The Berlin State Museums Collection of Antiquities contains numerous objects imported illegally from the Mediterranean island of Samos more than 100 years ago. Among them are some antique masterpieces, as Christina Haak, Deputy Director General of the State Museums, announced when presenting the latest results of provenance research.
There are already initial talks with the Greek side. “But we are only at the beginning,” said Haak. It is still too early to talk about a return or research and exhibition cooperation. But it is clear: “The injustice of the time is still injustice more than 100 years later.” The occasion was the presentation of a new volume of “Writings on the History of the Berlin Museums”, in which three essays on the official division of finds, secret exports of antiquities and bursting Credit transactions between the Ottoman Empire and the German Empire on the eve of the First World War are reported.
Samos, located in the eastern Aegean, experienced its heyday in the 7th to 6th centuries BC. The ancient city of Samos with the once world-famous aqueduct of the Eupalinos and Heraion, around six kilometers to the west, are of archaeological importance. It is one of the most famous ancient sanctuaries. Cult activities can be traced back to the 14th century BC.
“But we are only at the beginning”
With regard to excavations by the Royal Museums in Berlin on the island of Samos between 1910 and 1914, there is a suspicion that around 250 objects had “unofficially” come to Berlin, said the deputy director of the Berlin Collection of Antiquities, Martin Maischberger. For around a dozen objects it can even be said with certainty that they “illegally left” the principality of Samos, which was largely independent until 1912.
According to Maischberger, only around 20 objects were listed on an official agreement on the sharing of finds between the Royal Museums in Berlin and the Prince of Samos, Andreas Kopases. The archaeological finds include magnificent statues, such as the ornith from the Geneleos group or the so-called Cheramyes Kore, as well as small bronze statuettes, clay statuettes, ceramics and architectural parts such as the famous Hera temple on Samos.
After the excavations started under German direction in 1875 in Olympia on the Peloponnese, followed by excavations in Pergamon (1878) and Miletus (1899), among others, the excavations on the island of Samos are considered to be one of the last with the participation of the then Royal Museums before the eruption of the First World War.
Findings straight from the excavation on German naval ships
According to Maischberger, previous research shows that the main players on the part of the Berlin museums in particular should be assessed much more critically than before. This is suggested, for example, by the correspondence between Theodor Wiegand (1864-1936), external director of the Berlin Museums in Constantinople and later head of the antiquities department of the museums in Berlin, and his colleague and head of the excavation on Samos, Martin Schede (1883-1947).
Findings are said to have been brought directly from the excavation onto German naval ships or civilian ships. Smaller finds were sent duty-free with the help of Austrian Post to the private addresses of museum employees in Berlin, who were sworn to secrecy about them. Maischberger explained that provenance research was made more difficult, among other things, by the relocation of files from the Secret State Archives of Prussian Cultural Heritage to Moscow after the Second World War.
The new volume of essays is the prelude to more comprehensive, systematic research into the provenance of the archaeological collections of the State Museums, said Haak and Maischberger. There are also ideas for a cross-collection exhibition on the results of provenance research in the James Simon Gallery in Berlin. (epd)