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Prehistory and Protohistory

Degree: Bachelor of Arts
Application: not required
Course commences: winter semester / summer semester
Standard course duration: 6 semesters
Focus options: 50%; 25%
Language requirements: first main subject (50% (1)): certified proficiency in Latin (Latinum) and reading knowledge of English and French
Language of instruction: German and English

Faculty of Philosophy


Inhalt des Studiums

Though obviously historical in its perspectives, Prehistory and Protohistory is essentially a part of cultural studies. It draws upon material remains (finds and findings) to investigate the environment and the economic and social structures in which the early humans lived their lives. To the extent that relevant material evidence has survived, its purview also Extends to art, customs and religion. Accordingly, its aim is to analyse and reconstruct culture-historical connections and developments operative in times and places prior to those for which written records have come down to us.

The space of time covered by the subject begins with the first appearance of humans and ends with the first advent of a reasonable abundance of written sources coeval with the archaeological traces. The criterion determining such spatial and temporal definitions is the point in history at which significant script cultures emerge from earlier pre- and protohistorical developments.

Prehistory (Urgeschichte) covers a period stretching from the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic Ages to the Copper (Chalcolithic and Eneolithic), Bronze and Iron Ages. Its sources are geoarchaeological and its methodologies differ significantly from those employed in historical subjects (in the narrower sense of the term). Due to its close connections with the natural sciences, research on the Palaeolithic Age has developed into a discipline in its own right. Protohistory (Frühgeschichte) investigates cultural developments in Europe from late Antiquity/Völkerwanderung to the onset of the Middle Ages with reference mainly to archaeological evidence but also to historical sources. Though not regionally defined, Prehistory and Protohistory focuses largely on Europe and adjacent areas in Eurasia and North Africa.

Study requirements
In general terms, students of Prehistory and Protohistory need to be gifted in grasping the implications of purely visual material. They also require a good visual memory and the ability to think and work analytically. A good knowledge of English and French (at least) is necessary to understand the scholarly literature on the subject. In addition, students should be prepared to familiarise themselves with the relevant EDP programmes required for the course and to participate in practical fieldwork (excavations, surveys, etc.).

Course structure

Students of Prehistory and Protohistory begin with the Bachelor (B.A.) course, moving on from there (if desired) to the Master (M.A.) programme, which can be followed up by a PhD.

The focus options for the B.A. course are Prehistory and Protohistory (a) as a first main subject (50% = 74 CP), (b) as a second main subject (50% = 74 CP) and (c) as a subsidiary subject (25% = 35 CP) in combination with a different main subject (75%). Students can enrol for the course in the winter or the summer semester and there are no access (admission) restrictions.

The B.A. course takes six semesters to complete and is modular in structure. Modules are teaching (learning) units comprising a number of different classes. Successful attendance of these modules is assessed by means of course-integrated examinations/tests. All students have to sit an orientation examination by the end of their second semester. The B.A. course closes with a B.A. thesis and a B.A. examination. Successful graduates are awarded the academic degree “Bachelor of Arts”.

After graduation, students can go on to take the Master (M.A.) course. One requirement for this is successful completion of the B.A. course in Heidelberg or of a B.A. course at another university with the same content. The M.A. course ends in the fourth semester with the M.A. thesis and an oral examination. Students graduate from the degree programme with the academic title “Master of Arts”.

The third course of study leads to the PhD qualification. This course is only open to M.A. graduates and normally takes four to six semesters, depending on the topic chosen for the dissertation. Typical dissertation subjects involve an engagement with material discovered in the course of archaeological fieldwork.


Instruction in scholarly activity involves regarding selected topics central to the subject of study from an academic viewpoint. Accordingly, there is no rigid curriculum of thematically predetermined obligatory classes that students have to attend in a certain order.

The lectures are open to students of all semesters. Normally, the seminars, practical classes and colloquia are designed to match the degree of knowledge students can be expected to have acquired at a certain point in their studies. The specific didactic requirements of the subject (instruction on the demonstration and analysis of monuments and finds) are such that seminars and practical classes are only meaningful with attendance figures of 30 participants at the most.

Excursions are designed to acquaint students with the most important monuments and original finds located in museums. They are an indispensable part of the course(s). In Prehistory and Protohistory, successful study is very much a function of the students’ personal initiative. Attendance of the compulsory and elective-compulsory modules alone will not be an adequate foundation for the identification of personal academic preferences and the acquisition of essential knowledge in neighbouring subjects, both scholarly and scientific, such as Ancient History, Egyptology, Classical Archaeology, Medieval History, Classical Philology, Near Eastern Archaeology, Anthropology, Geography, Geology, Ethnology, Palaeo-Zoology, Palaeo-Botany, Archaeometry, etc.).

Students are expected to deepen and round off for themselves the knowledge and skills imparted to them in taught classes. The subject is so broad in its scope that it is indispensable for main-course students to engage from the outset with part of the subject matter via intensive and systematic self-study. Indeed, it is one of the essential aims of the course to instil this propensity for independent knowledge acquisition into the students, not only in their chosen subject itself but also in neighbouring sectors. The best time to engage in self-study of this kind is in the breaks between semesters.

Practical training
A number of practical aspects associated with the subject are difficult to communicate in the normal university environment. Accordingly, students are expected to take part in excavations undertaken by the Institute or other suitable institutions (Archaeological Cultural Heritage Preservation, German Archaeological Institute) and also (ideally) enlist for a museum internship. Such activities should be undertaken in the semester breaks. Another important part of the course is instruction in the fundamentals of surveying and in handling the EDP programmes relevant for the subject.

Main research interests

At the Heidelberg Institute, the later stages of Prehistory (Neolithic Period to Iron Age) in central and southern Europe are a major focus in research and teaching, with special emphasis on the early Aegean period (beginning of the Neolithic Age to the Minoan-Mycenaean civilisation) and on issues in settlement archaeology. There are also research and teaching focuses in Protohistory. Fieldwork in south-west Germany is a prominent feature.

Formal requirements

Application and admission

There are no admission restrictions. Click here for information on how to enrol.

International applicants:

There are special regulations for international applicants. For more information, apply to the International Relations Office of Heidelberg University (Seminarstraße 2).

Study and examination regulations

Examination regulations B.A. (8 February 2007, last amended 20 November 2008)
Examination regulations B.A. (14 April 2011, last amended 25 July 2013)

Module Handbook

Please click here to find the latest Module Handbook.

Examinations board

Issues arising in connection with examinations, credit transfer and academic credential recognition are dealt with by the relevant examinations board/office. For more information, consult the academic advisor(s) indicated below.


Tuition fees at Heidelberg University are payable at the beginning of each semester.

M.A. course

Heidelberg University offers a consecutive M.A. course in Prehistory and Protohistory.

Academic advisor

Susanne Prillwitz, M.A.
Sandgasse 7, Zi. 014
Tue 4 pm - 6 pm (outside term-time by appointment)
phone: +49 (0)6221-54-2544


Department of Prehistory, Protohistory and Near Eastern Archaeology
Sandgasse 7
D-69117 Heidelberg

Secretaries' office:
Daniela Wacker
phone: +49 (0)6221-54-2540
fax: +49 (0)6221-54-2526


Student representation:

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Letzte Änderung: 2018-07-10
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