hallstatt

The history of research into prehistoric mining in Hallstatt

The salt mine in Hallstatt is the oldest mine still in operation today. The discovery of prehistoric remains as well as current research into the prehistoric past of Hallstatt are closely connected with salt mining. The Oesterreichische Salinen AG, which continues to mine salt in Hallstatt, has supported archaeological research for the past 100 years.

First finds in the saltworks
Excavation work by Johann Georg Ramsauer and his successors
Modern excavations by the NHM Vienna
Tradition of Hallstatt research at the NHM Vienna
The continued commitment of the Oesterreichische Salinen AG
 

First finds in the saltworks

The initial discovery of prehistoric remains in the Hallstatt salt mine was made by historic miners.Since salt mining in Hallstatt dates back to the 14th century (first documented in AD 1311), it is probable that prehistoric remains had begun to turn up both in the galleries and outside in the High Valley at quite an early date. Unfortunately, little written evidence from that time has come down to us. But in 1607, archaeological finds from Hallstatt were among the precious objects listed in the art collection of Emperor Rudolph II. However, the discovery of archaeological objects does not correspond to the start of research work. It was only in the beginning of the 19th century, when a new historical awareness and interest in the beginnings of mankind developed, that scholars began dealing on a scientific basis with the distant past of Hallstatt. It was at that time that the miners Franz Steinkogler and Karl Pollhammer started the first true collections of prehistoric finds. From then on, archaeological research in Hallstatt was almost exclusively furthered by saltworks employees.
 

Excavation work by Johann Georg Ramsauer and his successors

Around the middle of the 19th century, the versatile Bergmeister Johann Georg Ramsauer realized that the large number of prehistoric finds discovered above ground were remains of a prehistoric cemetery. With his characteristic sense of purpose and meticulousness, he started to explore this cemetery. While he also undertook digs in the mine, he kept the focus on the cemetery above ground. Josef Stapf and Bartholumeus Hutter, his successors as mine inspectors, dug on behalf of the Linz Museum in the cemetery, and continued investigations inside the mine. In 1880, they conducted extensive field studies in the Appoldwerk and carried out excavations in the Josef-Ritschnerwerk in 1882, thus being the first to provide precise and detailed descriptions of prehistoric finds in the mine. The subdivision of the findspots into three different groups presented in 1903 by August Aigner can be traced back to the two employees. In 1927, the mine was for the first time explored by a trained prehistorian, Adolf Mahr, assisted by Friedrich Morton. Bergmeister Gustav Langer focused his research in the 1930s on the history and living conditions of the Hallstatt miners. Some 30 years later, Othmar Schauberger compiled all known places of old finds still accessible at the time, and provided the designation of the different prehistoric mine districts still valid today: the Northern, Eastern and Western Group.
 

Modern excavations by the NHM Vienna

In the year 1960, the resumption of the excavations in the salt mine was initiated by Werner Leschanowsky, works manager of the Oesterreichische Salinen AG, Othmar Schauberger, head of the research and experimental department of the saltworks, Karl Kromer, director of the Department of Prehistory at the Natural History Museum, Vienna, and Hans-Jürgen Hundt of the Römisch- Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz. It marked the beginning both of the sustained and fruitful cooperation between the Oesterreichische Salinen AG and the Natural History Museum, Vienna, and of the systematic research that has continued since that time. At the outset, activities were limited to excavations in the salt mine. Since 1992, however, the world-famous cemetery has again been investigated.
 

Tradition of Hallstatt research at the NHM Vienna

The scientific activity of the Natural History Museum, Vienna in connection with Hallstatt has had a long tradition. As early as 1850, Johann Georg Ramsauer sent the very first finds he had unearthed in the cemetery to the Cabinet of Royal and Imperial Antiques, which was to develop into the antique collection of the Vienna Museum of Art History. The finds were later transferred to the newly founded Prehistory Collection of the Natural History Museum. Ferdinand von Hochstetter, the first director of the Natural History Museum, and Josef Szombathy, head of its Prehistory Collection, carried out scientific work in Hallstatt. Hallstatt research is now firmly established at the Natural History Museum, Vienna, and several research departments are involved with the Hallstatt project.
 

The continued commitment of the Oesterreichische Salinen AG

To this day, archaeological research into Hallstatt receives considerable support from Oesterreichische Salinen AG. In 1984, its cultural sponsorship made a substantial financial contribution facilitating many activities which would otherwise not have been possible. Under the maxim 'Devotion tradition, commitment to progress' cooperation has continued to bear fruit: today, Hallstatt is among the most thoroughly researched prehistoric mines. On 29 September 1989, the Friends of the Natural History Museum awarded Österreichische Salinen AG the Ferdinand von Hochstetter Medal in honour of their long years of generous support of prehistoric research in and around the Hallstatt salt mine. Thanks to the support of Oesterreichische Salinen AG, it was possible to establish an official field office of the Natural History Museum at Hallstatt, today located in the mine's old forge.

(Kowarik, K. – Reschreiter, H.)