A Noble Pursuit: The Duchess of Mecklenburg Collection from Iron Age Slovenia

The Duchess of Mecklenburg leading an excavation
The Duchess of Mecklenburg leading an excavation. PM 2004.24.18827.1

Duchess Marie Friedrich of Mecklenburg was born a princess in 1856 and died an impoverished noblewoman in 1929.  Her homeland, Carniola, was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and is now in the Republic of Slovenia.  It was there she transformed herself from estranged wife to renowned archaeologist.  The duchess was passionately committed not simply to antiquities or the idea of archaeology, but to its practice.  She was driven to become a respected archaeologist.  With no formal training, she aggressively sought (and bought) mentored excavation experience.  This fascinating woman plied imperial connections, family wealth, local knowledge, and a strategic personal charm to overcome prejudices of the age, finally achieving her goal in 1913. 

In just ten years of fieldwork, the duchess assembled over 20,000 objects from 21 Iron Age (800 B.C.—A.D. 1) burial sites in Slovenia.  The Mecklenburg Collection is world-class and defines the material culture of Early Iron Age Europe.  The bulk of the collection is now at the Peabody Museum and represents the largest systematic assemblage of European antiquities outside that continent.  Due to this irreplaceable collection’s remarkable breadth and thorough documentation, it continues to enliven our understanding of late prehistoric Europe.

This online exhibit is adapted from a Tozzer Library exhibit in 2006. The exhibit is based on the book by Gloria Polizzotti Greis, A Noble Pursuit: The Duchess of Mecklenburg Collection from Iron Age Slovenia (Peabody Museum Press, 2006).