Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment

Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology

The Institute for Pre- and Protohistory at the University of Tübingen with its three divisions is the continuation of the prehistoric research institute founded by R.R. Schmidt in 1921.

The Division of Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology conducts field research in the field of prehistoric archaeology in different parts of the world. The training of the students in field work is part of their university education. The Division possesses extensive collections: especially the ivory figurines from the Vogelherd, which are among the oldest evidence of prehistoric art, are invaluable.


The collection of the Division of Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology at the University of Tübingen represents one of the largest stone age collections in Germany. It contains more than 1.000 000 artifacts, including stone tools, faunal remains, tools made from osseous materials and pottery from important archaeological sites in Europe but also in Africa.

The large majority comes from dedicated collectors such as Seyler or Sauer who spend considerable amounts of their lifetime visiting important archaeological sites. However, there are also numerous artifacts uncovered during scientific excavations such as the pieces Ludwig and Margit Kohl-Larsen brought from Tanzania and other parts of Africa. This collection represents a treasure of mankind which is actively included into the regular teaching schedule at the University of Tübingen. For students of prehistoric archaeology, it is essential to get into touch with original artifacts in order to understand how prehistoric people manufactured their tools and how they changed and adapted their technology through time.

However, the more these pieces are getting shifted and touched, the higher the chances of irreversible damage emerge. This becomes especially dramatic if it concerns unique pieces such as bifacial lanceheads which are very thin and made from fragile materials, ornaments made from bone or ivory For this reason, a 3D scanning project was established with the goal to digitize all those highlight finds and thus make them available to both, teaching and research without risking their loss.

Research is actively conducted on the prehistoric collection as well. The artifacts of the famous site of Mumba cave for instance is part of a longtime project in order to elaborate on transitional scenarios between the Middle- and Later Stone Age in East Africa. Due to the good preservation conditions of most of the artifacts, it is also possible to conduct use wear and residue analysis on them apart from conventional analytical methods. This enables researchers using high power microscopy to determine what exactly people in the past used their tools for. Therefore, we establish a cultural material laboratory in Tübingen providing the adequate equipment, such as electron and reflected light microscopes. It also provides the opportunity of high-speed camera filming. This becomes especially important if researchers try to understand very fast processes, such as e.g. the impact of a stone projectile on a target. It helps to understand specific damage patterns on artifacts and can also be used du document how fracture mechanics in rock knapping work exactly. Thus, the prehistoric collection and the associated cultural material laboratory provide vast opportunities for research and teaching and play a key role in understanding cultural change and cognitive capacities of prehistoric societies.