Archaeology (Pre- and Protohistory)Universität Innsbruck


In culture history new technologies had commonly promoted the emergence of new economic and social systems. But hardly no technical development had so drastic and far-reaching consequences as the appearance of metal production and metal working. At the beginning of metallurgy in the late Neolithic the production and use of metal prestige goods like adornments came to the fore but also tools were produced from this material. Whereas these objects were firstly made of almost pure copper metal, copper alloys - especially tin-bronze - replaced this material during the Bronze Age. The production and exchange of copper and bronze effected far-reaching changes in the prehistoric economic and social systems.

During the Metal Ages a new relationship between producers and consumers arised. The keeping up of a system bound to prestige goods and technical high-grade tools demanded a steady inflow of raw material. As even recognized in the mesolithic and neolithic periods, exchange routes for the supply of raw material established. In the course of this development the Eastern Alpine region with its huge potential of copper-ores in the mining districts like Mitterberg (Salzburg), Kitzbühel (North-Tyrol) and Schwaz/Brixlegg in the lower Inn-Valley (North-Tyrol) had risen to the centre of interest. The same is valid for the supply of silver in mediaeval and early modern times when the mining district of Schwaz was considered as “the mother of all mines”.

Numerous analyses on metal artefacts prove that large regions in Bronze Age Middle Europe and even up to Northern Europe were provided with copper from Alpine sources. But in fact the sources of these important raw materials (mainly deposits with fahlore and/or chalcopyrite) are, beside a few exceptions, only poorly explored. To clarify the nature of the network of relationships between the inner alpine local residents who provided the raw material from the Alpine ore deposits or even finished products to the European market, and the consumers, geochemical analysis of ores and artefacts like ingots, semi-finished and finished products are very useful if not indispensable. The access to databases from this project and other related projects delivers important informations not only on the provenience of raw materials but also on different and regional-characteristic solutions concerning the merging of raw materials from different ore sources. So the results permit an assessment of intra-alpine metal production within the framework of the Bronze Age up to Iron Age economy in Europe.

In the frame of several projects outstanding results could be achieved by investigating the Neolithic to Early Bronze Age hilltop settlement of Kiechlberg-Thaur (North-Tyrol), where the use of mineral raw materials like silex and copper prove far-reaching cultural exchange across the alpine range on the one hand (silex) and local production of metal on the other hand (copper). Another research focus is connected to archaeological records from the fahlore mining district Mauken, located in the Lower Inn Valley (Radfeld/Brixlegg). Here archaeological excavations were conducted covering all steps of the operation chain, comprising underground mining, mechanical ore treatment and beneficiation as well as smelting processes. The investigated sites can be dated in the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age (1.200 to 700 BC). In addition to the archaeological documentation, archaeometrical analysis of different materials like ores, slags, smelting products, botanical macro-remains and pollen, animal bones etc. as well as documentation by 3-D laserscanning technics were performed by the project partners of the natural and engineering scientific disciplines to reconstruct the regional mining prehistory. This includes also dendrological and dendrochronological investigations, the latter permitting high resolution dating of mining activities. Furthermore, studies are ongoing dealing with prehistoric copper mining and metallurgy in the Kitzbühel area (DOC-team Kitzbühel) as well as in the western part of North-Tyrol (Tiroler Oberland). Experimental workshops are complementing the archaeological and archaeometrical investigations with the aim to better understand and to reproduce prehistoric production technics.


Chert, rock crystal

Chert (high-silica stones) and its different varieties (flint, radiolariate, rock crystal) forms the most important raw material that was used for the production of stone tools and implements during the Stone Age. Numerous relevant finds from habitation sites of prehistoric men located in lowlands as well as in middle and higher altitudes of the Alps give proof of the importance of chert. In terms of the survey of prehistoric cultural areas and contact zones north and south of the main Alpine ridge those sites are of the utmost significance for the mountain area of Tyrol. Research activities will be focused on the aforementioned raw materials which mainly give us further information on campgrounds, hiking trails, hunting grounds, transit routes and exchange- and trade routes of the hunter-gatherers and shepherds of the Stone Age.

Those early transit routes in the alpine region are marked by a striking distribution of non-local silica based raw materials in the area. In relation to its excellent quality it turned out to be the case that the south alpine import of flint left distinctive marks in Tyrol. Although in Tyrol import from the south is obvious one should not disavow a certain autarky within the prehistoric area of settlement. During recent investigations yielding deposits of radiolarian rock and rock crystal were discovered in the Lechtal and Rofan Mountains and in the neighbouring province Vorarlberg in the Kleinwalsertal. These locations show that chert has been used since the Mesolithic period and mined since the Neolithic.

