hallstatt
 

Hallstatt as a trading hub

Hallstatt and the surrounding Salzbergtal valley are among the oldest and best-researched industrial regions in the world. Traces of the salt industry can be found everywhere. However, it was not just the Salzbergtal valley which was shaped by salt mining. A salt mining operation of the scale likely to have existed in prehistoric times would not have been able to survive without trade links.  For example, tools and food for the workers would have been sourced from the surrounding region.

Hallstatt-Salzberg
Traces of salt production in the Salzbergtal valley
Goods needed for salt mining
Bronze imports into the Salzbergtal valley
Food supply
 

Hallstatt-Salzberg

The Hallstatt salt mine (or Salzberg) valley, today also called Hallstatt High Valley, has a long and turbulent history. But until 1957, when the infrastructure was transferred down into the valley below, the mine zone had been part of the parish of the lakeside village of Hallstatt, with many councilowned buildings.  In the middle of the 20th century, the valley was difficult to reach. In addition to living accommodation for miners and inspectors, a full complement of facilities was aimed at the self-supply of the mining operation: blacksmiths, sawmills, public baths, brine chambers, chapels, timber yards, byres for working animals, hay barns, cableways for delivery of materials, and a hydroelectric station were built to meet requirements. Even the hauling machine used in the Beust shaft in 1957 had to be pulled uphill by oxen.
 

Traces of salt production in the Salzbergtal valleyl

The High Valley is among the oldest industrial regions in the world – a fact that seems hardly believable at the sight of breathtaking landscapes and profuse vegetation. The history of this landscape is actually revealed at second or even third glance. Meadows and woods, brooks and rivers, as well as old pictures bear traces of the Hallstatt salt mining industry. In the Middle Ages, mining started high up on the mountain, possibly following the tradition of the mining on the Dammwiese, and then continued by successive horizons down the High Valley. Initially the Rudolph Tower was the only building standing at the entrance of the valley, since the complete infrastructure with all required facilities was situated near the entrances to the mine further up the mountain. Over time, the mine levels and attendant buildings moved even further downhill into the valley. The facilities situated higher up on the mountain were gradually abandoned.
 

Goods needed for salt mining

Whether the Bronze Age miners settled in the High Valley near the galleries, or at some distance, lower down, Bronze Age mining represented a considerable logistical challenge. The proper operation of the mine required oak and beech wood haftings for axes, timber for tapers, pit props, scaffolding and staircases, bronze for axes, bast, grass, fur, leather, etc. Some of these products were not available in the immediate vicinity of the mine, but had to be brought in.
 

Bronze imports into the Salzbergtal valley

In 1830, a large bronze hoard was discovered on the slopes around halfway up the mountain, north of the Mühlbach (the mill stream). Some 50 kg of bronze, mainly axes, spearheads, sickles and raw material, had been cached. Since there were no other potential customers in the area, and the mining required large quantities of bronze and bronze tools, this material – a bronze-smith’s or bronze founder’s hoard consisting of artefacts suitable for recasting - was presumably intended for use in the mine. It follows that there must have been bronzesmithing workshops in the High Valley.
 

Food supply

Assuming that the entire mining community lived near the galleries, they would have required supplies of food, clothes, pottery vessels and many other items: a huge logistical challenge. But was this challenge too great for Bronze Age people? Apparently not. The huge scale of salt mining, and certain other finds, remove all doubt about the organisational skills of the Bronze Age men and women working in the High Valley. Pork, lime bast, millet, oak wood, bronze, broad beans and many other raw materials were not available in Hallstatt, and had to be imported. Archaeological finds show that they nevertheless arrived in the High Valley in large quantities.

(Kowarik, K. – Reschreiter, H. – Loew, C.)