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Património Cultural

The Leisner Archive

Das Leisner-Archiv (DEUTSCH)
El Archivo Leisner (ESPAÑOL)


Georg and Vera Leisner, German archaeologists, became known for their studies on Megalithism and research on the History of Prehistoric Archaeology on the Iberian Peninsula. Their research studies began in 1933 and continued to the end of their lives (Georg Leisner, Kiel - 1870 – Stuttgart – 1957; Vera Leisner – New York – 1885; Hamburg – 1972).

This research work is widely documented in different publications – most of which are available at the Archaeology Library – as well as in an importantcollection known as the « Leisner Archive». It includes around 49.500 documents – nearly 19.000 written documents and 30.500 graphic and photographic documents – that were accumulated by Georg Leisner (1870-1957) and Vera Leisner (1885-1972), during the course of their research work on the Iberian Peninsula. 

Vera Leisner donated this collection to the German Archaeological Institute in Madrid (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Abteilung Madrid – DAI) with a special request that it should remain in Portugal, in appreciation for the support granted to the couple on their arrival in Portugal after fleeing from the Second World War, and during their stay until 1972. This collection was kept under the custody of the German Archaeological Institute in Lisbon until it closed down in 1999 and was transferred to the Portuguese state under a loan for use agreement (along with its library). Today the collection is housed in the Archaeology Library of the Ajuda National Palace.



Within the Programme for Restoring, Treating and Organising Documentary Collections, promoted by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the DGPC submitted an application for treating the Leisner Archive and received financial support from this Foundation. Bearing in mind the scientific and archival interest of this collection, a step-by-step plan was set up to draw up an inventory, and conserve, scan and study the collection.

The project’s main goal was to treat and scan the correspondence archive so as to make it available to the public through the WebPages of the institutions involved – DGPC and DAI. The plan also included ensuring a complete record of the documentary resources, its hygienisation, small restoration works and appropriate conditioning.

In order to ensure implementation of this project, the DGPC and DAI signed a cooperation agreement approving the Leisner Archive Regulation.

The Leisner project team included archaeologists, librarians, archivists and archaeology technicians of the DGPC and DAI. Consultancy services in the Archives and Scanning areas had to be hired from outside. 



Considering the magnitude of the Leisner Archive, two operational areas have been considered in this project:  a global intervention on the archive and implementation of a specific programme for correspondence.  

Correspondence is likely to be the Archive’s lesser known area as most photographs and drawings belonging to the collection have been published among the vast bibliography the Leisner couple has made available.

The correspondence archive includes around 4000 documents that have been sorted in a data collection sheet based on Bibliobase software. All the documents have been inventoried, marked and scanned.

During the process of treating the collection, a general description of the holdings has been made, as follows:

1. Languages. Most letters were written in German or in Portuguese, although there are documents in Spanish, English and French too. Considering that most letters are in German – some in Sütterlin script -, it may be possible, through a partnership with DAI in Madrid, to have them translated in future so that they can be made available online to their target public in Portugal.

2. Sender/receiver countries. The extensive list of countries present in the Leisner archive shows how broad the couple’s scientific ties were.

3. Sender/receiver institutions.  As regards senders and receivers, there are two different groups of documents: personal and professional/scientific.  However, this approach is only safely applicable to documents that are not written in German, as the ones in German will have to wait for a translation. Considering only the former, most are of a professional/scientific nature with scarce examples of personal letters.

Taking into account all the sender/receiver institutions, there are two main groups: the Portuguese and German ones.

As far as Portugal is concerned, there is evidence of an intense research conducted by Georg and Vera Leisner, as can be seen by letters exchanged with main national museums such as the former National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (currently the Archaeology Museum), with regional museums such as the Tavares Proença Júnior Museum (Castelo Branco) and small local museums like the Sesimbra Archaeology Museum.

