The museum’s current prehistory exposition was opened in 2004 to celebrate its 80th anniversary. It is organised in a traditional chronological way, in four sections: the Stone Age, the Bronze-Early Iron Age, the Middle Iron Age and the Late Iron Age.
The Stone Age stand presents the oldest exhibit – a flint dagger (8000-5000 B.C.). The Early Neolithic and Narva culture are represented by horn, antler and bone work tools, amber workpieces and pendants. The ceramics of Western Lithuania at that time were characterised by oblong bowls, so it is no coincidence that the exposition includes an exemplar found in the Stone Age settlement of Nida. In the late 3000-2000 B.C., on the coast of the Baltic Sea forms the culture of the Pamariai, with the main features of Indo-European culture: corded wares, boat-shaped stone axes. The transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age was long, and for a long time people were still using stone tools.
After learning to work non-ferrous metals, most broken tools and jewellery were recast, leaving only a few random finds from the period. The museum exhibits two bronze axes, one of which is hafted, the Klaipėda type (1300-1000 B.C.), while the other is socketed and with a handle (700-550 B.C.). A map of the so-called “Amber Road” is shown against the background of an Early Iron Age stand. By land it extended from the cities of the Roman Empire (such as Aquileia) to the Baltic Sea. Trade relations between the two lands are recalled by coloured enamel necklaces, enamelled bronze fittings, brooches, and Roman coins, all brought back from abroad. In turn, amber was transported to the Roman Empire via this route, where it was used to make various articles. This is well illustrated by displayed beetle-shaped, mushroom-shaped amber pendants, found in the Baitai burial ground, which are not typical for the Balts.
Another part of the Early Iron Age exposition is devoted to the process of the formation of individual Baltic tribal groups in the first centuries after the birth of Christ. Greater attention is paid to the area of Western Lithuania’s burial grounds inside stone circles, visitors are shown the finds from the A.D. 100-400. Among them, a massive bronze chest adornment, weighing even 1120 grams, found in the grave of a woman in the Bandužiai burial ground, is noteworthy, with no analogous piece found in the countries of the Baltic Sea basin. Nearby, a reconstruction of a woman’s grave and burial items from the Baitai burial ground can also be seen.
The Middle Iron Age is particularly important for ethnic history, as tribal alliances were formed at the beginning of this period. The exposition presents a map of this process and archaeological finds that distinguish the Curonian tribe, whose territory extended from the present-day Klaipėda area to the mouth of the Venta River in the north. An important place is devoted to the Migration period, which took place across Europe in the middle of the 1st millennium, echoes in Lithuania, as evidenced by the unique finds found in the Vidgiriai burial ground.
The Late Iron Age exposition begins with artefacts from a rich woman’s grave from Palanga, next to which jewellery and household items typical for men and women of that period are exhibited, while the remaining part of the display case reflects the Curonians’ trade relations with Viking Scandinavia and the Western Baltic coast. An aerial photograph of the Žardė archaeological monument complex and original wood samples (hewn logs, stakes) found in the ancient settlement of Žardė are presented separately.
The custom of burning the dead, which existed in the territory inhabited by the Curonians in the 8th – 10th centuries, is illustrated by the reconstruction of a woman’s cremation grave in the Bandužiai burial grounds, which is decorated with jewellery (a necklace of glass and bronze beads, bronze sash-like bracelets, a penannular brooch, and a ring), as well as with miniatures of working tools.
A pot from the ancient settlement of Žardė, painstakingly restored by the museum’s restorers, is on display in a nearby wall niche, along with several ornamented pot shards. The ceramics date back to the 9th – 12th centuries. One of the newest and most eye-catching exhibits is a well (late 8th – late 10th centuries) discovered in the ancient settlement of Žardė-Bandužiai, which was used for washing iron ore. Archaeologists have found burnt clay, shards of ceramics, a stone tool for ore grinding, a piece of amber, various animal bones, eggshells and hazelnut shells. The story about the prehistory of this region ends with a model of a pagan temple in Palanga from the 14th – early 15th centuries (by the architect S. Manomaitis). An interesting fact is that the Curonians used the wooden poles on Birutė hill and the shadows that fell from them to identify the days of the most important calendar festivals.