Current research work at the Hallstatt burial site

Led by Anton Kern, a team from the NHM Vienna’s Prehistoric Department has been carrying out excavations at the Hallstatt burial site since 1993. These have revealed more than 100 new graves, giving initial indications of how many bodies were originally buried at the site. By excavating the remains of pottery used as burial objects, the researchers have also been able to learn more about the close trade links between the people in prehistoric Hallstatt and all other areas of the known world at the time. 

Dates and facts
Steinbewahrersölde excavation site
Langmoos-Bach excavation site

Dates and facts

Prompted by the building of a canal and a penstock in 1993 and 1994, undertaken on the northern edge of the known cemetery, the Department of Prehistory of the Vienna Natural History Museum started supervision investigations on the construction site, and has since been performing systematic work in the High Valley on an annual basis. By 2014, more than 100 new burials had been added to the older findings. They revealed two key points: the excavations confirmed or extended the knowledge gained so far; and provided new evidence on the structure, the layout and the grave furnishings. The investigated areas reveal a particularly dense distribution.

In an area of only 150 m², 75 graves were unearthed, which would by extension correspond to a total of approximately 5000 to 6000 originally-existing graves in the High Valley as a whole. The recent excavations also finally identified the nature of the ‘ceramic vessels’, which are objects in such a poor state of preservation that they were therefore only rarely unearthed intact in the 19th century. The entire Ramsauer excavations only produced approximately 50 earthenware vessels, while the recent excavations have managed to preserve the remains of 350 pots, bowls and cups from just 98 graves.

Steinbewahrersoelde excavation site

Today, most excavation work is concentrated in an area which was covered over by the wooden construction of the Steinbewahrersoelde during initial excavation work from the 18th century until the 20th century. The Steinbewahrersölde was originally a cabin meant to accommodate the Felsputzer, workers who were charged with protecting the villagers from rockfalls. Presumably built in the 18th century, the building was used until the early 20th century. On various grounds, this specific area was repeatedly examined in the last 160 years.

The first excavations were undertaken by Johann Georg Ramsauer in the years 1847, 1848, 1851 and 1855, and revealed a total of seven inhumation or cremation burials around the building. In 1886, Josef Szombathy headed excavations on behalf of the Imperial and Royal Natural History Museum inside the building. They confirmed Szombathy’s suspicion: if graves were discovered outside, why not look under the wooden floor? The more recent excavations performed by the Department of Prehistory of the Vienna Natural History Museum between 2003 and 2008 have increased the number by 25 cremation and inhumation (whole body interment) graves to a total of almost 50. The area in and around the building is thus among the best examined areas in the cemetery. Like other areas covered by recent excavations, it displays an impressive density of graves.

Langmoos-Bach excavation site

After 150 years of research on the burial site, a lot is known about this area. However, so far no traces of a settlement near the mine itself have been found. Therefore, a new excavation site was opened at Langmoos-Bach in 2009. Researchers, who still have not found firm evidence of a settlement in this area, were surprised to discover that the burial site even extends as far as this new excavation site. Indeed, in 2013 they uncovered one of the richest women’s graves ever found at the Hallstatt burial site. The burial objects in this grave belonging to a 50-year-old woman included a large bronze belt and more than 400 beads of amber and jet.

Excavations will continue in this area for an indefinite period. Initial investigations have shown that, as researchers had hoped, remains of a Bronze Age settlement may lie beneath the graves.

(Kern, A. – Loew, C.)