Old Europe, a forgotten collection rediscovered

15 June 2018

Part of the Old Europe collection in the depotPart of the Old Europe collection in the depot
Glass jug, added to our collection in 1898, probably found in GermanyGlass jug, added to our collection in 1898, probably found in Germany

The small exhibition provides an overview of the collecting history of the Old Europe collection. This 'forgotten' museum collection consists of objects that come from all parts of Europe and that date from prehistoric times, Roman times, and the Middle Ages. You will see swords from Denmark, rare Scythian jewellery, German grave finds from the Merovingian Age, celts, and remarkable finds from Hungary.

You can find Old Europe in the exhibition area next to the permanent exhibition on Archaeology of the Netherlands, on the second floor of the museum.

A forgotten collection

Between 1824 and 1970, the National Museum of Antiquities collected over 8,500 objects from European countries ranging from Britain to Poland and from Russia to Denmark. This collection played an important role in the museum for a century and a half, after which it sank into oblivion.

Shining a new light on old treasures

For this exhibition, the most striking objects in the Old Europe collection have been temporarily retrieved from the depot. They come from places such as caves in France, Merovingian burial grounds in Germany, and lakeside settlements in Switzerland. The focus is on the way the collection developed and the changing motives for that development in the course of over 150 years.

For the nation and for comparison

In many countries, museums played an important role in the growing national consciousness in the 19th century. That was the reason underlying the desire of the National Museum of Antiquities to build up an Old Europe collection: a handsome national collection would strengthen the position of the still young Kingdom of the Netherlands. At the same time, it was useful for museums to collect original objects or copies of objects for purposes of comparison.

A scientific perspective

With the arrival of the curator and director Jan Hendrik Holwerda in the early 20th century, the motives for collecting particular objects became more scientific. Holwerda purposefully acquired objects that would help to give Dutch archaeology a European context. He also established a permanent exhibition on Old Europe, and equipped the museum with a reading room and a visitor’s guide. The many objects initially acquired an important place in the museum, but they were definitively consigned to the depots in 1956 to make room for other exhibitions.

The exhibition Old Europe is part of the Museum Grant Research Project Europe Collected of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). This project involves a quest for European antiquities for the National Archaeology Collection (1824–1970), conducted by the curator Luc Amkreutz between September 2016 and September 2018. The object is to improve the documentation of the collection and to reach a better understanding of the factors that led to its genesis and influenced its development.