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Ruhr Museum | Recent Times. Contemporary Archaeology in the Rhine-Ruhr Region

Recent Times. Contemporary Archaeology in the Rhine-Ruhr Region

Ruhr Museum, 21-metre level
25.9.2023 - 7.4.2024
Opening time




Adult: 5€,
Reduced: 4 €,
Children / young people under 18 and
Pupils / students under 25 years: free admission

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A gallery exhibition of the Ruhr Museum in cooperation with the Essen City Archaeology.

The exhibition shows exciting archaeological ground finds of the industrial age from Essen, the Ruhr area and the Rhineland. The objects shed new light on the cultural and event history of the late 18th to the 21st century on the Rhine and Ruhr.


The background

The Ruhr region, formerly the largest industrial region, has been experiencing extreme change forover 200 years. Not only the consciousness of the region and its people, but also the material legacies in the archives and museums as well as in the soil have been shaped by this development. Industrialization overlapped the village and feudal structures, their buildings were repeatedly expanded and changed by constant modernization. The region, especially its industry, but also its housing and infrastructure, was largely destroyed during World War II. After reconstruction, the structural change from an industrial to a service society changed its shape once again in the second half of the last century.


"The soils of the Ruhr and the Rhineland are something like a great factual archive of the industrial age, which began with the Industrial Revolution some 250 years ago and is referred to as the epoch of modernity," Ruhr Museum Director Prof. Heinrich Theodor Grütter notes. "There are stories in this archaeological heritage of modernity that are not recorded in any library or archive."


For the Ruhr region, which is shaped by the economic, technical and social transformation processes of this modern age, an exhibition on the archaeology of this era therefore seems particularly appropriate. And the Ruhr Museum, with its location on the industrial monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site Zollverein, as the natural and cultural history museum of the Ruhr region, is certainly the right place for such an exhibition.


In addition, archaeological exhibits have played an important role in the history of the Ruhr Museum, as past exhibitions show: "Forgotten Times. Middle Ages in the Ruhr Area" (1990/91), "Becoming Ruhr Area. Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages on the Rhine and Ruhr" (2015) and "A Class of its Own. Nobility on the Rhine and Ruhr" (2021/22). The new exhibition "Recent Times" now changes perspective and shows the growing role of archaeology for recent times on the Rhine and Ruhr. "This is in line with the orientation of the Ruhr Museum," continues Prof. Heinrich Theodor Grütter, "which, as a regional museum of the Ruhr region, describes the entire history of the region in an interdisciplinary way in its collections and exhibitions, from the geological preconditions and historical beginnings to the present."


The exhibition

The gallery exhibition deals with the still young discipline of modern archaeology. It shows selected archaeological finds from the city of Essen, the Ruhr region and the Rhineland. Together, the objects, often shown for the first time , shed lighton the cultural and event history of the late 18th to early 21st century.


Conceptually, the exhibition has a regional character. Finds fromEssen are supplemented by loans from the Ruhr region and the Rhineland.


Eight chapters, based on the most important fields of research in modern archaeology, structure the exhibition: Industry, Infrastructure, Waste, Environment, History, Man, National Socialism, and World War II. They form the exhibition's narrative, beginning with the industrialization that shaped the region from the beginning of the modern era and ending with World War II, the great catastrophe of the mid-20th century.


The exhibits were mostly recovered by the Department of Archaeological Heritage. One focus is on the finds of the Essen city archaeology, which are enriched by objects from various lenders. The spectrum of finds ranges from micro-traces in the soil invisible to the naked eye to the propeller of an Allied bomber. Evidence of Krupp's cast steel factory is on display, as are finds from the forced labor camps of the Nazi era. Among the oldest exhibits are a coin hoard from Westphalia and the boundary stone of an Essen mine. Surprising are objects from Rhenish open-cast lignite mining and, above all, the most recent finds on display, such as a key board from a Cold War bunker at Essen's main train station.


For the first time, the special exhibition emphatically underlines for the entire region on the Rhine and Ruhr that archaeology makes a relevant contribution to the study of modern and contemporary culture. The head of the Ruhr Museum's archaeological collection and curator of the exhibition Dr. Patrick Jung: "Our exhibition offers surprising insights into the richness of the cultural heritage hidden in the soil archive on the Rhine and Ruhr. It thus makes an important contribution to creating an awareness of the relevance of the evidence still preserved in the soil, even of the most recent and very recent past."


The modern archaeology

The interest of archaeological sciences in modernity is still a young phenomenon, which started in German-speaking countries about 30 years ago. Using state-of-the-art technology, archaeologists recover and research ground finds that correspond to the period of political and economic modernity and are thus no older than about 250 years. Despite their young age, finds from the most recent periods can offer significant added value. For example, the study of such archaeological legacies can bring to light new findings that could not be found in any archive before. In many cases they complement historical sources and thus also the picture of the past. They provide insights into the everyday life of the last two centuries, shed light on historical processes or events. Archaeological finds thus also contribute to the culture of remembrance. What's more, ground finds from the modern era can even promote identification with a place or region, as is the case in Essen with the relics of the Krupp cast steel factory. Or they can help create an awareness of a part of the past among the population, such as the crimes committed during the National Socialist era, which left their traces in the soil archive of the Rhine-Ruhr region between 1933 and 1945.


Blick in die Sonderausstellung »Jüngste Zeiten. Archäologie der Moderne an Rhein und Ruhr«
Die Baustrukturen der St. Antony-Hütte in Oberhausen während der Ausgrabung, 2006/08
Schlackestück (Produktionsabfall) aus der St. Antony-Hütte in Oberhausen, der ältesten Eisenhütte des Ruhrgebiets, zweite Hälfte 18./erste Hälfte 19. Jahrhundert, geborgen 2006/2008.
Zwei Getränkeflaschen vom Gelände der Kruppschen Gießerei, um 1900, geborgen 2022
Blick in die Sonderausstellung »Jüngste Zeiten. Archäologie der Moderne an Rhein und Ruhr«
Essen-Westviertel, 2005, Abriss der „Alten Hauptverwaltung“ der Firma Friedrich Krupp. Im Hintergrund eine der gusseiserne Ziersäulen, die von der Stadtarchäologie geborgen wurden
Säulenkapitell von der „Alten Hauptverwaltung“ der Firma Friedrich Krupp, um 1860, geborgen 2005
Lederabfälle einer Schusterwerkstatt aus der Rheinischen Straße in Essen, Ende 19./Anfang 20. Jahrhundert, geborgen 2006
Blick in die Sonderausstellung »Jüngste Zeiten. Archäologie der Moderne an Rhein und Ruhr«
Blick in den Bunker aus der Zeit des Kalten Krieges am Essener Hauptbahnhof, 2022
Schlüsselbrett aus einem Bunker des Kalten Krieges am Essener Hauptbahnhof, 1960er Jahre
Schlachterbeil und Schlachtabfälle aus der jüdischen Metzgerei Ullmann in Titz-Rödingen, frühes 20. Jahrhundert, geborgen 2002/03
Blick in die Sonderausstellung »Jüngste Zeiten. Archäologie der Moderne an Rhein und Ruhr«
Kassette zum Gedenken an zwei Regimenter des Ersten Weltkriegs aus Mülheim a. d. Ruhr in Fundlage, 1928 deponiert, geborgen 2014
Kassette zum Gedenken an zwei Regimenter des Ersten Weltkriegs aus Mülheim a. d. Ruhr, 1928 deponiert, geborgen 2014
Bodenprobe vom Gebiet der ehemaligen Zinkhütte in Essen-Borbeck aus dem Jahr 1986
Essen-Nordviertel, Pferdebahnstraße. Abtransport der Lafette eines Mörsergeschützes von der Fundstelle durch die Firma Die Schmiede
Essen, Panzervollgeschoss eines Mörsers der Friedrich Krupp AG von der Pferdebahnstraße, geborgen 2019
Münzschatz aus Seppenrade, 1571–1811, geborgen 1935
Bestattung einer Frau mit über den Hals gelegter Katze aus dem lutherischen Friedhof von Velbert-Neviges, 1786–1819, geborgen 2021/22
Nachttopf aus dem Zwangsarbeiterlager an der Pferdebahnstraße, 1920er Jahre bis Zweiter Weltkrieg, geborgen 2006/2008

The promotion

The exhibition is generously sponsored by Sparkasse Essen, which regularly supports projects, initiatives and associations in the fields of culture, social affairs and sports.


The partner

The cooperation partner of the exhibition, in the preparation of which the former city archaeologist Dr. Detlef Hopp was involved, is the Essen City Archaeology or the Lower Monument Authority of the city. Since the end of 2021, it has been represented by Dr. Johannes Müller-Kissing. In addition, the LVR Office for the Preservation of Archaeological Monuments in the Rhineland in particular supports the project with significant loans.


The duration of the exhibition, the accompanying program and other planning were coordinated with the LWL Museum for Archaeology and Culture in Herne. With "Modern Times - Archaeological Finds of the Modern Age and their Stories" (8.9.2023-18.8.2024), the Herne Museum is presenting a similar theme at the same time, albeit with an international orientation and a different focus in terms of content.


The accompanying program

A varied accompanying program will take place during the exhibition's runtime. In addition to guided tours, it includes informative excursions. Among other things, a Deutsche Bahn bunker from the Cold War era under the Premier Inn Hotel Essen City Centre at the main train station or archaeological war relics in the Rhineland will be visited. In addition, an exciting series of lectures will illuminate the archaeology of modernity from various perspectives. Workshops for children and an exhibition rally for families round off the program.


The school program

During an exhibition tour for teachers by staff members of both the exhibition team and Education and Outreach, the concept, topics, and guided tours for school classes of secondary levels I and II are explained. The guided tours for school classes of secondary level I specifically offer an overview of the most important archaeological methods. On the basis of selected exhibits, the inspection of the site, excavation and processing of finds are presented.


The catalog

In cooperation with the Essen city archaeology department, the accompanying volume to the exhibition "Recent Times. Archaeology of Modernity on the Rhine and Ruhr". On 304 pages, it is dedicated to the still young discipline. The eight richly illustrated chapters refer to the most important fields of research in modern archaeology. On display are exciting archaeological finds recovered in the Rhine-Ruhr region over the past two decades.


The exhibition and catalog have an interdisciplinary approach and were created with the collaboration of 26 authors from the fields of archaeology, historical sciences, anthropology, archaeozoology, numismatics, geosciences, music and photographic sciences. This breadth has broadened the archaeological view in an interdisciplinary way, integrating it into larger contexts and placing the results on as broad a basis as possible.


The catalog is published by Nünnerich-Asmus Verlag and costs 29 €. It is also available in our store on the 24 metre level. You can find the opening hours here.


ISBN 978-3-96176-229-3


Special discounts

Upon presentation of a ticket of the "Modern Times" exhibition at the LWL-MAK Herne, there is a reduced entrance fee. Conversely, you will receive a 20% discount on the adult ticket and the reduced ticket of the special exhibition "Modern Times" in the period from 25.9.2023 to 7.4.2024.

Exhibition flyer

Further information on the exhibition and the extensive accompanying program can be found here as PDFs for download:

Flyer (PDF)