The lines of enquiry of the archaeological sciences and classical studies lead – also – into the past. Technological innovations, the emergence and evolution of settlement areas, political contexts, sacred sites, everyday life and festivals, trade and transport routes, and lastly human causes of climate change and its effects are central themes to our research. They raise questions about ancient cultures but also extend down long lines as far as the present day.
The same is true of radical changes in the course of human history: the introduction of arable farming and animal husbandry, the emergence of towns and complex social systems, and the rise of symbolic orders, which in many cases are the foundations of what still constitutes an important part of our implicit knowledge and thinking.
Traces of human activity can be found in spectacular objects like colossal statues or in tiny fragments of papyrus. Architecture provides evidence of the past, but the evidence is not always immediately apparent: sometimes it only reveals itself in reconstructions. Archaeologists unearth material remains layer by layer in excavations, and use pile core analyses to create vegetation and climate archives; plant remains and wood yield as much information about people's way of life and mode of subsistence as ceramic and metal artefacts do. Texts, chiselled in stone, written on papyrus or imprinted in clay, allow all facets of past societies – from state treaties and epic poetry to everyday accounts – to emerge into view.
Researchers at the DAI shape countless individual finds into a possible whole and search for connections in order to understand how people transformed their natural surroundings into cultural landscapes, what social, cultural and political changes accompanied the process, and what effect, conversely, the environment had on human developments.
Why global archaeology?
"Why global archaeology?" the former DAI President Edmund Buchner asked on the occasion of the founding of the Commission for General and Comparative Archaeology, and he went on to quote what Gerhard Rodenwaldt had said of global archaeology at the DAI's centenary in 1929: "The province of archaeology has expanded in terms of space and time. Unsuspected connections link Europe with North Africa and reach as far as the Far East in very different epochs. For archaeology and art history, in place of Europe there is now an enlarged arena that encompasses not only ancient Europe but all of Asia and North Africa as well."
The idea of broadening the scope of archaeology, which goes back to the time the DAI was founded, was summarized in a policy statement by Edmund Buchner: "General and comparative archaeology: that is certainly an ambitious programme. It means that questions that are asked of archaeology should now be answered by applying a global perspective. Such questions are, for instance, the history of early technology, the emergence of arable farming and animal husbandry, the origins of settlement leading up to the earliest towns."
The ideas outlined then have been pursued since 2006 by the DAI in its research clusters, which bring together projects that are being carried out in different parts of the world in order to answer central questions about early human history.