Preserving textiles found at the burial site

Unlike the conditions in the mines, the earth in the Salzbergtal valley is not ideal for preserving organic materials. Therefore, most of the textile remains found at the burial site are those which have corroded onto metal objects. For example, traces of materials have been found on bracelets and belt buckles.

Preservation through metal corrosion
Erkenntnisse für die Textilforschung

Preservation through metal corrosion

The tradition of using metal items as burial objects means that many graves from the Bronze and Iron Ages contain traces of materials which have corroded onto these objects and therefore been preserved until today. Textiles (including clothes worn by the deceased when buried) were often placed into the grave together with the metallic burial gifts. When these organic and metallic items came into contact, the textiles often corroded onto the bronze or iron. The result is a permanent combination of the two materials.

The damp environment causes soluble metal salts to penetrate the fabric. Through the consequent chemical reaction in the earth the two materials combine to form one; the textile component is completely destroyed. This process, referred to as “mineralization”, can lead to a situation where the organic material is entirely replaced.

The individual steps from the preservation of the organic material by the metal salts through to the complete mineralization of the fabric – leaving behind nothing more than an outer shell and impressions on the metallic object – blend together to form one single process. Textiles preserved in this way are often barely recognizable as their original colors are lost. Moreover, they are generally found in very small pieces (just a few millimeters) and are therefore very easy to miss during excavation and restoration work. Nevertheless, despite these difficulties, textile remains preserved through metal corrosion are an important source for researchers.

Insights for textile research

Most of the textiles found at the Hallstatt burial site have lost their original colors as a result of the metal corrosion process. Nevertheless, researchers have still been able to gain important information on the quality of the materials and their exact composition. Furthermore, in many cases it is possible to identify patterns created in the material through structure, spinning or floating yarns.

(Groemer, K.)