History of monument preservation

The German Archaeological Institute has a long tradition of initiatives and theoretical considerations for cultural heritage preservation. In the late 19th century, when large-scale excavation began, archaeologists needed to address the question of what to do with the finds and findings – most particularly, with large architectural structures. It was a time when matters of monument theory were debated quite actively in Germany, and the considerations of the involved construction researchers reflect that discourse.This applies to the major excavations in Olympia and Pergamon as well as in Egypt and the Ancient Middle East. In all these enterprises, efforts to preserve and present the ruins were made at a very early stage.These efforts range from minor safeguarding measures and restorations to comprehensive preservation and repair projects as well as the re-erection of structural elements and the construction of protective buildings or museums in which to present the finds.

Considerations regarding the adequate, monument-appropriate handling of archaeological finds have thus always been an integral part of DAI excavation activities.These considerations always focused on the same fundamental questions: How to address the historical layers of monuments? May we remove later layers during an excavation in order to make visible the monument as it was in the period we defined at its main stage? What is the relationship between preserving the excavated condition of a monument and reconstructing parts of a ruin, considering that the latter allows us to render it more comprehensible? How can we differentiate visibly and clearly between original and reconstruction?

Issues regarding the correct treatment of monuments were discussed not only at excavation sites and in archaeological departments but also led to fundamental theoretical works such as Theodor Wiegand's "Die Denkmäler als Hilfsmittel der Altertumsforschung" ("Monuments as resources for archaeology").

Ruin preservation as a concrete didactic concern remains a key challenge for archaeologists. We need to continuously revise and update adequate methods. Debates on the appropriate approach to ruins developed in parallel to the more general effort of setting up monument preservation authorities and conventions. The development of organized, institutional monument preservation initiatives began with the early 19th century and continues to this day.

As early as 1815 – two full centuries ago – Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841) issued a memorandum on "preserving all monuments and antiquities of the country" in which he called for "the creation of not only administrative structures, but also of indices to record monuments worthy of protection."The UNESCO World Heritage Registers are only the most notable way in which his concept is now being adopted around the world. 50 years ago, the Venice Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites was created as the first of a list of international conventions for the protection of the world's cultural heritage.The latest, most crucial addition to this list was the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, adopted in 2003. These global standards, guidelines and policies contain many rules that were developed and applied in DAI excavation projects long before their global adoption. DAI thus prepared the ground for their acceptance and dissemination in our guest countries, contributing significantly to cultural policies.

In 1973, DAI founded the Architecture Section at the Institute's headquarters as a "home institution" for heritage building preservation. The colloquia and publications coordinated by the section have played a part in further intensifying the discourse. It is one of the Architecture Section's objectives to establish monument preservation as a scientific interest pursued with the same level of intensity asconstruction research, from the very start of archeological projects.


  • Th. Wiegand, Die Denkmäler als Hilfsmittel der Altertumsforschung. Handbuch der Archäologie (München 1939) S. 71131
  • Architekturreferat des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts (Hrsg.), Archäologie und Denkmalpflege, DiskAB 2 (Berlin 1975)
  • H. Schmidt, Schutzbauten, in: Architekturreferat des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts (Hrsg.), Denkmalpflege an Archäologischen Stätten 1 (Stuttgart 1988)
  • H. Schmidt, Wiederaufbau, in: Architekturreferat des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts (Hrsg.), Denkmalpflege an Archäologischen Stätten 2 (Stuttgart 1993)
  • M. Müller – Th. Otten – U. Wulf-Rheidt (Hrsg.), Schutzbauten und Rekonstruktionen in der Archäologie. Von der Ausgrabung zur Präsentation, Xantener Berichte 19 (Mainz 2011)
  • W. Mayer – Ph. Speiser, Der Vergangenheit eine Zukunft. Denkmalpflege in der islamischen Altstadt von Kairo 1973-2004 (Mainz 2007)
  • A. Schuhmacher – J. Misiakiewicz, Priene. Die Restaurierung des Theaters 1992–1998 (Mainz 2007)
  • A. Distelrath, Siedeln und Wohnen in einer Ruinenstätte. Ein denkmalpflegerisches Projekt für Herakleia am Latmos, Miras 1 (Istanbul 2011)
  • M. Bachmann – Ç. Maner – S. Tezer – D. Göçmen (Hrsg.), Heritage in Context – Konservierung und Site Management im natürlichen, urbanen und sozialen Raum, Miras 2 (Istanbul 2014)
  • Broschüre: Bewahrung archäologischen Kulturguts für die Nachwelt (PDF 4,4 MB)