The Institute of Prehistory is one of the oldest scientific institutions at Adam Mickiewicz University, of which it was one the first departments, being founded along with the creation of the University in 1919. Prof. Józef Kostrzewski was its founder and first head as well as one of the founders of the University itself.
The Institute has conducted extensive field surveys, concentrating in the first instance on the Wielkopolska and the Kujavia regions, along with Eastern Pomerania to a smaller degree. From the 1960s onwards these were further supplemented by Western and Middle Pomerania. One of the most important recent activities of the Institute has been its considerable contribution to large-scale rescue archaeology projects. Staff members are also conducting research and excavations in areas outside Poland, in Byelorussia, Ukraine, Turkey, Syria, Egypt and the Sudan etc.
In the period before World War II, the research projects of the Institute's staff were focused on the ethnogenesis of Slavs and the massive early medieval strongholds of the Wielkopolska region, these being the political centres of the early Piast dynasty. In the period between 1948 and the mid 1960s the Institute paid considerable attention to the study of the dawn and later development of the early Piast state. This was part of a much bigger national project, set up to commemorate the millennial anniversary of the Polish state and Christianity, celebrated in 1966. It is worth mentioning that the Institute was one of the main initiators of the whole project. The following years brought increasing interest in prehistory, mainly the Neolithic period and the Roman Iron Age.
Also of great importance has been the Institute's study of methodological and theoretical frameworks for archaeological enquiry, as well as its interest in a broad range of interdisciplinary studies, including bioarchaeology, petroarchaeology and archaeometry. These have proved to be very stimulating for the development of the whole spectrum of issues in Polish prehistory. Recently the Institute has been undertaking projects related to the application of non-invasive methods in archaeology and has become the leading institution in Poland in this field. The Institute takes an active role in various international exchange programmes with archaeological institutions from Europe and Asia.
Among its alumni are numerous eminent professors, members of many local and international associations, scientific organizations and leading specialists from almost all important archaeological institutions in Poland.
An active publication policy has been one of the most important activities of the Institute since its foundation. It publishes its own journals Folia Praehistorica Posnaniensia, as well as a number of scientific series. The Institute's staff are members of the editorial committees of three of Poznań's archaeological journals and some international journals as well.