History of the Institute of Archaeology

History of the Institute of Archaeology UW

The beginnings of interest in archaeology at the University of Warsaw date from the early nineteenth century, time of the Royal University of Warsaw (1816-1831). Its Numismatic Cabinet was created in 1816, its first curator Professor Feliks Bentkowski. The first resources of the Numismatic Cabinet included a set of 2847 coins acquired in 1824; by 1862 the collection had increased to 5887 coins. In response to growing antiquarian interests a Cabinet of Ancient Curiosities was set up in 1826.

When tsarist authorities closed down the University in 1831 in retaliation for the November Uprising of 1830 this slowed down the development of archaeological activities. Nevertheless, shortly after the setting up in 1862 of the Main School of Warsaw, the Numismatic Cabinet and the Cabinet of Ancient Curiosities resumed activity and continued to function even after the Main School was shut down in 1869, replaced by a Russian Imperial University of Warsaw. In 1871 an Archaeology Cabinet was created, with c. 2000 artefacts, placed under the care of A. Mierzyński. In 1875/76 and 1881/82 Alfred Pawiński read the first lectures on prehistory: ‘On the History and Prehistory of the Kingdom of Poland and on the History of Primitive Civilisations’. In 1877 the Numismatic and the Archaeology Cabinets were merged; even so, until WW I the Imperial University had no separate chair or department of archaeology. During this period the leading role in the development of archaeology was played by the Warsaw Scientific Society, which starting from 1905 had an Archaeology Committee. Its members included Erazm Majewski, Kazimierz Stołyhwo, Stefan Krukowski, Leon Kozłowski, Ludwik Sawicki and Marian Hinner.

In 1915 tsarists authorities retreating before the advancing German army closed down the Imperial University of Warsaw and most of its numismatic and archaeology collections were taken east. The University resumed work the same year, this time, as a fully Polish institution.

In 1919 the Department of Prehistoric Archaeology was created, housed in Staszic Palace, its Director, Erazm Majewski. After WW I the collections of the Department numbered just 137 pieces from the original pre-1915 collections. After E. Majewski’s death in 1920 his successor was Professor Włodzimierz Antoniewicz. He was also the Dean of the Faculty of History in 1934/35 and Rector of the University of Warsaw in 1936/37. In 1931 the Section of Classic Archaeology was created, led by Professor Kazimierz Michałowski. During WW II activity of the two Departments was suspended but lectures in archaeology continued to be read as part of the Underground University.


Over the years new chairs and departments were created (Department of Slav Archaeology, Department of Archaeology of Antiquity, Chair of Ancient Archaeology, with a Department of Anthropology, later transformed into the Chair of Prehistoric and Early Medieval Archaeology). After W. Antoniewicz the Chair was headed by Zofia Wartołowska and Witold Hensel, its staff during the early 1960s included: Zbigniew Sochacki, Bronisława Chomentowska, Maria Miśkiewicz, Andrzej Kempisty, Jerzy Gąssowski, Andrzej Wierciński, Stefan Karol Kozłowski, Janina Rosen-Przeworska

In 1975 all the Chair of Prehistoric and Early Medieval Archaeology, Chair of Papyrology and Chair of Mediterranean Archaeology were were reorganised into a single unit - Institute of Archaeology, its first Director, Professor Waldemar Chmielewski.

At present, the Institute of Archaeology is a unit of the Faculty of History UW, next to Institutes of: History, Art History, Information And Book Studies, Musicology, Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology and the Center for Precolumbian Studies. The Dean of the Faculty is Prof. Dr. Elżbieta Zybert.


The Institute of Archaeology is the largest academic institution of its kind in Poland, one of the largest in the world. It is divided into 17 Departments and 7 Laboratories. It has a staff of c. 100 (researchers, lecturers, technicians and administration staff). The Institute offers instruction in most branches of modern archaeology and related sciences to over 1500 students from different areas of study. At present the Institute of Archaeology UW is housed in the historic building of the Warsaw Main School (1862-1869) – one of the finest buildings on the main campus of the University.

Print Print this page