The archaeological collections in the HLMD are among the oldest in Germany. Their presentation is divided into five sections.
The first section traces Prehistory and Early History in the Rhine-Main-Neckar metropolitan region from about 5600 B.C. to circa 800 A.D. Because of the many losses the museum suffered during the Second World War, most of the exhibited pieces come from post-war excavations. The tour through the permanent collection begins with the Neolithic Period and continues on to the Bronze and Iron Ages (Celts), Imperial Rome and Late Antiquity up to the Frankish Kingdom (Merovingian and early Carolingian Empire).
Aside from the mosaic floor from Bad Vilbel, which is unique in Hesse, bronze and stone sculptures and reliefs make up the important works in the second section devoted to Imperial Rome.
The third section, Ancient Egypt, encompasses the time from the Pre-Dynastic Period around the fourth millennium B.C. to the emergence of Islam in the latter half of the first millennium A.D. The thematic core of the collection is made up by cosmetics and beauty care, the use of amulets in all living situations as well as aspects of the funerary cult. A colourful mummy cartonnage and the dagger of Djehuti, a high official under Pharaoh Thutmose III (1479–1425 B.C.), are particular highlights. Most of the items in the Egyptian Collection were presented to the museum by various travellers in the second half of the 19th century and the department was considerably expanded in 2013 thanks to the donation made by the Darmstadt Wella Collection. The abundance of extraordinary objects that have enriched a number of the collections in the HLMD produced a new thematic focus dealing with cosmetics and beauty care.
The focus of the fourth section devoted to classical antiquity is on painted pottery from Greek colonies in Italy. The collection features a first rate survey of red-figure and black-figure vase painting in all of their wide variety of scenes and shapes. The collection is supplemented by examples of native Etruscan ceramics. This section of the collection is likewise made up to a large extent by donations made to the museum during the 19th century.
The fifth section, which deals with the reception of classical antiquity, explores the reversion to the ideals of that long-ago era with its consummate principles of proportion and form in the 18th and 19th centuries. This is exemplified by the cork models of ancient Roman architecture made by Antonio Chichi, probably the best known cork modeller of the 18th century. Particularly impressive for their sizes alone are the models of the Colosseum and the Pantheond. Other important works from series of models are the richly detailed triumphal arches of Septimius Severus and Constantine. Several of the models correspond to contemporary paintings and engravings. The genre of sculpture is represented in the interdisciplinary exhibition by a plaster cast of the famous Belvedere Torso.