Man and Artefact

The North Sea and Baltic region is frequently reflected in the archaeological finds as an autonomous and interconnected area of social interaction throughout the ages. From the Stone Age hunters and gatherers to the Germanic cultures of the early Middle Ages, the inhabitants created their own special artefacts, which can be classified in the functional, technological, typological, chronological and cultural categories that form the traditional foundation of all archaeological research.

Individual artefacts as well as whole categories of objects thus allow conclusions to be drawn about the people who made and used them. Interdisciplinary methods can be applied to reconstruct individual lives, complex social structures and value systems as aspects of human existence in its historical dimension.


At the same time, the questions raised by cognitive archaeology are equally relevant in that they investigate the motives, objectives and spiritual background of both the individual manufacturer of the artefacts and entire societies as well as the development of general human ideas and mentalities. The form and appearance of an artefact are the result of both conscious and unconscious processes. Its production and design are dependent on many parameters, e.g. the intellectual, physiological and technological ability of the maker as well as the resources at his or her disposal. Nevertheless, practicality or the personal taste of the maker is only partly responsible for the final shape of an object. Traditions and conventions, cultural and religious concepts, rather, are the decisive factors that determine the shape of artefacts and, especially, all the various types of decoration found on them. Crafts and technology have always been predominantly conditioned by culture. Consequently, the investigation of technological standards is also a key to understanding a society in general. Valuable clues can be discovered regarding skills, capabilities and internal organisation as well as intercultural relationships, the influence of which becomes visible in the find material as technological or iconographical innovations, for example.


Conversely, material culture – be it in the form of standardised groups of artefacts, characteristic shapes or typical decorations – has a formative effect on people. Growing up and living in a particular artefact milieu influences those who belong within its sphere; their interaction with these objects creates both an individual and a socio-cultural identity. This is especially true of figurative or ornamental decoration such as the unique and characteristic animal style found in the North and Baltic Sea regions during the first millennium AD. But why did people create, at specific times, only very specific types of object or, as in this case, very specific motifs and styles – and when, how and why were these norms then further developed or modified? These are the questions that are investigated here. Thus, in the Strategic Research Area “Man and Artefact”, the ZBSA undertakes a diachronic and interdisciplinary examination of the cultural aspects of material communication and the relationship between man and material object.

The following Research Priorities are included in this Strategic Research Area:

Visual History
Sacrifice of military equipment
Technology – Tradition and Innovation

Laufende Forschungsprojekte des Themenbereichs: