SMAC Staatliches Museum fur Archaologie Chemnitz

Jens Beutmann

Senior Curator, SMAC

SMAC State Museum of Archaeology Chemnitz

Stefan-Heym-Platz 1 09111 Chemnitz Germany

Chemnitz, Germany 

European Museum Academy / DASA Award 2018


Archaeology Brought to Modernity



The first thing that strikes first-time-visitors to our museum is the view from the lobby through the breach in the ceiling up into the 3-storey permanent exhibition. Immediately, everybody realizes: this is not what we expected; this is a cool, beautifully designed, colourful learning machine.

In 2014, the State Museum of Archaeology Chemnitz (smac) opened as the successor to the former Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte in Dresden. For the first time the new museum presents a permanent exhibition on the archaeology of what is now the territory of the Free State of Saxony, a federal state in Germany. The museum is housed in an icon of classic modernism, the former Schocken Department Store. With its exhibitions on Salman Schocken, Erich Mendelsohn and the history of the building itself, the museum fulfils its obligation to the German-Jewish heritage and 20th century history.

Main exhibition

The exhibition concept and scenography of the smac combine to form an innovative narrative whole. The journey through human history is arranged in ascending chronological order, beginning with the oldest finds on the first floor (dating from 300,000 years ago) and ending on the third floor with the early industrial period (around 1850). Nevertheless, the smac does not narrate history in a strictly linear fashion. Instead, the focus is more on how a specific region has changed over a period of about 300,000 years. In particular, the exhibition shows how the territory of the modern Free State of Saxony has evolved, through the influence of humans and against the background of its environment and climate, from a natural landscape first into an agricultural landscape and eventually into a modern cultural landscape. This concept is reflected in the scenography by borrowing the various ways of museal display from other academic disciplines (natural history, the natural sciences and history) and combining these with landscape panoramas and special lighting effects, so that intellectual, non-verbal and sensory communication go hand in hand. Furthermore, the time-dynamic model of Saxony and a 22 metre high section through geological and archaeological strata present a synopsis of history in space and time. By overcoming disciplinary and presentational boundaries, the smac has succeeded in making its contents accessible to a much wider range of visitors beyond those already interested in archaeology and human history.


SMAC Wall of Everyday Objects on the third floor


"Bow front" exhibitions
The three complementary exhibitions about the life and work of Erich Mendelsohn, the history of the Schocken Company and the Chemnitz department store, and Salman Schocken – who was not only the co-founder and co-owner of the company but also a Zionist, book connoisseur and publisher – merge seamlessly with the main exhibition. They are staged on three floors directly behind Mendelsohn's famous bowed front. Thus, as well as fulfilling its primary purpose as a state archaeological museum, the smac also makes an important contribution towards confronting the darkest period of German history, namely the persecution of the Jews under National Socialism and the resulting loss of Jewish culture.

Inclusion and diversity
In 2017 the smac spent time and money on making the permanent exhibition more accessible, especially to people with visual or acoustic impairments. Furthermore an audio guide in plain language (Leichte Sprache) and a video guide in sign language (Deutsche Gebärdensprache) were introduced. Inside the museum a number of technical aids are available for the use of visitors with mobility impairments.

For the benefit of foreign visitors or people of migrant background, all the texts in the museum are in German and English. The audio guides are in German and English, too, and for the main archaeological exhibition also in Czech. On our family day, children and adults under the guidance of experimental archaeologists can try their hand at a range of prehistoric technologies.

Teaching across subject boundaries is a big issue in secondary schools. For the near future we are preparing programmes that utilize elements of our permanent exhibition for interdisciplinary education. A ld"museum chestrd" (Museumskoffer) containing genuine objects and teaching aids to "Jewish identities in Chemnitz before 1938" is already available. The contents of this chest can be used by school classes or project groups to prepare visits to our "bow front exhibitions" and to the traces of Jewish life within the city.



SMAC Moderator explains a settlement model

Public involvement and temporary exhibitions

The pre-history and history of Saxony cannot be told without the European perspective. Neanderthals were a European phenomenon and the first farmers came here from southeast Europe. In the migration period, different peoples left their traces and today's Saxons might mostly be descendants of Slavic and German speaking settlers from the Middle Ages. The "local" mining industry was in fact already "international" in late medieval times. Applied to the present, this means "We all have a migration background". Thus our slogan "7000 years of Multiculturalism" "Multi-Kulti seit 7000 Jahren") put up in large letters on our façade in 2015 during the swelling public debate on the future role of immigrants ("PEGIDA"-movement) was a political statement. Since 2016 our annually "Meet New Friends" event brings together immigrants and natives. Our small summer 2019 exhibition 2 Million Years of Migration was taken over from the Neanderthal Museum and wanted to be part of the political debates within the city, that took on a new and sometimes disturbing dynamic in the wake of the events of August 2018, when Chemnitz came into the focus of international media. We support an Open Space, run by the Municipal Art Collections and situated behind the famous Karl-Marx-Monument, whose aim it is to bring together people of different political and ethnical background and strengthen dialogue.

In our special exhibition programme we try to promote public appreciation of cultural diversity and address universal issues that are still important today. So far we staged exhibitions on the Archaeology of Vietnam, Money and Death Ritual. Our first special exhibition on Bronze and Iron Age salt mining in Austria linked the important mining tradition of the Erzgebirge Mountains around Chemnitz with its prehistoric forerunners. Last winter we put Saxony Bohemia 7000 on our exhibition stage, which explored the vicinity and distance between these two neighbouring regions in the heart of Europe. Our next large exhibition, Life at the Dead Sea, will open while the Best of Heritage conference is taking place in Dubrovnik. It deals with the archaeology of this very special region which was at the intersection of different cultures and beliefs for at least 12,000 years. Future exhibition projects deal with the city as a global phenomenon and with jewellery and personal adornment in an anthropological perspective.


In 2014 the overall concept of the smac was awarded the Museum Prize of the hbs-kulturfonds, part of the Niedersächsische Sparkassenstiftung. In 2016 the smac was a nominee for the European Museum of the Year Award. Furthermore, we received a number of design accolades, including seven for the time-dynamic model of Saxony and one for our corporate design. Including the DASA Award of the European Museum Academy 2018 the smac has received 14 awards and mentions.




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