The site Hallstatt is a large cemetery near the entrance to a salt mine located in the Salzbergtal, a narrow Alpine valley in Upper Austria, in the region of the Salzkammergut. At an elevation of approximately 860 meters above sea level, the Hallstatt cemetery is situated high over a lake and town of the same name. Mining at Hallstatt began at the start of the final millennium b.c., but the majority of the burials in the prehistoric cemetery are dated between 800 and 450 b.c. For this reason, an association between Hallstatt material culture and the beginning of the Iron Age has been made.
The discovery of the cemetery is attributed to Johann Georg Ramsauer, who, in the course of his duties as manager of the Hallstatt mine, was investigating a potential source of gravel in 1846 and uncovered seven burials. Ramsauer reported his find and was referred to Baron von Sacken, the custodian of the Imperial Cabinet of Coins and Antiquities in Vienna. Von Sacken provided financial and tactical support for Ramsauer to excavate at the Hallstatt cemetery annually from 1847 through 1863. Under his direction, some 980 graves were opened, and six thousand objects were recovered for the museum.
Nearly two thousand burials have been excavated at Hallstatt in intermittent investigations that began with Ramsauer in 1846 and ended in 1963. Of those burials for which documentation and provenance information exist, just over half (55 percent) were flat inhumations, mostly oriented east-west, with the body placed on its back. The remaining burials were cremations, ashes and burnt bone heaped into a pile with grave goods, including weapons and objects of personal adornment. In burials containing cremations, personal items and weapons frequently were placed on top of the ashes, surrounded by pottery and other offerings. Weapons at Hallstatt are of bronze and iron and include long and short swords (also identified as daggers) that are associated with both male and female burials.
One-fourth of the buried individuals appear to be males, with a full complement of weapons; these burials have been interpreted as warrior graves. The burial population includes children of all ages, indicating that mining and its attendant activities probably were familially organized. Additionally, there are a few graves that seem to belong to traders or to
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persons from outside the community who died during their stay at Hallstatt and subsequently were buried there.
Stylistic changes in grave goods associated with the Hallstatt burials led to the conclusion that the two burial rites, inhumation and cremation, were contemporaneous and that the cemetery was used over the period in which iron replaced bronze as the dominant metal. This information contributed to the relative chronology developed during the latter half of the nineteenth century; and, at the International Congress of Anthropology and Archaeology held in Stockholm in 1874, a two-division Iron Age, consisting of Hallstatt and La Tène, was accepted.
Imported objects and raw materials emphasize the economic importance of salt mining and reveal a distribution network of cultural material that extended from eastern France across southern Germany, Switzerland, Alpine Italy, Austria, Bohemia, Slovenia, and into western Hungary. Baltic amber, African ivory, Slovenian glass, Hungarian battle-axes, Venetian knives and brooches, and Etruscan drinking paraphernalia are all present at Hallstatt. The site itself is positioned between the broadly defined eastern and western Hallstatt traditions.
Distance from the site influences the density of materials as well as the intensity of stylistic markers associated with the tradition. This factor has contributed to variability between regional chronologies that include Hallstatt as a temporal indicator. The chronological divide within the Bronze Age for French and German archaeologists is due, in part, to distinctions made by Joseph Déchelette, who identified the Urnfield culture period as separate and followed by the Hallstatt, and Paul Reinecke, for whom the Urnfield period in southern Germany was synonymous with Hallstatt A and B (Ha A, 1200–1000 b.c.; Ha B, 1000–800 b.c.). Thereafter, Hallstatt C and D (Ha C, 800–600 b.c.; Ha D, 600–500 b.c.) belong to the Early Iron Age.
Following the terminology developed by Reinecke and modified by Hermann Müller-Karpe, the archaeological evidence for Ha A and Ha B suggests the existence of several cultures subsumed within a generally homogeneous Hallstatt sphere of influence. Regional differences in material culture occur, with widespread individual behavioral expressions regarding funerary rite and settlement. The dominant burial practice during Ha A and Ha B was cremation, in which ashes and calcined bone were placed, with small vessels and personal items, into large biconical urns before burial in occasionally vast Urnfield cemeteries. The cemetery at Kelheim in Bavaria, where Müller-Karpe refined his chronological schema for the period, contained more than 268 burials.
Settlements comprised post-built structures within stockaded and fortified compounds. Earthen fortifications and wooden palisades were utilized to an increasing degree, and in some areas hillforts were established. Both the eastern German Lausitz and the southern Bohemian Knovíz cultures established fortified upland settlements as early as Ha A. On the whole, however, there are few indicators supporting political organization of the scale that emerges in the Early Iron Age.
The Hallstatt Iron Age (Ha C and Ha D) is a period of extraordinary cultural fluorescence for every part of continental Celtic Europe, with elaborate and richly furnished burials often called chiefly or princely graves and hillfort settlements. Tombs, such as the Hochdorf mound or the burial of Vix, and enclosed fortified hilltops, including the Heuneburg and Hohenasperg (in Baden-Württemberg) and Mont Lassois (in Côte-d'Or), characterize the period and signal the transformation of social organization to a political economy that controlled the movement of luxury goods. A survey of the distribution of imported goods, such as those used for the service of wine as well as the Massiliot amphorae that contained wine shipped into Transalpine Europe, shows that the western and eastern Hallstatt were included in Mediterranean trading and gift exchange.
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Wells, Peter S. The Emergence of an Iron Age Economy, TheMecklenburg Grave Groups from Hallstatt and Sticna. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981.