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War. Tracing an evolution

24. October 2018 - 28. April 2019


This exhibition, a cooperation with the Sachsen-Anhalt State Museum of Prehistory, invites visitors to embark on an archeological journey, taking them back more than 7,000 years to the earliest origins of military conflict.

In humans, biological and cultural evolution interact strongly. Ironically, the creative power that results from this connection also produces deadly weapons. The development from tool to weapon, from single combat to mass murder, from the mythical "hero" to the nameless soldier serving as "cannon fodder", is the central theme of the exhibition.

Thereby, the exhibition uses historical evidence to address fundamental questions. What is aggression? When did humans start fighting wars? Is war part of human nature and, therefore, inevitable? When were the first organized wars that used purpose-made metal weapons? Since when have the elites led anonymous soldiers into battle?

The main object of the exhibition is a mass grave from the Thirty Years’ War, which was excavated and removed from the ground in one piece. Researchers have investigated the 48 bodies found in the mass grave, using state-of-the-art techniques in order to reconstruct as much detail as possible about the victims’ stories and causes of death. Thus, it was finally possible to give the nameless soldiers their personal biography.
Archeological and anthropological research in Austria has also revealed important insights into the art of warfare and the consequences of war from prehistory and early history all the way through to the modern age. Examples include forensic-anthropological examinations of skeletons of soldiers who fell in the battles of Asparn and Deutsch Wagram during the Napoleonic War of 1809. Their bones tell us about the fate of the individuals who fought in these battles.

Other objects from civilian life in the post-war period show just how far-reaching and destructive the consequences of war can be even for survivors. The exhibition concludes with a collection of prosthetics, which were designed to make the lives of wounded soldiers easier and as part of the Anatomical Collection at the NHM Vienna today serve as a reminder of the end of the First World War in 1918.

The exhibition “War. Tracing an evolution” is a contribution to the European Heritage Year 2018 (100 years after the end of World War I and 400 years after the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War).


With friendly support of: