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Archaeologist in documentary about life as a researcher


Over the past year, documentary filmmaker David Bernet has followed University of Gothenburg archaeologist Bettina Schulz Paulsson with his camera. He has been with her on excavations in Europe and in meetings with students at the Humanisten.

Documentary filmmaker David Bernet is based in Berlin and has won several awards for his documentaries. Most recently for his film Democracy, which follows work at the EU headquarters in Brussels during the GDPR process.

Documentary filmmaker David Bernet has accompanied University of Gothenburg archaeologist Bettina Schulz Paulsson on excavations around Europe.

Alongside following University of Gothenburg archaeologist Bettina Schulz Paulsson, he has also filmed in Ukraine, at the borders for a documentary on several people engaged in solidarity work.

David Bernet says the films are part of a triology.

“The first film, about the EU and the work on legislation, was "Democracy". The second, focusing on institutions of humanitarian aid, is "Solidarity".  Film number three, with Bettina, has the working title "Curiosity".” 

Not like true crime

He wants to challenge the usual narrative in documentaries about archaeology shaped like crime stories. Viewers then follow the archaeologist or researcher as they work to find out the answer, which is then presented at the end of the film. 

“I'm trying to challenge the narrow perspective on scientific discovery and also to describe how scientists always are part of social complexitiy and have to solve several questions at the same time - some of them may never be answered.”

That's why university archaeologist Bettina Schulz Paulsson, who runs the EU/ERC research project NEOSEA, is a good fit to star in the film. 

Documentary filmmaker David Bernet got to know Bettina Schulz Paulsson when they lived in the same student collective in Berlin in the 1990s. They used to joke that he would become a famous documentary filmmaker and make a film about her when she became an archaeologist.

Searching for answers

David Bernet is an award-winning documentary director filmmaker.
Photo: Manfred Werner/Wikimedia

“I want to focus on the meaning of research in the times we live in, where so much is about information. Bettina asks questions that may never be answered, instead the film is about the search for answers, says David Bernet.”

Bettina Schulz Paulsson is an associate professor of archaeology. She does research but she also teaches. She got to know David Bernet when they lived in the same student collective in Berlin. Her research focus is the Stone Age and she is particularly interested in scientific methods and dating, megaliths, seafaring during the Stone Age and Stone Age rock art.

The research project NEOSEA is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and is considered excellent research at the University of Gothenburg.

The invention of Europa

The aim of the research project is to investigate megaliths, navigation and seafaring technology in the Stone Age. It is hoped that it will provide a picture of how megalithic societies spread by sea along the coasts of Europe and provide a picture of how migration shaped Europe.

“I agreed to be filmed because I know David. But his vision of making a different kind of documentary about archaeology is also important,” says Bettina Schulz Paulsson.

The documentary also involves filming students, colleagues and Bettina's family.

“For the students, I think it can be a good experience. As for my family, they are not the focus of the film. My children have accompanied me on fieldwork and travel throughout their childhood. So not much choice on their part, but my son Jonathan says it was a great childhood where he got to see all of Europe.”

The documentary, with the working title "Curiosity", is scheduled to be completed at the same time as Bettina Schulz Paulsson publishes her first results of the research project. Hopefully within two years.
Right now the NEOSEA research-team works with data collection, sampling and project 
fieldwork. Next excavation is a megalithic necropolis in Tuscany .

Text: Cecilia Sjöberg


The NEOSEA research project is funded with 15 million from the ERC and will run for 5 years. Archaeologist Bettina Schulz Paulsson has several researchers working on the project, both in Sweden and abroad.