hallstatt

Archaeometric analyses on pottery gifts from the burial site

In the early Iron Age cemetery of Hallstatt besides jewellery and items of everyday use also ceramic vessels were deposited in the graves as grave goods. Selected ceramic vessels from the Hallstatt cemetery were recently subjected to scientific analysis, in order to find out more about their origin and manufacturing processes.

Thin section analysis
Question and focuses
Insights gained through archaeometric analyses
Sample of the first test batch
Results so far and interpretation
 

Thin section analysis

The analysis method: Of the methods most frequently used in the archaeometric analysis of ceramics first of all thin section analysis provides information on the microstructure of ceramic vessels. This information makes it possible to answer questions of material composition as well as of pottery technology. Since these properties and processes were of great interest for the study of the Hallstatt ceramics thin section analysis was chosen to investigate these vessels.

A ceramic thin section is a 0.03 mm thick ceramic layer held between two glass slides. It can be examined under a light microscope. To prepare a thin section a ceramic piece of about 2 x 4 cm is required.
 

Question and focuses

Thin section analysis may provide results relating to the following issues:
- Properties of the raw materials used in the production process (clay, temper)
- Methods of clay preparation
- Methods used to build up and decorate the vessels
- Firing technology (firing temperature, firing atmosphere, firing time, pit or kiln firing)

Thin section analyses can be grouped according to three thematic priorities:
- Classification of ceramics by material composition
- Provenance analysis
- Investigation of pottery technology
 

Insights gained through archaeometric analyses

In addition to these primary results, thin section analysis also provides insights into economy and trade, as well as into the spread of manufacturing techniques. Why should Hallstatt ceramics be analysed by archaeometric methods?

The Hallstatt salt mine is one of the most important economic centres of the Early Iron Age in Central Europe, for which we will have to assume an extensive network of trade relations. So far, we do not know whether the Hallstatt miners were exclusively involved with salt mining and purchased all further products, including food, from the immediate vicinity or further afield, or whether they supplied their needs, at least partly, through on-site production.

Archaeometric analysis is thus primarily directed at clarifying the question of whether local ceramic manufacturing may be assumed in the Hallstatt High Valley. The analysis of ceramic samples is furthermore expected to reveal whether the vessels were manufactured in large workshops or by individual potters, possibly in seasonal work. With ceramic vessels imported into the region, the analysis may provide information on their origins.
 

Sample of the first test batch

The first series of samples comprised ten ceramic vessels taken from two rich graves dating from the Hallstatt C period (grave N13 and grave N32). This selection was meant to ensure that the first set of analysis would cover various aspects of a single period and so obtain a snapshot of the manufacturing and use of ceramics in the Hallstatt High Valley.

Subsequently, the results of this first group were to be complemented by samples dating from earlier and later times, and to serve as a basis for the investigation into chronological developments in the manufacturing and use of ceramics by the Hallstatt population.
 

Results so far and interpretation

Results obtained so far from the archaeometric analysis of Hallstatt ceramics and interpretation: The first archaeometric analysis of Hallstatt ceramics yielded the unexpected result that in the case of seven of the ten analysed vessels local manufacture in the Hallstatt High Valley is possible. This result is based on the comparison of the material composition of the samples with detailed geological maps. The raw material of the seven vessels is rather heterogeneous, which suggests that the manufacturing was not standardized.

Three of the vessels that were analysed had probably been brought to Hallstatt. Remains of living organisms detected in the vessel from grave N32 (find number 1484) suggest that it might have been manufactured in the Gosau region, immediately to the west of Hallstatt. It is not yet possible to provide information on the origin of the two other vessels that were probably not manufactured in the Hallstatt High Valley (grave N13, find numbers 859 and 868).

The most important result of the archaeometric analysis performed on the Hallstatt ceramics so far is that petrographic thin section analysis suggests that ceramics might have been manufactured in the Hallstatt High Valley – in other words, that the local population might also have been involved in activities other than salt mining.

(Herold, H.)