Wilhelm Unverzagt (21 May 1892, Wiesbaden–17 March 1971, East Berlin), was a German prehistorian and archaeologist.
Education and First World War
Born in Wiesbaden, Rhenish Hesse, Unverzagt studied classical philology, archaeology, and geography at the universities of Bonn, Munich, and Berlin between 1911 and 1914. As a student, he became a member of the Christian student associations Bonner Wingolf and Munich Wingolf.
From 1914 to 1916 he served as a soldier during the First World War in Flanders, Łódź, and in the "Winter War" in the Carpathians where he was severely wounded. He then worked for a short time as a research assistant at the Museum of Nassau Antiquities in Wiesbaden and from December, 1916 to Summer 1917 in the Römisch-Germanische Kommission of the German Archaeological Institute in Frankfurt am Main. He was then employed by the military in Brussels as an assistant consultant on the staff of the Flemish Occupation Administration, where he recorded Roman and late antique monuments in Belgium and northern France.
After the war in November 1918 he worked again in the Wiesbaden Museum. From 1919 to the autumn of 1924 he served in the diplomatic service. Due to his efforts to rescue Belgian and northern French artworks, he was first appointed to the German Armistice Commission in Spa, Belgium, became a consultant from January, 1920, and then worked in the Reich Commissariat for Reparations in Berlin. In Spa, he met the French prehistorian Raymond Lantier and in Berlin he made contacts with German archaeologist Carl Schuchhardt, at that time the director of the Ethnological Museum of Berlin, whose prehistoric department contained the largest collection of artifacts in Germany. In 1924 he became a corresponding member of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI).
Following these years of wartime interruptions Unverzagt resumed his studies and received his doctorate on March 3, 1925 from the University of Tübingen with the classical archaeologist Carl Watzinger. During his studies he also gained excavation experience: in 1911 in the late Roman fort at Alzey, and on the Limes near Sayn; during his time in Munich in Cambodunum (Kempten) under the direction of Paul Reinecke; and finally during his assignment in Belgium in 1918 together with Gerhard Bersu in the late Roman fort of Famars in Valenciennes.
Work as a prehistorian until the end of World War II
In 1925 Unverzagt became a research assistant, and in 1926 director of the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte (Berlin) ( ("Museum for prehistory and early history") in Berlin, then the largest German Museum of Prehistoric Archeology. In October 1926 he took on the position as a young, largely unknown archaeologist. After 1925 Carl Schuchhardt and 1926 Gustaf Kossinna retired, and the time came for Unverzagt. He first became a full member of the German Archaeological Institute in 1927, and then in 1929 the Römisch-Germanischen Kommission. From 1928 he received a teaching position at the University of Berlin, and in 1932 he became honorary professor there. In 1937, following the end of the freeze on new memberships, Unverzagt joined the NSDAP and received membership number 3,917,672. His election as a full member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences took place in 1939, but the election was not confirmed by the Amt Rosenberg. He also participated in courses of the SS and the Reich Labor Service.
In Germany Wilhelm Unverzagt conducted numerous excavations of Hillforts, as for example in Lossow near Frankfurt an der Oder from 1926 to 1926, at the Reitweiner Wallberge at Reitwein in the Oderbruch 1930, in Macedonia from 1931 to 1932, in Zantoch at the river Warthe (Warta) from 1932 to 1934, in Kliestow near Frankfurt from 1936 to 1938, and finally in Lebus from 1939 to 1944. From 1942 to 1944 Unverzagt was chairman and from 1951 to 1954 vice chairman of the Berliner Gesellschaft für Anthropologie, Ethnologie und Urgeschichte. Only comparatively late, in 1942, did he became a member of the Reich Federation for German Prehistory (Reichsbundes für Deutsche Vorgeschichte).
From February 1945 until the end of the Second World War, Unverzagt stayed in Berlin's Zoo flak tower, in rooms 10 and 11. Into the huge crowded building he also brought some archaeological exhibits, in order to save them from destruction or theft. The most famous pieces were the jewels of the Trojan "Treasure of Priam" packed in several boxes, as well as the "Gold of the Merovingians". After the capture of the bunker by the Red Army Unverzagt turned these over to the Soviet commendant and thus saved them from plunder and division. The commander promised to guarantee the safety of the art treasures. The treasures were taken away by the Soviet army, and today they are in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.
Work in East Germany
After the Second World War Unverzagt founded the Institut für Vor- und Frühgeschichte (Institute for Pre- and Early History) in the German Academy of Sciences, where he had been a research associate since 1947 and, until 1953, Chairman of the Commission for Pre- and Early History. After the conversion of the commission into the institute for prehistory and early history, he served as chair until 1964. Since 1949 he was also a full member of the German Academy of Sciences. There, he was involved mainly in the study of Slavic hillforts, which harks back to his older interests that had nothing to do with an ideological orientation within the DDR. Already in 1927 he had been instrumental in founding the "Working Group for the Study of Pre- and Early Historic Hill and Defensive Fortresses in Central and Eastern Germany". During the time of the division of Germany he was one of the outstanding scientists who worked intensively within their field to maintain the contact between East and West.
Since 1927 Unverzagt was editor of the publication Prähistorische Zeitschrift, since 1953 the Schriften der Sektion für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, since 1956 the journal Ausgrabungen und Funde, and since 1957 the magazine Werte der deutschen Heimat. In 1959 Unverzagt received the National Prize of the German Democratic Republic, second class.
His scientific legacy of institutional provenance was initially at the Academy of Sciences of the DDR. From 1990 on he split his time among various institutions, including the German Academy of Sciences at Berlin, the Brandenburg State Office for the Preservation of Monuments and State Archaeological Museum, the Humboldt University of Berlin, and the Museum for prehistory and early history in Berlin. In 2004, the Museum also acquired the scientific documents and materials that were found in Unverzagt's apartment in Berlin-Charlottenburg after his death, and assembled them for a partial retrospective.
- Das Kastell Alzei. In: Bonner Jahrbücher. number 122 (1912), pp. 137–169.
- Die Keramik des Kastells Alzey (= Materialien zur römisch-germanischen Keramik. vol. 2). Baer, Frankfurt am Main 1916.
- Terra sigillata mit Rädchenverzierung (= Materialien zur römisch-germanischen Keramik. Vol. 3). Baer, Baer, Frankfurt am Main 1919.
- (published with Albert Brackmann) Zantoch. Eine Burg im deutschen Osten (= Deutschland und der Osten. vol. 1). Hirzel, Leipzig 1936.
- (with Ewald Schuldt) Teterow. Ein slawischer Burgwall in Mecklenburg (= Schriften der Sektion für Vor- und Frühgeschichte. vol. 13). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1963.
- August Winkler: Vademekum WIngolfitikum, Wingolfsverlag, Wolfratshausen 1925, p.65.
- Werner Coblenz, Prähistorische Zeitschrift 67, 1992, pp.1–2.
- Märkische Oderzeitung: Von Bülow brachte Glanz ins Bistum vom 1. März 2006.
- W. Coblenz, Prähistorische Zeitschrift 67, 1992, S. 1.
- Staatliche Museen zu Berlin: Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte erwarb im Oktober 2004 den Teilnachlass des Prähistorikers Wilhelm Unverzagt