NUsually Sylvia Morgenstern restores archaeological finds made of wood, metal or leather. However, the most recent find by the Lübeck city archaeologists presents the restorer with special challenges. It’s about a 79-year-old nut cake that was found during excavations in Lübeck’s old town. The first step is to use a brush, tweezers and scalpel to remove dirt and soil from the cake. “Ultimately, it’s about stabilizing and conserving them,” says Morgenstern.
The cake was found in April during excavation work in Alfstrasse in Lübeck’s founding district. “In the process, experienced excavation technicians came across a cake blackened by soot, but still easily recognizable,” said Manfred Schneider, head of the archeology department of the Hanseatic City of Lübeck, recalling the sensational find.
The house on Alfstrasse was destroyed in March 1942 in an Allied bombing raid on Lübeck. “Apparently a cavity had formed under the rubble that prevented the cake from getting too much heat and being crushed,” says Schneider.
“From a restorer’s point of view, this is the most exciting object I’ve ever worked on,” says Morgenstern. “I have to wait for the laboratory analyzes first. Only then can I decide whether I can clean the find with water and which substance is suitable for stabilization, ”she says.
But just like the question of preserving the cake, the archaeologists are concerned with the story behind it. In addition to the charred cake, a coffee service and several records were also found. “The pastry may have been intended for a confirmation ceremony. In the past, it usually took place on Palm Sunday, ”said Schneider. “We hope that at some point we can clarify this with the help of the city archive.”
The “cake mummy”, which has shrunk significantly due to the loss of fluids, has met with a great response both nationally and internationally. “Newspapers from all over the world reported on the find and we have already received the first request from a museum,” says Schneider.
Remnants of food are discovered again and again during excavations. In Hamburg in 2019, for example, several buckets of oyster shells were found during an excavation in the street Neue Burg and, according to a spokesman, the rest of a pointed wake from the pre-Roman Iron Age, i.e. from the time between 800 and 500 BC, can be seen in the Archaeological Museum Hamburg.
In 2020, the wine cellar of a former men’s club was excavated in Dresden. “The house and inventory were almost completely destroyed in the bombing in February 1945 – but the wine bottles were preserved,” says Christoph Heiermann from the Saxon State Office for Archeology. “However, food did not survive the heat of the fires.”
“The cake find is so special because it goes back to an event – namely the bombing raid on Lübeck – that is still present in the minds of the city,” says Doris Mührenberg, who is in charge of the Lübeck Archeology magazine. This is where the “cake mummy” will later find its place – if it is possible to preserve it permanently.