The German Archaeological Institute has decided to work towards greater thematic cross-linking between the various research projects which it conducts around the world and which are set out in the DAI research plan (PDF 2,2 MB). In view of the fact that the Departments and Commissions of the DAI tend to research very similar issues in their projects in various cultural regions of the Old and New World, we felt that it made sense to investigate certain phenomena in a comparative manner in the hope of arriving at a deeper understanding of the mechanisms underlying cultural processes and historical developments in early human history. The prospect of pursuing this objective on a global scale was particularly appealing. While the main focus of the Institute's work has traditionally lain on the Mediterranean region and the Near East, the projects undertaken more frequently in recent years in the Eurasian steppe, East Asia, on the African continent and in Latin America afford an excellent opportunity to gain a worldwide perspective. This opportunity is not to be missed.
The cross-linking between the research activities will be achieved by grouping the activities according to certain general themes. The themes that could be profitably investigated in this way are many and various. The matter was discussed in great depth by the directorate of the DAI at its session on 22 November 2005. It was concluded that four themes in particular were worth pursuing further. These themes lie at the heart of four research clusters which, it is hoped, will place the cooperation within the DAI on a new footing. Specifically these topical and relevant themes are as follows:
In addition we have chosen a fifth cluster, which concerns the history of research:
Speakers have been assigned for each research cluster. They have been charged with setting out the content of their cluster and going through the DAI's research plan to see which projects may be relevant to their cluster. The work of Cluster 5 will be overseen by an advisory committee of archaeologists and contemporary historians. Cluster workshops have been scheduled for late 2006 and early 2007; at these the leaders and personnel of the projects involved in each cluster will discuss their work to date and consider the next steps to be taken. The aim is that further progress will be achieved in colloquia, and will be documented as appropriate in a new series of DAI publications devoted to the work of the research clusters.
For all four clusters it will be necessary to elaborate a theoretical basis for the given theme. Doing so will automatically lead to greater interdisciplinarity - not only among various natural sciences, which have anyway long been an integral part of modern archaeological research, but also involving other disciplines in the field of social sciences and the humanities (ethnology, sociology, psychology, religious science, aesthetics and art history, etc.).
While at the present stage we are in the process of establishing maximum possible thematic cross-linking between similarly conceived research projects of the DAI, there is a good possibility that, at a later stage, groups of researchers and research units and so forth may come into being, which would initiate new projects to look into questions thrown up in the course of the clusters' activities. This does not need to happen, and it certainly won't in the case of every cluster since it is not possible to determine in advance what course the discussion will take; but if it does happen from time to time, it will naturally be a sign of fruitful collaboration. A further point is that the life-span of the individual cluster themes will vary: in some clusters the discussion might come to a provisional end fairly early on, while in others it might develop its own dynamic. Particular research questions, which are addressed in the course of the clusters' work, might take on greater urgency and be given priority - as should be a matter of course for a dynamic, modern research institute.
In addition to stimulating scientific discovery, the clusters are expected first and foremost to contribute to a new quality of cooperation within the DAI. There will of course continue to be isolated projects which cannot be linked to others and yet are at least as important to the overall scientific profile of the DAI and of the Department or Commission in question as are the projects included in the clusters. It is beyond question after all that scientific freedom of this kind is one of the key conditions of successful research. However, where there is the possibility, indeed the pressing need, for cooperation, the DAI should make the most of the opportunity and encourage cross-linking. There are plans for an internet discussion forum to make it easier to exchange ideas on the various research topics.
While the primary aim of the clusters is to strengthen cross-linking and cooperation within the DAI, genuine advances in scientific knowledge are only to be achieved if we manage to engage in these discussions also with representatives of universities and other research institutions in Germany and abroad (to the extent that similar objectives are pursued there). This higher level of inter-linking - which is already very successfully practised in many areas - is another central aim of the DAI. It may be that the DAI enjoys something of a unique position internationally in its field on account of its organizational structure, its possibilities and its absolute autarky, but this must not lead to isolationism or dissociation from related institutions. A state of affairs where one group of people excavate foundations and another group ponder underlying theoretical questions cannot be in the interests of either the DAI or the universities. It is important therefore that the research clusters tie the DAI and the universities more closely together than has been the case thus far. The DAI's excellent possibilities as regards promoting young researchers could then be exploited in an even better targeted way, which is of course crucial to the future of the DAI.