hallstatt

The Man in the Salt

In 1734 the remains of a prehistoric miner were found in the salt mine in Kilbwerk. The miners who made the discovery believed the body to be more than 400 years old but were unable to determine its precise age. Modern scientific research revealed that it belonged to a miner from the Early La Tène Period. He died in around 350 BC as the result of a natural disaster which devastated the Salzbergtal valley and brought mining in the region to a standstill. The man’s remains were later buried in the graveyard at Hallstatt and are therefore no longer available to researchers.

The Kilbwerk mine find
Mummies from other salt mines
The significance of mummies for research
Oetzi the Ice Man
Red Franz
 

The Kilbwerk mine find

In 1734, miners made a spectacular find in the gallery complex known as the Kilbwerk: the body of a man. According to official mine documents, the body was very well preserved, having been mummified by salt. Accounts of the time say that the dead body, completely embedded into the rock salt deposits, was discovered following a collapse in the Kilbwerk. His shoes and traces of his clothes had been preserved: 'one can even see a bit of cloth to his dress, and the remains of the shoes on his feet' ('doch sicht man noch von seinem rockh etlich flöckh, wie auch die S. V. Schuech an denen füeßen' ). The mineworkers assumed that it was the long-dead body of a miner who had lived before the first official records, that is, more than 400 years earlier. Salt mine documents dating from AD 1723 demonstrate that finds had already been being unearthed while this gallery was under construction, and had been considered as dating 'before history began' (vorhistorisch) meaning belonging to the time before the current mining activity and its records. Thus the miners had encountered the Heidengebirge.

But this is all that can be said about the extraordinary find, because after its discovery, the body was buried in the graveyard in the village of Hallstatt down by the lake. All that we know about this spectacular find is via the official records of the saltworks and the church. On the basis of those, archaeologists safely assume that the 'Man in the Salt' lived in the Early Iron Age (9th to 4th centuries BC).  The accounts mention that the body was found embedded in 'dead rock', meaning in this context that it was embedded in intrusive material that had filled an Early Iron Age mine gallery perhaps due to a natural catastrophe. It can be inferred that the 'Man in the Salt' was either buried alive in the mine, or was swept down into it, trapped in material collapsing in from above. The discovery of this salt-preserved mummy, and the question of whether there might be more mummies buried somewhere in the Hallstatt mine, has provided, and continues to provided, a major incentive for continuing research.
 

Mummies from other salt mines

The 'Man in the Salt' is, in fact, not an isolated case: prehistoric salt mummies were discovered at the Dürrnberg near Hallein in AD 1577 and again in AD 1616; these, likewise, have not been preserved and are known only from old records. Several prehistoric salt mummies have recently been discovered in a salt mine in Northern Iran. The four mummies discovered in the Iranian Cher Abad salt mine in 1993 and 2004 were subject to archaeological research. Leather- and woolclothes and remains of tools were discovered with these bodies.
 

The significance of mummies for research

Mummified prehistoric human bodies are of particular scientific interest – preserved skin, hair, and internal organs provide unusual potential for research – and it is fascinating to look into the face of a human being who lived many thousands of years ago. Egyptian and South American mummies are widely known. But mummies have also been found in Europe, notably the 'Ice Man', from the Hauslabjoch glacier in the Oetztal Alps, as well as the peat-preserved bog bodies from Northern Europe peat bogs. All these have revealed aspects of the lives of prehistoric people in minute detail.
 

Oetzi the Ice Man

The glacier has almost perfectly preserved the body along with the man's belongings. The mummy was discovered in 1991 in the Oetztal Alps, at an altitude of more than 3000 m. The numerous analyses performed on the body revealed, among other things, that the man died 5300 years ago and was approximately 46 years old. The clothing and equipment prove that the 'Ice Man' was well prepared for a high alpine existence. The mummy and the finds are now kept in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, Bolzano, Italy.
 

Red Franz

From time to time, mummified human bodies from prehistoric times are discovered in NorthernEuropean bogs. Many of them display extreme injuries. 'Red Franz' died after his throat was cut. Radiocarbon dating shows that he lived in the 3rd or 4th century AD. His hair was initially blond, and became stained red by the peat. After his discovery, he was buried in a churchyard, just like the 'Man in the Salt'. The body has since been transferred to the Niedersächsischen Landesmuseum in Hannover.

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