Karl Schlabow (27 April 1891 – 30 September 1984) was a German archaeologist, museum director and conservator with specialisations in textiles and in restoration of bog bodies. He founded the Neumünster Textile Museum. Since his death, his restorations have been called into question as overly aggressive.
Life and career
Born in Neumünster, Schlabow studied painting at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, then spent two years in Peru. On his return in 1926, on the recommendation of the textile manufacturer Ludwig Simons, he became director of the Neumünster city museum, which he developed into a textile museum. On the advice of Otto Lehmann of the museum at Altona, Schlabow made an intensive study of the history of textiles and textile handcrafts, and in 1928 he was commissioned by Gustav Schwantes of the Kiel Museum of Prehistory to catalogue and arrange that museum's textile holdings, which dated to the Bronze Age and Iron Age and came from archaeological investigations of peat bogs and burial mounds. Several thousand years old, poorly preserved and extremely delicate, the finds were unattractive in appearance and unsuited to exhibition. With the assistance of a long-time assistant, Willi Schramm, and others, Schlabow restored them, including recreating missing sections as accurately as possible. A travelling exhibit of the pieces toured museums in Bremen, Hamburg and Berlin for over three years with great success, and then became an important part of the permanent exhibition at the Neumünster Textile Museum.
Schlabow was also a close associate of Herbert Jankuhn, the SS officer who directed the Museum of Fatherland Antiquities at Kiel, forerunner of the Schleswig-Holstein State Archaeological Museum at Gottorf Castle. He himself was a member of the Ahnenerbe, was on Ahnenerbe teams that examined the Bayeux Tapestry during the Nazi occupation of France, and after World War II was interned until 1947.
He then returned to the Neumünster museum and rebuilt the severely damaged building and collection. While continuing with this task, in 1948 he moved from there to Schleswig, where he was involved in developing the state archaeological museum and participated in the conservation of the bog finds from Thorsberg moor and Nydam Mose. He was responsible for the reconstruction of almost all the then known Iron Age textiles, conducted experiments including weaving two Prachtmäntel (ceremonial cloaks) on reconstructed period looms, and published numerous articles. He continued to work intensively in the field of Iron Age textile archaeology after his retirement, and in 1976 published Textilfunde der Eisenzeit in Norddeutschland, a book summing up his knowledge in the field. He is buried in the cemetery at Neumünster.
His work included the reconstruction of Bronze Age clothing from mound burials in Denmark, including those of Egtved Girl, Skrydstrup Woman and the Borum Eshøj burials, and Iron Age clothing from bog finds in Germany and Denmark, including the Thorsberg Prachtmantel. He worked on the so-called building sacrifices from the Tofting dwelling hill, Peiting Woman, and some of the finds from the Nydam and Thorsberg bogs. He was a pioneer of textile archaeology, and together with the Danish archaeologist Margarete Hald, established it as a respected field. His publications remained standard works for decades.
On his 60th birthday, 27 April 1951, Schlabow was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Kiel. On 1 June 1977 the city of Neumünster awarded him the Caspar von Saldern Medal for his services to the city and the museum.
Since a publication in 1978 by Michael Gebühr, also formerly of the Schleswig-Holstein State Archaeological Museum, there has been criticism of Schlabow's restorations, many of which seem to have paid more attention to artistic effect than to accuracy. For example, he added a probably unoriginal lower jaw to Osterby Man; manipulated Windeby Girl's hand to form an anachronistic obscene gesture, the fig sign, and altered drawings of the find site; and added a labia to the female of the Braak Bog Figures. He did not adequately investigate a baby's corpse found in Wilhelmshaven, which he wrongly explained as a human sacrifice. Gebühr suggests that he was "perhaps ... in fact only imaginative and at the same time out of his depth scientifically".
- "'Rough justice' of 2000 years ago: an executed girl preserved in peat". Illustrated London News, 19 December 1953, p. 1015.
- Der Thorsberger Prachtmantel: Schlüssel zum altgermanischen Webstuhl. Förderverein Textilmuseum Neumünster, Veröffentlichungen. Neumünster: Wachholtz, 1965. OCLC 8609799 (German)
- Textilfunde der Eisenzeit in Norddeutschland. Göttinger Schriften zur Vor- und Frühgeschichte 15. Neumünster: Wachholtz, 1976. ISBN 9783529015151 (German)
- Klaus Tidow, "Vom 'Städtischen Museum' zum Textil- und Industriemuseum Neumünster", Kieler Blätter zur Volkskunde 19 (1987), ISSN 0341-8030, 151–69 (German)
- Beatrix Hoffmann, Das Museumsobjekt als Tausch- und Handelsgegenstand: Zum Bedeutungswandel musealer Objekte im Kontext der Veräußerungen aus dem Sammlungsbestand des Museums für Völkerkunde Berlin, Kulturwissenschaft 33, [Berlin]: LIT, 2012, ISBN 9783643113139, p. 118 (German)
- Sylvette Lemagnen, "The Bayeux Tapestry under German occupation. New light on the mission led by Herbert Jankuhn during the Second World War", in The Bayeux Tapestry: Embroidering the Facts of History, ed. Pierre Bouet, Brian Levy and François Neveux, Caen: Presses universitaires de Caen, 2004, ISBN 9782841332137, pp. 49–64, pp. 55–56, 61.
- Maria Cybulska, "To See the Unseen—Computer Graphics in Visualisation and Reconstruction of Archaeological and Historical Textiles", in Computer Graphics, ed. Nobuhiko Mukai, n.p.: InTech, 2012, ISBN 978-953-51-0455-1, OCLC 846869426, pp. 213–28, note 1, p. 217 (pdf)
- Photograph of his grave, Friedhof Neumünster.
- E. J. W. Barber, Prehistoric Textiles: The Development of Cloth in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages: With Special Reference to the Aegean, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University, 1991, ISBN 9780691035970, p. 192.
- Thomas Brock, "Windeby: Geheimnis der Moorleichen gelüftet" Der Spiegel, 17 February 2007 (German)
- "Caspar-von-Saldern-Verdienstmedaille", Stadt Neumünster, retrieved 8 October 2013 (German)
- Brock, "Windeby": "vielleicht ... wirklich nur fantasievoll und zugleich wissenschaftlich überfordert".
- Klaus Tidow. "Dr. h. c. Karl Schlabow 90 Jahre". Die Heimat. Zeitschrift für Natur- und Landeskunde von Schleswig-Holstein und Hamburg 1.88, 1981. ISSN 0017-9701. pp. 112–14 (German)
- Henning Haßmann and D. Jantzen. "Die deutsche Vorgeschichte - eine hervorragend nationale Wissenschaft. Das Kieler Museum Vorgeschichtlicher Altertümer im Dritten Reich". Offa 51 (1994) ISSN 0078-3714. 9–35 (German)