The main aim is based on the archaeological and geological exploration of chert deposits in the research area. On the one hand extensive prospections, establishment of a lithotheca and excavations and on the other hand geological-petrological and archaeometric analyses of the material form part of the plan.


Study Area Mitterberg

The importance of the Mitterberg area is proved by size and multiplicity of sources on the first hand. Since more than 150 years research has left no doubt that large size underground and above-ground production areas (mining, beneficiation, smelting) have ranged within the most important copper producers in the Old World. Mitterberg copper seemingly had been traded throughout the whole circum-Alpine regions especially to the north (Southern Germany, Bohemia) perhaps even to the Nordic zone.

As the sources date back to the 4th millennium research has always tried to find sufficient proofs for gradual and continuous processes that finally have reached its apex during the Middle and beginning of the Late Bronze Age. Although a manifold of sources have been counted and also partly investigated the whole area never became explored systematically. This is especially true for underground mining where our knowledge still is based on compilations of the 19th century. Furthermore the largeness of the region has avoided any comprehensive research resulting in a selective and partly insufficient state of research. The most serious shortcoming however is the lack of a regional economic mode based on production and settlement history: So the following project aims to compile available archaeological information to develop such a model. The “longue durée” of regional Bronze Age copper production is perfect for any further modelling. It is even a great chance to do so in the current joint project. So it will become possible to study the fortunes of the regional mining as economic process which certainly had its restraints by ecological, climatical and agricultural factors.

The project itself will have two parts: the field-work will be focused on technological and economically valuable data: surveying of productions sites (especially smelting sites) and their dating will allow for the first time developing a production model. Surveys and excavations at the Mitterberg Main lode area (esp. Troyboden) will give both insight into technological aspects of large-scale ore beneficiation and the temporal aspects of this process. Therefore even a dating of the main production activities seems possible – also below ground mining that today is not reachable anymore. Finally the study of the Southern Mining district can provide a detailed idea of a smaller mining district at the fringes of the Main-lode mining: there the whole technological mining process can be studied in detail. Older research clearly has given proof for mining in different stages since the late 4th millennium B.C.

The indoor work will prepare all necessary pre- and after-work for the excavations but also process all regional archaeological and ecological data into a data-base that runs on a GIS-plattform. Data-management and archaeometrical investigations especially will link PP 07 with the Innsbruck based SFB and different projects based there.

General Intoduction              Arthurstollen           Survey             Main lode           
Troiboden                              Smelting sites         Settlements


Study Area Montafon

The areas of Montafon, Klostertal and Arlberg in today's Austrian district Vorarlberg has never been as distinguished in its montanistic importance as the silver city Schwaz in northern Tyrol. But nevertheless the valley's history is strongly connected to its mining background and for the watchful observer you can see this area of landscape was formed by mine-related activites. In the course of FZ (research centre) - HiMAT a survey of Montafon's mining history should be carried out but not only a chronological summary itself but also the social circumstances of the different ages that have to engage in a main part of the project. Questions were pointed towards the living conditions of the miners, accoutrement and regulatory framework in combination with archaeological findings that could be the key to an unknown chapter of Montafon's history. The project is founded by the TWF (Tiroler Wissenschafts Fonds) and the government of Vorarlberg and is mainly based on historical sources from the 16th century verified by archaeological surveys.

Archaeology-Blog Projekt "Montafon" by Sarah Leib


Soap stone (lavez)

Within the scope of FZ HiMAT also Lavez (steatite, soapstone) will be integrated to the scientific research as an important used rock. The mining of soapstone is proven for the roman period in Switzerland and Northern Italy for some time. In the Tyrol region no mining for steatite was known till now. Recent studies in the Zillertal Alps clearly show that this desired rock also would be mined in the research area at different places for a longer period of time. 

The term Lavez has been used in relationship to the manufacture of vessels since the roman time. The last place of manufacture recently ceased operations in the middle of the 20th century. Soap stone is an easy workable and very heat resistant rock. Similar to wood, soap stone can be clamped into a water powered lathe and with the help of different kinds of iron bars vessels like pots or plates can be turned. The evidence for the use of soap stone ovens in Modern Age and decorative objects and mould in Iron Age and Bronze Age is done.