. Karen Rubens (currently at Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig).

We are still not sure how we did it. For sure, there were moments of pure exhaustion.

Nevertheless, with joined forces we prepared the exhibition for visitors on Monday 1 pm!

When the “event” began at 1:30 pm, the house became filled up with people! With 100-200 expected guest and almost as many cars to come up the long way above the Rhine valley, Wolfgang Heuschen M.A. and Sascha Sieber had to organise the car park and saw nothing of the official speeches. However, lucky them because due to the packed hall the air really became thin during the official speeches of Prof. Dr. Falko Daim, head of our parent institute, the RGZM, of the minister of education, science, and culture of Rhineland-Palatinate, Mrs. Doris Ahnen, of the vice-president of the Leibniz society, Prof. Dr. Dr. Friedrich W. Hesse, and the head of our institute, Prof. Dr. Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser. She introduced the actor guides who instantly relieved the audience from the ceremonial atmosphere when asking them to participate in a little experiment about human behaviour… the results surprised quite a few of our guests. After this cheerful end to the official part, the storm on the buffet began and the first visitors were guided through the museum. Dr. Olaf Jöris invited people to follow him through the exhibition with an in-depth scientific view on the concept and the content.

Some actors remained at special places within the exhibition to offer visitors insights into their programme. Outside the house trainee, undergraduate and graduate students were serving drinks while post-docs kept the bottles coming from the fridge – and finally, the sun also came out!

However, if you think: “That’s it!” – well, no! Since the museum opened for the public on Tuesday, of course, someone had to clean up after the party…
Dishes, tables, and floors had to be cleaned, chairs and tables put away, decoration spread through the house, and everything put back to its right place…

The opening for the public on Tuesday went quite smoothly then: Even though it was Tuesday and holidays haven’t begin yet, we had several visitors and Frank Moseler M.A. also had to give his first guided tours. Today, it continues quite nicely with the first children’s birthdays.

However, after the final cleaning up on Monday, we could finally begin relaxing after a very long day and a very, very long precedence… So we say: “Cheers! And we hope to see you soon in our new exhibition!”

P.S.: You should definitively use our wishing tree – wishes made to the tree do come true: Germany became World Champion! Hooray!!!

Monrepos – a museum is reborn2

Back to the museum – what happened? Five years ago the German government created an economic stimulus package meant for the construction industry to pass through the worldwide finance and economic crisis. With money from this package public buildings could be renovated and our house, the princesses palace, was chosen as one of these projects.
However, that meant we all had to move out, in particular, the museum. So the museum was closed for the public and the research centre squeezed into the corners of the house that were currently not under construction. That were cosy but also hard times!
Afterwards we had new windows, new floors, new heatings, new rooms, new kitchens, new guest-rooms – really lovely working here now! A prove for this pleasant atmosphere could be the help we received from Saxony-Anhalt: Juliane Weiß M.A. got into contact with our institute through the Upper Palaeolithic excavation at Breitenbach, a project of our colleague Dr. Olaf Jöris. Juliane subsequently visited Monrepos and since we found out about her amazing cooking and baking talent, we invited her to prepare an Old World Stone Age buffet in our lounge kitchen for our guests on Monday.


With, Juliane’s delicious help, we can explain at least one of our current research themes straightforwardly to every guest: Diet and Nutrition… Looking at the hazelnut biscuits, I’m sure everyone agrees about the importance of this topic for human behaviour.

Since everything around and within the building was so nice and new, the museum exhibition was also intended to make a fresh start. Unfortunately, the money from the government wasn’t intended for that and, hence, couldn’t be used for creating a new exhibition. Therefore, other money had to be found for new shelves, new lights, new signs etc. and a fresh concept for our old stuff. Likewise our research centre, the museum is focused on how human behaviour developed in the past 2-3 million years and creating a new concept for this really old story of mankind isn’t that easy! And to be honest, most archaeologists are no museum designers, psychologists focused on flows and requirements of customers, business project organisers, marketing experts etc. But all these skills are needed to make a really good and interesting museum. In our case, we decided to get help from outside our archaeology box and, consequently, many hours in the last years were spent by some researchers, first of all our head, Prof. Dr. Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser, learning… Learning about marketing strategies, customer psychology, about digital possibilities in museums, concepts other museums use etc. and finally finding a way to apply all this newly acquired knowledge on our very old exhibition material.
After this concept was created, it needed to be realised. Our regular staff was accompanied by photographers, designers, craftsmen, carpenters, electricians and many others during the last year. Occasionally, the great ideas meant for the museum had to be adapted to the possibilities and / or the budget. Still most of the ideas could come true.
So here we are Friday July, 11th – countdown is running for the exhibition opening next Monday at 1:30 pm…
Frank Moseler M.A. is going to run the museum. Today he accepted what felt like 100 phone calls with bookings for guided tours through the museum for the next weeks. Besides this organisation, he is preparing scripts for regular and the professional guided tours and, just by the way, he tries to finish his dissertation about the use of fire in the Upper Palaeolithic at our research institute. In the museum, he is supported by Edda Perske who is organising the receptions desk and museum shops, while Michael Bernal Copano is preparing for supervising the museum rooms. They both struggled with getting to know the electronic till system today – certainly, not an everyday task at a museum but something that is used everyday and, therefore, has to be understood.
Besides the archaeologists, our museum will have special action tours. In these tours, professional actors will help the visitors to understand how humans created faith, home, and world trips or how humans need and use power. Before taking the visitors on this journey to self-awareness, the actors themselves had many questions to the archaeologists. Dr. Radu Ioviță took some hours of his time to walk with them through the museum and answered all their questions, informed them about methods, and explained how we can learn something about human evolution from looking at stones, bones, and profiles.
For some further refinements of our exhibition, we have received help from our parent institute in Mainz during the last days. The RGZM is well known for its archaeological conservation workshops which among others worked on finds from the Chinese province of Xi’an, Ötzi’s equipment, or the world’s oldest wooden spears from Schöningen. Currently, some of the archaeological conservators from the workshops go everyday on the long way from Mainz to Neuwied to help us reviving the past in our exhibition.
Our museum is not just taking the visitors from the presence to a past time, we are also trying to connect the inside of our house with the outside. This is not just figurative of opening research and science to the public but also very literally:
Inside the museum we have a little wishing well for which our Prince Maximilian of Wied-scholarship holder, Elisabeth (Elli) Noack M.A., and our trainee Nicola Scheyling M.A. created a counterpart outside our museum: the “wishing tree”.

Usually, Elli doesn’t climb trees at Monrepos but writes her dissertation about Mesolithic archaeozoological material from northern Germany. However, at the moment the museum is our prime priority and today Elli and Nicola decorated the tree and hang up schist plates from the tree. People can engraved their wishes for the future in these plates. A first wish has already been engraved in the schist plates – and it’s such an obvious wish right now…no! It’s not about the museum – first things first: “World Cup!”
Well, probably many of us will watch the match together on Sunday night, while still preparing and cleaning the exhibition for Monday – hopefully, no goal for Germany while someone is handling a fragile piece…
Comparably to the German football team, I can formulate the baseline of this post that not just relates to making a museum but also to archaeology in general as the next post will show:
You need good players but in the end it’s all about team work!