Nationalistic Nazi Archaeology

Everything the Nazis did can be attributed to them trying to prove that the Aryan race existed. To convince the educated and to further authenticity, party leaders actively targeted other educated people to provide this evidence. Thus, a variety of scholarly fields such as archaeology were turned into a source of informational aid to benefit Nazi ideologies.

Tenants of Nazi Archaeology

The Nazi researchers conducted all of their work under a certain nationalistic framework. They referred to the framework as the Five Tenants. The tenants are as follows:

  1. Kulturkreise (culture circles), which states that recognition of an ethnic region only comes from the materials excavated at the site.
  2. The social diffusion theory, which states that ideas are spread from the most advanced culture to the least advanced culture.
  3. Deutsche Reinheit (the pure German man), which states that Germans were “pure Aryans.” 
  4. Weltanschauungswissenschaften (world view sciences), which says that culture and science are one and they carry race-inherent values.
  5. Secrecy. The last tenant was secrecy because these ideas were never formally released to the public.

Hitler’s Archaeologists

The elite Nazi research group that upheld the five tenants was formed in 1935, before the major outbreak of World War II. Led by Gestapo and SS officer Heinrich Himmler, the Ahnenerbe was designed with the goal of unearthing new evidence of the accomplishments of the great Germanic ancestors. The name Ahnenerbe roughly translates to “something inherited from the forefathers”. As evident from just the name, the archaeologists were working under extreme nationalistic ideas. This nationalism led to extremely far-fetched historical conclusions. For example, the young researcher Assien Bohmers claimed he could trace Nordic origins all the way back to the Paleolithic era in Germany. When combined with the ideas of Kulturkreise and social diffusion, this would objectively name German Aryans as the dominant culture and entitle them to huge portions of already owned land. 

The insignia for the Ahnenerbe.

Bohmers digging in Czechoslovakia.

Battling Nationalistic Archaeology

The construction of a national past should not be made at the expense of abandoning the knowledge of our shared past. A national past should also not be simply created for the purpose of future goals; all cultures and traditions should be recognized as a worthy study. The Ahnenerbe twisted their research in order to twist the history of Germany so the Nazis could have justified actions. If archaeologists today can move forward while trying to free their research from any social theories built into a society (such as the five tenants), then the history will be reported accurately and honestly. It is up to archaeologists today to respect the past in order to respect the future.

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Mammoths and Archaeology

History of Mammoth Breeds

Throughout the course of time, there have been a few different types of mammoths. About 1.8 million years ago, a breed of mammoth known today as the southern mammoth crossed into North America via a temporary land bridge in the Bering Strait. The Columbian mammoth was also a prevalent breed in North America, with its range covering the present-day United States down to Nicaragua. The smallest of the mammoth species was the woolly mammoth. A little over 100,000 years ago was the first time they were able to get to North America, again via the Bering Strait land bridge. Archaeologists know the migration patterns based on the ages of skeletons and fossils that are found across the globe.

The migratory paths of the woolly and Columbian mammoths.

What We Know About the Mammoths

Much of what we know today about the woolly mammoth comes from their teeth. The aforementioned breeds of mammoths were only able to be differentiated because of variations in their teeth. For example, the woolly mammoth had the most enamel ridges in order to protect its teeth from the abrasive grasses it consumed. Scientists at the Natural History Museum in London used a micro-CT scan to map the changes in mammoth teeth throughout their lifetimes based on the microscopic features on worn down enamel.

Reasons for Extinction

There are three ways archaeologists believe that the woolly mammoth met its demise. The first is from human interference. For humans living during the Pleistocene era, woolly mammoths were a source of meat, thick hide, fur, and bone. It would have only made sense for humans to kill as many mammoths as possible. The second belief is that the woolly mammoth went extinct because a large meteorite or comet struck the Earth. This would have also caused a mass extinction of many other animals as well. The third belief is that climate change shrunk the woolly mammoth’s territory so quickly that the beasts could not adapt to the warmer climate quickly enough. The changing climate has been affecting populations of animals for millions of years, so this hypothesis is the most plausible.

Can We Bring Them Back?

Within the last few years, news headlines have been talking about the possibility of cloning a woolly mammoth. In 2013, archaeologists uncovered a well-preserved woolly mammoth from a peat bog in Siberia. The contents of its stomach contained grassland plants such as buttercups and dandelions, so the animal was nicknamed Buttercup. After just a few tests, archaeologists were able to find blood oozing from Buttercup near her elbow. The blood told a lot about Buttercup, but so far an undamaged strand of DNA cannot be found. Cloning is temporarily out of the picture. The best that science can hope for is to combine DNA from Buttercup with that of elephants, essentially creating a new breed of mammoth.

A University of Michigan student with Buttercup the mammoth.

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