hallstatt

Anthropological research at the burial site


Although we will probably never be in a position to say exactly what daily life was like in the Hallstatt High Valley in the Early Iron Age, the human remains recovered from the cemetery give a degree of insight into their world. Bio-anthropological analysis of the bones reveals some aspects of people’s lives at the time. We can record their age death, sex, physical condition and injuries, thus gaining knowledge about the socio-cultural background. Additional comparisons with data acquired from other populations contribute to a comprehensive picture of our Iron Age past.

Anthropological research into Hallstatt skeletons
General information on age upon death, sex and height
Sample of adult humans
Limitations of skeleton sample
Sample of children and youths
Insights through muscle marks
Muscle marks in women
Muscle marks in men
Sex-specific division of labor
Children as mine workers
Analyses of the muscle marks
 

Anthropological research into Hallstatt skeletons

The Hallstatt cemetery is a special case in many respects, and this applies also to the human remains: for example the same area yields both 'normal' inhumation graves (c. 53%) and cremation graves (c. 47%). A total of 215 skeletons were anthropologically examined by the author of this section. They had been recovered from about 1400 graves unearthed in the course of all the excavations ever undertaken in Hallstatt up until the 2001 excavation season.
 

General information on age upon death, sex and height

In adult skeletons, the age at death is mainly determined on the basis of features on the pubic bone, tooth abrasion and the fusion of the cranial sutures. The age of children in mainly determined by means of tooth development and the adnation of the skull sutures. The most important features for sexing adult skeletons can be found at the pelvis, but characteristics at the skull and the mandible are used as well. For the calculation of the body height of adults, the length of the long bones is measured.
 

Sample of adult humans

The Iron Age Hallstatt people were quite robust. Approximately 81% of the skeletons were identified as adult, 19% as subadult. Seventy individuals out of 175 adults were male, 37% of them had reached the age of 20 to 40, and 50% the age of 40 to 60; and 13% of the male individuals had reached an age of over 60 years. There was one juvenile among the 43 female skeletons, while 58% were young adults up to 40 years, 26% were between 40 and 60 years old, and 14% were older than 60 years. The average height was approximately 160 cm in women, and about 170 cm in men.
 

Limitations of skeleton sample

Updated results show that more men than women were buried in the cemetery. We should, however, bear in mind that only 215 individuals were examined, and that the sex of 47% of them could not be determined. The missing women could well be among the unidentified skeletons. Besides, these skeletons represent only a small fraction of the people actually buried in the High Valley. On the basis of the recent excavations, the number of burials in the cemetery is estimated at a minimum of 4000.
 

Sample of children and youths

The number of children is relatively small: 29 of the examined skeletons were skeletons of children, one of them a newborn baby. With 11 skeletons, juveniles are likewise under-represented. This might on the one hand be due to the fact that the more fragile bones of young individuals have generally been poorly preserved, or they were often simply overlooked or not recovered in the course of the early excavations; possibly because they had less grave goods or those were less valuable. Nevertheless, all age groups and both sexes are represented in the cemetery, from newborns to old people of both sexes. The presence of burials of women, infants and old people disproves the assumption that the Hallstatt cemetery was the cemetery of a male-dominated workmen’s village.
 

Insights through muscle marks

Muscles and tendons leave marks where they are attached to the bones. Such attachment sites are referred to as musculoskeletal markers or muscle markers, and they can be grouped in categories by assessing their size and shape. It is possible to deduce activity patterns from the strained muscle groups. Regular exercise will not only increase their size and strengthen the muscles, but also the attachment sites on the bone. With subsequent to permanent overload and too little time for recovery, or abrupt movement without prior warming up, the muscle fibres will suffer tear. The tissue will die off, resulting in holes and grooves on the surface of the bone. By analysing those muscle markers and their alterations due to overload, attempts have been made to clarify the work load of the Hallstatt people.
 
The basic question was whether the dead buried with wealthy gravegoods represent the miners. If so, there was still the question whether men, women and even children were working in the mine, and if there could have been a division of labour. Of the 175 adults from the Hallstatt cemetery, 99 well preserved skeletons (45%: 48 male, 24 female, 27 indeterminable) were chosen for the descriptive statistical muscle marker analysis.
 

Muscle marks in women

The results were quite amazing: the Hallstatt women showed strong marks at attachment sites of muscles involved in flexing the elbow joint or the forearm in lifting, carrying or pulling heavy loads. Two of these muscles, the brachialis Muscle, also called the forearm flexor, and the well known two-headed biceps brachii, showed significantly stronger marks in women than in men.
 

Muscle marks in men

The Hallstatt men mainly used the muscle groups on the upper arm involved in striking movements, and those geared to overcoming resistance, such as the triceps brachii, the three-stranded (or ‘three-headed’) arm muscle and the most important extensor of the elbow joint, and the pectoralis major, the big chest muscle which is jointly with the large back muscle able to powerfully lower the elevated arm.
 

Sex-specific division of labor

Obviously, both men and women worked hard; the differences are mainly visible in the strained muscle groups suggesting a division of labour between the sexes. Compared with populations living down in the plains, the Hallstatt women differ less from the men with respect to the robusticity of their bones.

These results would suggest that the men mined the salt, a striking movement with the bronze picks, while the women were in charge of transportation, involving lifting, pulling and carrying. They would not necessarily have transported salt, it could as well have been water or wood. A few leather straps were discovered in the mine, suggesting that the salt pieces might have been tied to wooden rods carried on the shoulder. The asymmetrical signs of wear on the cervical vertebrae of some women would argue for this.
 

Children as mine workers

So at least part of the Hallstatt population was involved in hard physical labour, and comparisons with other populations show significantly higher scores in muscle marker analysis. However, the skeletons examined represent only a small and random fraction of the population actually buried in Hallstatt.
 

Analyses of the muscle marks

So at least part of the Hallstatt population was involved in hard physical labour, and comparisons with other populations show significantly higher scores in muscle marker analysis. However, the skeletons examined represent only a small and random fraction of the population actually buried in Hallstatt.

The assessment of the musculosketal markers examined so far indicates a division of labour between children, juveniles, women and men. They spent their lives in the High Valley and were then buried in its cemetery.

(Pany, D.)
 
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Anthropologische Abteilung des Naturhistorischen Museums Wien

Die menschlichen Knochen aus dem Hallstätter Gräberfeld wurden von der Anthropologischen Abteilung des Naturhistorischen Museums Wien untersucht. > more