hallstatt
 

Burial gifts from the burial site in Hallstatt

The burial site in Hallstatt dating back to the Hallstatt Period is among the most important archaeological sites in the world. The graves dating to between 800 and 350 BC contain valuable items from across Europe – proof that the people who lived in Hallstatt had contact with almost the entire known world at the time. The burial site, with its many valuable items from the Early Iron Age, impressed 19th century researchers so much that they used the term “Hallstatt Period” to describe a culture found in large areas of Central Europe and more generally as a synonym for the Early Iron Age.

Archaeological excavations
Burial forms
Burial gifts
History of the finds


Archaeological excavations

Many of the Hallstatt graves were excavated as early as the 19th century. Johann Georg Ramsauer’s documentation of the Hallstatt burial site is among the finest from the early period of archaeology. However, these records do not meet the standards of modern research, which uses much more advanced techniques and methods than those that were available to Ramsauer and his team at the time. Questions still remain unanswered as skeletons have not survived and fragments of broken clay vessels are yet to be excavated. Therefore, in some cases conclusions drawn from recent investigations in a specific section of the site must be applied to the entire burial site in order to answer these questions. For example, recent research has shown that bodies were buried very close together, though neither the documentation nor the finds from earlier work provide information on this topic. Based on the grave density found in areas recently excavated, the entire burial site could have contained between 5000 and 6000 bodies.
 

Burial forms

There are traces of both inhumations and cremations in the Hallstatt burial site. Most of the bodies were buried uncremated, the deceased lying on their backs with their arms stretched out down by their sides. Cremation ashes were either placed in an urn or scattered in the grave; in both cases the bodies were burned on a funeral pyre. The remains – ashes and calcinated bones, which sometimes needed to be broken down – were collected after the cremation and placed into either an urn (which was buried in the grave) or another container (from which they were scattered into the grave). Investigations into a number of graves containing scattered ashes and bone particles have revealed that both were scattered into the grave from a single vessel. However, other graves in Hallstatt show a very compact distribution of these particles. In such cases it can be assumed that the remains were placed into the grave in a vessel made of organic material which has now decayed without trace.
Ramsauer also observed a third burial form: partial cremation. However, no evidence of this has been found in recent excavations. In fact, it is likely that the skeleton remains and ashes believed by Ramsauer to show evidence of partial cremations in fact belonged to separate graves. The pioneering archaeologists of the 19th century probably misinterpreted these finds due to the difficult excavation conditions at the Hallstatt burial site.
 

Burial gifts

Burial gifts of such high value and quality as those in the miners’ graves of Hallstatt are otherwise only found in graves belonging to high-ranking persons. Vessels made of different materials, intricately decorated weapons and fine jewelry indicate that the inhabitants of Hallstatt had close trade links with other peoples across the whole of Europe.
In total, 20 bronze and iron swords have been found at the burial site. The most elaborate have handles made of carved ivory. Today it is only possible to estimate how many ceramic dishes and vessels the site originally contained, since many have broken into small pieces that were not removed during early excavations. The more than 100 graves excavated in recent times have revealed over 350 vessels; from the almost 1000 graves excavated by Ramsauer, only around 50 vessels have survived.
 

History of the finds

Most of the finds made by Ramsauer during his excavations today form part of the NHM Vienna’s Hallstatt collection. Other items from Hallstatt can be found in the Welterbe Museum in Hallstatt and the Regional Museum of Upper Austria in Linz. Almost all of the finds from graves excavated by the Duchess of Mecklenburg went to the Peabody Museum at Harvard University in the 1930s. [LINK https://www.peabody.harvard.edu/node/39]
The first archaeological finds from Hallstatt were made in around 1600 AD. However, the lack of documentation from this period makes it hard to know which items were discovered during which excavation. Furthermore, in the 19th century it was common practice to give away items found in excavations to famous people, so it is impossible to know where all objects originally found in the graves of Hallstatt have ended up.

(Loew, C. - Kern, A.)