Herbert Jankuhn Reads Selections From Mao

i-288f5b0670846ce7e63df46d92aff990-jankhe90.JPGGerman archaeologist Herbert Jankuhn (1905-90) is a contentious figure. A passionate Nazi soldier and SS archaeologist up until 1945, he became one of the country’s most influential post-war archaeologists from the late 50s onward. Fornvännen 2011:3 has just come out containing a contribution on the younger Jankuhn’s heartfelt Nazi enthusiasm, as documented by recent archive finds.

I’m reading Wolf-Dieter Tempel’s charming professional memoir, Am Rande der Archaäologie. Here’s a wonderful snippet from his recollections regarding Jankuhn, who was his teacher (and I translate).

The Göttingen archaeology seminar shared a beautiful Rococo building, the university’s erstwhile women’s clinic, with the musicologists and art historians. In February of every year the art historians would organise a carnival party to which the other two seminars were also invited. In 1969 the art historians could not organise the party. So we had the idea that we might do it. Preliminary plans were made. But everyone thought that Professor Jankuhn would not allow such an event in his seminar. Nobody dared ask. Time running short, I took a deep breath and spoke to Jankuhn as we left the building at lunch time one day. I told him that everyone thought he would not give his permission. His answer was, “Now, that was a fine way of presenting it. I heard about your plans from Mrs. Nolte (the secretary) long ago and was waiting for you to ask.” He told me he had never so far been against partying, and would give his permission as a matter of course. That first statement was of course not true. Because all my older colleagues said that there had never been any social gatherings among the co-workers at the seminar, nor previously at the museum or during the excavations at Haithabu. Be that as it may: we arranged a carnival party, and it turned out to be the only one in the history of the Institute, as I learned later.

I designed the invitation to the “Paleo-carnival”, which purposely suggested prehistoric fancy dress. But any costume would do. After I sent the invitations, Mrs. Jankuhn called me. The mandatory costume rule could not possible apply to her husband, who had never so far in his life dressed up. I told her that everyone would understand it if the Head of Department did not dress up. We would however appreciate it greatly if he were willing to greet the guests. As Mrs. Jankuhn told us later, the professor did indeed not make any preparations to adapt to the otherwise entirely costumed gathering. Mrs. Jankuhn sewed herself a Chinese costume. On the day before the party, he told his wife that if she would give him her Chinese outfit, he would go dressed up as Mao. His wife could easily improvise something for herself. And so Professor Jankuhn arrived wearing the coat-like Chinese wrapping and carrying Mao’s Little Red Book under his arm. He then read selections from it during his welcoming speech and at intervals throughout the evening, which absolutely did not please Mao’s many admirers among the students at the time.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

One thought on “Herbert Jankuhn Reads Selections From Mao”

  1. I will have to find a copy of Fornvannen to read. Jankuhn the archaeologist interests me greatly, since he worked in the area that interests me. Thank you for this post.


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