In 1872, the Patriotic Museum was founded in Dubrovnik; in the middle of 1873, the first museum display was made in the commune building. Among the exhibits, which were mainly from the period of the Dubrovnik Republic, the archaeological objects nevertheless stood out, for example, an Egyptian mummy, Greek vases and ancient amphorae.
The donors were collectors, leading members of patrician families, sailors and Dubrovnik people living elsewhere. Foremost among them were the great benefactors and donors the Amerling brothers, who had been passionate advocates of the museum’s founding; they gave most of the Egyptian, oriental and Japanese objects, birds, minerals and rarities of all kinds. In 1882, Arthur Evans, world renowned archaeologist and initiator of archaeological research in the Dubrovnik area, gifted to the museum three Roman funerary inscriptions from Cavtat, the first entries into the book of donated and purchased objects.
At the time the science of archaeology was being founded in Croatia in the early 20th century, lovers of antiquities gathered around the Dubrovnik branch of the Croatian Antiquarian Society in Knin and the Braće Hrvatskog Zmaja started to investigate the ruined Church of St Stephen, and after that it served as a temporary lapidarium for pre-Romanesque sculpture.
In 1932 the Patriotic Museum obtained the use of the first floor of Fort St John, and then for the first time the collections were formed, including the archaeological. In 1941 the exhibits were stored in the ground floor of The Holes granary; the finest examples of stone sculpture were exhibited in the same space, where they remained until the building was converted into the Ethnographic Museum.
Some of the stone monuments were moved in 1960, at the suggestion of the Association of the Friends of Dubrovnik Antiquities, from The Holes to Bokar Fort; three years later, the department started its first archaeological research.
In the 1990s it turned into the Archaeological Museum, part of Dubrovnik Museums. The holdings have increased in size many times as a result of ongoing archaeological investigations, and have been divided into eight collections, covering a period of time from the early Neolithic to the second half of the 17th century, that is to the great earthquake of 1667.
As the space for a permanent display has not yet been settled on, the museum presents the rich archaeological history of the Dubrovnik area in occasional or ad hoc exhibitions. In the ground floor of Revelin Fortress, of which it has been given the temporary use, there are currently two exhibitions on show: Early Medieval Sculpture of Dubrovnik and Environs and Revelin – Archaeological Research / Spatial Development / Foundry.