Research by the institute encompasses aspects from the Stone Age to the present. The focus is placed on the Neolithic/Bronze Age and Iron Ages as well as the Middle Ages and Postmedieval period. Characteristically the research has strong ties to the natural sciences, in particular to Archaeobotany and Archaeozoology and the general application of scientific methods in archaeology.

The Collaborative Research Centre 1266 "Scales of Transformation - Human-Environmental Interaction in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies" investigates processes of transformation in a crucial period of human history, from late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers to early state societies. The DFG’s priority programme 1400 “Early monumentality and social differentiation” with its many individual, archaeological and scientific projects is coordinated from within the institute. A interdisciplinary protohistoric DFG-project is on the island usage in Schleswig-Holstein during the Holocene. Further DFG-projects are on the colonization of Greater Poland during the Bronze Age, the Late Neolithic-Chalcolithic developments in Bosnia and the pre-Christian Iron Age in Southern Germany.

International networking (beyond individual projects) is ensured by the applied research of the graduate school „Human Development in Landscapes“ (DFG’s excellence initiative) and the programme “Forging Identities” (ESF).