Wood for Salt

Wood for Salt – The prehistoric Hallstatt saltmines and their working processes

The „Salzberg Valley“ 400 m above the ancient mining town of Hallstatt counts among the oldest and best documented mining regions in the world. Underground mining starts in 15th century BC in the Middle Bronze Age and is document for the Early and Late Iron Age. The preserving conditions for organic material in the salt mines are virtually unique in Europe. All organic remains in the mines (e.g. wooden tools, leather objects, textiles, grass and bast ropes, human coprolites etc.) have been preserved. This ‘mine waste’ represents an extraordinary data base allowing important insights into prehistoric mining organization, working processes and resource management.

Among the ‘mine waste’, wood can be seen as the most important raw material employed in the mines. It was used as mining timber, raw material for mining tools, fuel and especially for a not countable number of lightning chips. Archaeological evidence attests to high demands in terms of wood quality, quantity and standardization and careful resource management. Consequently the questions of resource management, provisioning structures and mechanisms represented the key issues of the project.

Based on the traces of use on the original prehistoric artefacts every working step is reconstituted from the felling of trees to the use of the finished working tools in the mine. The reconstitution activities and the documentation of the experiments were embedded within the methodological framework of Experimental Archaeology. The resulting data on raw material demand, working time and wearing were used for the implementation of computer based simulations modelling raw material management and working processes.

The students were integrated in all working steps from fabricating mining tools and mining salt to implementing the computer based simulation models. In the course of the project students became familiar with production cycles, working processes and sustainable resource management.

This project has been completed.