Kiel research project on developments in the Neolithic receives Shanghai Archaeology Award 2019

For his outstanding achievements in the field of prehistoric research, Johannes Müller has been awarded one of this year's Shanghai Archaeology Forum prizes as speaker of an interdisciplinary team for the project "Early Monumentality and Social Differentiation" of the Institute of Pre- and Protohistoric Archaeology at Kiel University.

The award-winning project investigates the origin and development of Neolithic large-scale buildings and the first complex societies in northern Central Europe. Under the direction of Kiel archaeologist Professor Johannes Müller, an interdisciplinary team of researchers investigated the emergence of first cultural landscapes in northern Germany from around 4,100 before common era (BCE) onwards. The scientists investigated the question of what triggered the erection of monumental buildings such as megalithic tombs and the social and economic background against which they were created. The research focused on the so-called Funnel Beaker Societies. Funded by a priority programme of the German Research Foundation (DFG), the researchers investigated the social, cultural and ecological aspects that led to the construction of more than 70,000 megalithic tombs in northern Germany and southern Scandinavia.

Around 4,100 BCE, 40 climatically bad years with long winters and cold summers caused a considerable strain on the hunter-gatherer communities of that time. As a consequence the change to agriculture took place, combined with landscape changes. The population growth that began with the subsequent climate improvement and was spurred on by new agricultural technologies such as the introduction of the animal-pulled plough had social consequences: cooperative activities, which became increasingly necessary, led to the erection of jointly built and used monuments. In these megaliths, which still characterise parts of the landscape of northern Germany today, collective burials were carried out for the common rite of passage to death. In these monuments, societies manifested themselves which maintained an equal working method for centuries. It was only around 3,100 BCE that social differentiations led to the abandonment of the cooperative principle. After that no more megalithic tombs were erected.

Müller accepted the award last Saturday, December 14, at the University of Shanghai: "I feel very honored about this international recognition. Our research has enabled us to gain new insights that contribute to a deeper understanding of prehistoric societies. Among other things we owe these results to the interdisciplinary cooperation, which enabled us to integrate climate and environmental factors into our research in addition to social and cultural aspects".

Between 2010 and 2016, around 25 scientists from national and international research institutions participated in the project. It formed the basis for two further DFG-funded collaborative projects at Kiel University: the Collaborative Research Centre "TransformationsDimensions: Human-Environment Interactions in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies" and the ROOTS Cluster of Excellence.

The Shanghai Archaeology Forum (SAF)

Founded in 2013, the Shanghai Archaeology Forum is dedicated to promoting the archaeological exploration of past cultures and civilizations around the world in order to strengthen the understanding of the human past and the relevance of this knowledge in today's world.

The SAF Awards recognize individuals and organizations that have distinguished themselves through innovative, creative, and excellent work in the exploration of the human past and have produced new insights that are relevant to the present and the future. The awards are presented in two categories: the Field Discovery Award and the Research Award. The nominations for the awards are made every two years and are judged by an international selection committee according to international standards of excellence and objectivity. A maximum of ten award winners are possible in each category.

group picture
© Jing Zhi-Chun, SAF

Johannes Müller (2nd from right) together with the other this year’s SAF prizewinners for archaeological research at the Shanghai Archaeological Forum.

Archaeologist Johannes Müller with the medal for this year's SAF Award in the field of research.
© Jing Zhi-Chun, SAF

Archaeologist Johannes Müller with the medal for this year's SAF Award in the field of research.


Angelika Hoffmann
Johanna Mestorf Academy
Kiel University