Indiana Jones on the Hungarian wasteland

Is there anybody who as a child did not think about becoming an archaeologist? Or played treasure hunt or admired Indiana Jones? Archaeology includes the excitement of exploration and the quenchless human thirst for searching the past. Our database contains many photos in the topic of archaeology, from fieldwork to object photos. Our current virtual exhibition was composed by them. Moreover, the 3D models of findings can be taken in your hands and turned over virtually.

Bazilika körüli temető, 43. sír (1936) - Szent István Király Múzeum, CC BY-NC-NDThe modern archaeological field search started in the middle of the 19th century, but it took about a hundred years to put it in a more planned form. The beginning of Hungarian archaeology dates back in earlier times: author of Gesta Hungarorum Simon Kézai, who lived in the 13th century, is called the first Hungarian archaeologist. To his work that tells the story of Huns and Hungarians, he used archaeological field data defined on the basis of iron-age relics from heap cemeteries and records from the Roman age. For example, he mentioned the first Pannonian – Roman altar stone with inscription.

Színes dia, ásatás, Nagydém-Középrépáspuszta (1993) - Gróf Esterházy Károly Múzeum, CC BY-NC-NDIt is proven that Roman antiques were collected as early as the 14th and 15th century, during King Sigismund’s era. A bit later, humanists of Matthias Corvinus contributed to not only the Corvina Library but the registration of Roman finds also started due to their influence. It was related to the fact that humanists arrived from Italy or studied in Italy, thus they turned to the ancient Roman culture with increased interest. Another century passed and the first scientific archaeologic work of István Szamosközy was published in 1593, about the inscribed stones of the ancient Dacia with the title Analecta lapidum vetustorum et nonnullarum in Dacia antiquitatum.

Ásatási életkép: Székkutas - Kápolna-dűlő (1975) - Tornyai János Múzeum, CC BY-NC-ND

A few centuries of hiatus started that time in the history of this science and important events happened only as of the 19th century. The beginning of archaeologic field exploration is dated as of 1846 by explorers, when János Luczenbacher started working for the Hungarian National Museum. He took on the name Érdy later, after the name of an excavation site. His excavations and their documentations were continuous from that time on.

As you may know, Benedictine monk Flóris Rómer is the father of Hungarian archaeology. He had an adventurous life: he fought in the Hungarian war of independence of 1848-49, he was imprisoned for five years. He became a corresponding member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and he focused on archaeology after the establishment of the Archaeologic Committee of the Academy. He and Imre Henszlmann wrote a guide Műrégészeti kalauz, published in 1866, which is considered as the archaeologic reference book of the 19th century.

Negatív, ásatás, Nagydém (1993) - Gróf Esterházy Károly Múzeum, CC BY-NC-ND

By the end of the 19th century, a number of archaeologic associations and museums appeared even in the rural areas, but they were usually characterised by planlessness. The millennium directed the limelight to excavated findings from the age of the Hungarian conquest. Purposeful explorations could be seen only in western Hungary and in Aquincum (Budapest). Afterwards, WW I and the Treaty of Trianon intervened: museums and universities on the allocated regions were closed down and transformed, thus Budapest became the centre of the Hungarian archaeology. The Hungarian National Museum financed excavations during the 1920s and 1930s according to its means: mainly prehistoric and migration-period cemeteries were excavated during this era – already with the appropriate documentations.

Skoflek István diaképei, régészeti lelet (1960-1970) - Kuny Domokos Múzeum, CC BYMore and more qualified archaeologists worked on exploring the secrets of past. One of them is Nándor Fettich, employee of the migration-period collection of the National Museum, who is famous for his scientific series Archaeologia Hungarica. The prehistoric archaeology also prospered, due to the excellent scientists of the period like university professor Ferenc Tompa or Jenő Hillebrand, who made a detailed summary of the Palaeolithic in 1935, based on experiences in cave excavations. Nevertheless, the explorations of this period had a flaw as well: there were not any settlement explorations; they tried to reconstruct a certain age through the findings in cemeteries exclusively, which often led explorers astray.

Római sírkő beszállítása (1970) - Balatoni Múzeum, CC BY-NC-ND

These centuries meant the heydays of Hungarian archaeology that was terminated by the next world war. Afterwards, the Soviet-type structure influenced the scientific life too. The period between 1950 and 1954 was prevised by the Five-year plan of Hungarian archaeology. It had both negative and positive effects. The negative side was the demand of adapting to the actual political requirements in the field of choosing tasks, the planlessness and the overplanning and the fact that great scientists left the country. The positive aspect was the progress in exploring Roman- and Árpád-Age settlements and the fact that the industrial constructions gave way to a lot of excavations for example at the Town Stadium of Ózd. It is still typical that large-scale constructions are preceded by archaeologic explorations. Archaeology became a separate faculty at universities and rural museums became self-dependent as of the 1960s. However, the golden age of the 1930s and 1940s could not be brought back.

Negatív, ásatás, Bakonytamási (1994) - Gróf Esterházy Károly Múzeum, CC BY-NC-ND

Watching the excavation photo collections of MaNDA, one might have a nostalgic feeling: I wish I could explore the hidden treasures of the land! With all its difficulties, – because you have to fight against elements of nature frequently – archaeology is an amazing occupation, naturally not only because of the excitement of field explorations and the vitamin D rich working hours.


Translated by Zita Aknai

Source: Visy Zsolt (főszerk.): Magyar régészet az ezredfordulón. Budapest. Nemzeti Kulturális Örökség Minisztériuma Teleki László Alapítvány, 2003.