prehistory

Reflecting the fundamental idea behind the Natural History Museum Vienna, the Department of Prehistory traces the cultural evolution of early mankind. Original exhibits represent the most important cultural developments and achievements during the initial phase of human history – from the Ice Age approximately 100,000 years ago until the end of the Early Middle Ages (AD 996), when Austria was mentioned for the first time in the “Ostarrîchi” document. Some of the exhibition’s richest finds come from the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.


Design

After remaining unchanged for over 40 years, the Department of Prehistory’s exhibition has been completely redesigned. Halls 11 – 13 were re-opened to the public in late 2015 and reflect the latest developments in exhibition technology and presentation methods. Two “cabinets” have also been adapted as part of the renovation work in order to create a worthy setting for the NHM’s famous Paleolithic Venus figurines and fascinating collection of gold and silver objects.
The exhibition is divided into three areas. On the window side selected objects give visitors key information on the most important cultural periods. On the walls opposite the windows, the Department of Prehistory presents its current fields of research. The central area houses the original display cases with a wide selection of objects shown in their respective historical context. While Halls 11 and 13 are designed chronologically, Hall 12 is entirely dedicated to the prehistoric salt mine and settlement of Hallstatt (Upper Austria).


Gold Cabinet

The Gold Cabinet provides a fitting backdrop for a spectacular collection of gold items, some of which were locked up in a safe for more than 100 years. Dating back several millennia, the collection’s highlights include the 6,000-year-old gold discs from the Stollhof Hoard (the second-oldest gold find in the world). These eye-catching discs are not only beautiful items of jewelry but also provide valuable information on the early use of natural resources. Original items from gold hoards found in Rothengrub and Michalkow are also on display for the first time. Furthermore, the NHM Vienna is home to one of the most important finds in Austria from the Late Bronze Age: the Arikogel Hoard found at Lake Hallstatt.


Venus Cabinet

The Venus Cabinet houses the famous 29,500-year-old Venus of Willendorf and the 36,000-year-old statuette found in Stratzing, known as “Fanny”. These two Venus figures are the only exhibits displayed in this room in order to emphasize the aura of these two early works of art. The Venus Cabinet is bathed in a deep red light designed to recreate the red ochre that would have originally covered the Venus of Willendorf. Furthermore, an animation shows visitors how the area near the Danube where the "Venus" was found looked like 30,000 years ago, in the Ice Age, and how the climate and landscape have changed since then.


Hall 11

Hall 11 presents the earliest periods of prehistory: the Paleolithic, the Neolithic, and the start of the Bronze Age. The highlights of the Department of Prehistory’s rich collection – stone tools, ivory beads, clay vessels, etc. – dominate the display cases in the center of the room. The showcases on the window side provide additional information on these periods, while the hands-on stations invite visitors to get involved. Another popular feature is the virtual tour of several Paleolithic caves with fascinating wall paintings. Hall 11 also features a large display unit taking visitors on a virtual journey into the unique world of the Stone Age pile dwellings, which were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012. The latest finds from Grub an der March, where NHM archeologists are excavating a settlement dating back 30,000 years, and from Brunn am Gebirge, where early farmers worked the land 7,650 years ago, provide an insight into the research work carried out by the Department of Prehistory.


Hall 12

Hall 12 is entirely dedicated to the prehistoric salt mine and settlement of Hallstatt (Upper Austria). For 7,000 years humans have been mining salt in this high valley in the Austrian Alps, and for generations scientists and researchers from the NHM have been excavating the prehistoric salt mine and burial site. Hallstatt is the oldest salt mine in the world and Austria’s most important archeological site. Salt was mined here as early as the Stone Age –  probably from brine sources with a high concentration of salt. These early attempts to access this valuable “white gold” form part of the exhibition alongside the larger salt mines found in the Bronze and Iron Ages as well as the industrial salt production of the 21st century. Documents reveal that as early as the Middle Bronze Age around 1550 BC salt mining was a flourishing industry in Hallstatt. The next boom was experienced during the Early Iron Age. Unique finds dating back thousands of years – such as Bronze Age carry sacks, the oldest surviving wooden staircase in Europe, material fragments, tools, and pine chips – are displayed and explained in films and animations. A 3D model show visitors how mining in Hallstatt has changed over many millennia. The high valley above the Hallstatt lake was used in prehistoric times by miners and their families as a place to live and work. Following the sensational finds in the burial site, the Early Iron Age period in Europe (8th– 4th  centuries BC) became known as the “Hallstatt period”.


Hall 13

Hall 13 also presents its objects in chronological order. It picks up where Hall 11 left off and traces the period in Central Europe from the Late Bronze Age through the Iron Age until the end of the first millennium AD. Highlights include the Late Bronze Age horse bridles from Stillfried and the vessels from Sopron. Some of the most eye-catching items from the Býčí skála cave include the famous bull figure and the model of a chariot. There are also outstanding examples of decorated situlae, for example the Kuffarn situla with its many graphic depictions showing the customs and traditions of aristocratic society in the Eastern Alps at the time. Animations are used to explain the meaning behind the images. Finds from Gothic and Langobardic graves dating from the first millennium AD, for example the horse tack found in Hauskirchen, are examples of the huge richness of items from this period. Via a large screen visitors can embark on a journey from the Bronze Age through the creation of Rome all the way up to the Babenberg Period, which marks the end of the Early Middle Ages in Austria. This room also presents the results of recent research work. Extraordinary finds and findings from the Celtic settlement in Roseldorf (NÖ) and from the Early Middle Ages settlement in Brunn am Gebirge (NÖ) provide an insight into the work of researchers at the NHM’s Department of Prehistory and present the results of their latest excavations.





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