Correspondence with Junta Nacional de Educação and the Institute of High Culture is evidence of the support given by Portuguese institutions to archaeological excavations and subsequent studies by the Leisner couple, seconded by other national organisations like the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation or Junta de Turismo de Cascais.  The conclusion to be drawn is that most institutes involved in the archaeological activity in Portugal (universities, scientific establishments, associations…) are present in this Archive, which testifies to the strong connection the Leisners had with the scientific community in Portugal.

Some of the letters deal with personal matters such as the ones exchanged with the Ministry of Finance and the Police of Intervention and Defence of the State – PIDE.

As far as Germany is concerned, emphasis is placed on the correspondence exchanged with the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, with whom the couple maintained an employer-employee relationship throughout their scientific career. There are also records of letters exchanged with universities, namely the University of Marburg - where Georg and Vera Leisner studied -, research institutes like the Römisch-Germanisch Kommission or publishers like the Walter de Gruyter.

Correspondence with organisations from other nationalities shows the couple’s international visibility such as letters to the University of Cambridge or the University of Edinburgh or to museums as the LouvreMuseum or the BernischesHistorischesMuseum. Many of such letters have to do with exchange of publications due to the difficulty in obtaining updated bibliography in Portugal. This is the genesis of what would become the German Institute of Archaeology in Lisbon – the present-day BA.

Besides, there are letters exchanged with specialty magazines like the Antiquity Journal, publishers such as the Thames and Hudson or institutes and research centres such as the Instituto Español de Prehistoria.

4. Individualities (emission and reception). The number of personalities with whom the Leisner couple exchanged letters of a scientific nature can be ascertained by letters received and letters sent, as they had the habit of keeping a copy of all the letters sent.

Analysis of this correspondence enabled the collection to be divided into two major categories: one before the death of Georg Leisner (1957), during which the bulk of the scientific and professional correspondence was handled almost exclusively by him, and the second one mainly with letters to and from Vera Leisner. While the first lot has interesting snapshots of war in Europe, with descriptions of the bombing of the couple’s house in Munich, the second batch includes contacts with archaeologists and national organisations. Both lots contain documentation referring to the Leisners even though they are neither senders nor receivers.

This collection also includes most coeval authors approaching the subject of pre-historic archaeology.

As regards Portugal, reference is made to Hipólito da Costa Cabaço, Luís de Albuquerque, Octávio da Veiga Ferreira, José Formosinho, José Pires Gonçalves, Manuel Heleno, J. L. Saavedra Machado, Afonso do Paço, Leonel Ribeiro and Abel Viana.

Noteworthy in this category is the approach to Megalithism by Spanish archaeologists, namely  Martín Almagro Basch, Florentino Alonso-Cuevillas, António Beltrán Martínez, Pedro Bosch-Gimpera, Carlos Cerdán Márquez, Emeterio Cuadrado, Juan Maluquer de Motes, Luís Monteagudo or António García y Bellido.

Outside the Iberian Peninsula, mention should be made to world renowned authors such as Robert Braidwood, Vere Gordon Childe, Glyn Daniel, Pierre Giot, Stuart Piggott or Mortimer Wheeler.

From Germany and the German Archaeological Institute in Madrid, attention should be drawn to some researchers found to be regular contacts of the Leisner couple such as   Hermanfrid Schubart, Helmut Schlunk, Edward Sangmeister, Klaus Parlasca, Philine Kalb and Wilhelm Grünhagen.

Considering personal correspondence, mention should be made to the letters exchanged between Vera Leisner and her family – the De la Camps.

5. Archaeological sites. Most archaeological sites mentioned are located in Portugal. It may be possible in future to interconnect them with the archaeological sites inventoried in the Endovélico Information System.

Most sites referred to in this collection are Megalithic monuments, namely from the Megalithic Groups of Reguengos de Monsaraz, Cascais and Beiras. There are also important references to sites from the South of Spain such as Los Millares and the Huelva Megalithic monuments.



As the first stage of the approach to the Leisner Archive is now complete, a generic description of the fonds is available online, along with a catalogation and scanned version of the Correspondence Archive.

In order to understand how the database is organised and how to orient your search, we suggest you first read the methodology that has been set up for this purpose.

Should you require further information about this project, please check the following link:

Final Report.