The DAI's field of work covers a wide chronological span – all phases of early human history are researched, with the perspective sometimes even extending into our own time. In the Rif Oriental in Morocco, for instance, the oldest on-site strata date back to the Middle Palaeolithic around 200,000 before the common era. On the other hand, in projects like that investigating traditional architecture in north-western China, buildings still inhabited today are the focus of research – analysing them enhances our understanding of the ancient finds and features.

The core period for the DAI's research work, however, is that lying between two radical transformation processes. It starts with Neolithization and the far-reaching changes in agriculture and herding together with ground-breaking technological and social innovations, beginning with a time horizon around 10,000 BC. The time-frame ends with late antiquity and the early Middle Ages (3rd – 7th cent. AD), e.g. the spread and institutionalization of Christianity, the spread of Islam, and the migration period. These and comparable transformation processes, when considered from a global perspective (in absolute figures), can offer very different datings.

Analysis of ancient cultures allows long-term studies spanning millennia more or less under laboratory conditions. If we look back at a concluded and self-contained cultural situation we can identify which social or technological strategies were successful and which were not – and above all: why. How did landscapes and towns evolve in the long term, how were innovations implemented and what effects did they have on society? In what regions did early centres of a globalization process come into being? Archaeology, by focusing on antiquity, can make knowledge about the past useful for the future.