Research center HiMAT


The following disciplines work together within the HiMAT research center:


Fachbereich ArchäobotanikPrehistoric and historic mining activities leave diverse effects on vegetation and environment due to the huge demand on raw materials as well as the supply of eatables for the maintenance of miners. Primarily the forests represent an important source of raw materials as well as potential agricultural land. Wood is needed as building material for settlements, for timbering mine shafts and as an energy source for metallurgical activities (fire-setting, smelting, etc.). Though there are several palaeoecological studies from mining areas in Europe the knowledge of the interrelationship between palaeoenvironment and mining is poor. There exist some excellent investigations which reveal the moulding of the cultural landscape in connection with mining activities, but a general palaeoecological signal for prehistoric mining activities is missing up to now. The crucial matter is to separate the palaeoecology of mining from the palaeoecology of agriculture. Recent geochemical analyses (Al, Ba, Pb, Cu, Si, Ti, and V) in peat deposits constitute a good approach for the reconstruction of historic ore smelting in addition to pollen analyses. Another useful approach is charcoal analysis conducted in connection with fire-settings and smelting places reflecting the utilisations of wood resources. A combination of these methods promises to be an effective approach to detect the diverse impact of mining on the prehistoric environment.

In connection with anthropogenic interference on vegetation alongside timber exploitation the second objective this proposal addresses is the subsistence strategy of mining areas. According to the different ecological and climatic preconditions in the investigated mining areas different husbandry regimes are to be expected in time and space. Additionally in alpine environments summer pasture farming is an integrated element of agriculture, whose origin is poorly understood. One of the oldest indications for such a seasonal farming practice is given in connection with mining, and thus the role of summer farming for the subsistence of miners is also part of these studies.

Finally climate is a physical factor important in structuring biotic communities on a longer time scale. Since the Neolithic several short-term climate changes on the scale of decades to hundreds of years are known. This resulted in displacements of ecotones and may have affected agricultural regimes and mining activities.


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.


will follow soon…


fachbereich-geschichteHistoric mining has left visible traces in the Tyrolean region. In some places, the mining tradition is still alive, and in addition the awareness of these traditions is increased by recently opened mining museums. Of course, the heyday of the Tyrolean mining was already in the 15th and 16th century. The enormous silver production in Schwaz helped this place since about 1470 to notoriety and European significance: In 1523, when the production reached the peak level, not less than 15695 kg silver and thus 62% of the total silver production of the five leading European mining areas came from Schwaz.

The historical science, based mainly on the review and critical analysis of written sources, is able to contribute substantially to investigate this unprecedented boom, in particular due to the fact, that since the late Middle Ages a growing number of written documents is preserved. Especially the increased typological variety allows to examine a number of mining-related questions: For example, now books enregistering the assignment of pits are created, account books are informing about the productivity and the expenditure to maintain mining operations, numerous mining rules are illustrating the constantly changing regulatory needs, wood descriptions are giving an idea about the status of the forests, and books concerning the activities of confraternities are delivering insights into the daily lives of the miners. So compared to previous centuries far more significant informations are available, though requiring the critical analysis of the historical sciences.

In addition to issues of organizational structure, the productivity and the development of employment figures also the impact of the mining activities on the surrounding areas and the whole territory is of central importance. The housing needs of a growing number of miners changed the settlement structure, the necessity to accomodate mines and miners with operating facilities and food stimulated commerce and trade as well as the farmers were encouraged to react to the consumers needs; given the tremendous demand for timber, the dealing with this resource has to be regulated. With regard to these aspects, not only the boom phase is of interest, but just periods of stagnation and decline when adaptions and modifications are needed. Anyway, in such periods increased criticism on mining and its impact on the environment can be observed. Thanks to the growing number of written sources, the historical science is able to answer such questions with increasing precision.

Mineralogy und Petrography

The basis of a thorough archaeometric/archaeometallurgical investigation of historical copper-mining sites in Tyrol and adjacent areas is the comprehensive mineralogical/petrological-geochemical (PP 10) and mining archaeological investigation (PP 06) of new all known mineralizations in view of their potential for the exploitation in prehistoric and historic periods. These prospection campains provide the basis for the subsequent archaeometallurgical research in PP 09. In order to perform provenance studies of the metals used and thus trace prehistoric trade routes, it is a prerequesite to obtain mineralogical-petrological and geochemical data of the ore minerals, gangue minerals, host rocks and metallurgical remains such as slags and parts of furnace assemblages, and systematically collect such information for every ore mineralization and mining (smelting) site considered in this project.

The mineralogical-petrological characterization involves

  1. determination of mineral assemblages and their textures,
  2. determination of their chemical compositions, the major and minor element composition of the ore and gangue minerals as well as the host rocks and the slags and
  3. quantification of the P-T-X conditions of ore-forming processes of selected ore deposits.

In addition, an essential part of the geochemical characterization will focus on the analysis of the trace elements as well as Pb-isotope ratios of the ore minerals and the gangue and the slags in order to obtain geochemical proxies for subsequent provenance studies. 



Ag-bearing fahlore tetrahedrite Cu12Sb4S13 (black),
baryte BaSO4 (white) and dolomite CaMg(CO3)2 (grey).
The sample is from the former Cu-ore mining district Großkogl near Brixlegg/Tyrol.
Economic geology collection, Institute of Mineralogy and Petrography, University of Innsbruck.


Chalcopyrite CuFeS2 (yellow) in quartzite  SiO2 (white). The sample is from the former Cu-ore mining district Kechalm near Jochberg/Tyrol.
Economic geology collection, Institute of Mineralogy and Petrography, University of Innsbruck.


Names enable time travels into the past not only by conserving former language conditions but also by throwing light on the protagonists (i. e. those giving the names) and their doing. But the questions arising from that go far beyond linguistic reflections: What did change within the language in contrast to names? How and why? Who where the actors? Where did they settle? What influence did they have on their surroundings? Did several ethnic groups meet? What influnce did that have on naming? Do names tell us something about the settlers' actions and thinking? Being of central importance not only for one, but for numerous disciplines, such questions are predestined to be dealt with in an interdisciplinary approach.

With special regard on mining the project part "Onomastics in Mining" aims at answering such questions within an interdisciplinary context in order to approach common solutions. On the one hand toponyms (i. e. place names and field names, partly also vulgo- and farmyard names) reveal places where former mining activities and metallurgical processes have been carried out or where the corresponding infrastructure was set up. On the other hand anthroponyms (personal names) enable socio-cultural aspects to be discussed: thus, by means of occupational names certain occupational groups with a close connection to mining can be determined that give information on the social structure of a settlement strongly affected by mining. Moreover, the prevalent "dark" phase of first mining activities can be shed light on. Finally, family names deriving from place names can trace back settlement dynamics that contribute to the question of where the miners came from.

The collection of names is on the one hand carried out on a synchronic basis: with the help of local informants the recent name layer is recorded, georeferenced and stored in a data base. On the other hand the names are embeded into a historical context by a study of sources: When do mining relevant names first occur? What do they name? What do they mean? The connection of synchronic and diachronic data allows for an extensive evaluation of the name landscape and together with that of the language area and the cultural and social landscape in the key areas.

Surveying, Geoinformation and Data management

Surveying (spatial recording) and GIS definitely accompany the entire process of acquisition of both thematic as well as geometrical data throughout the whole duration of the Research Centre (FZ) HiMAT.

The use of aerial and close-range photogrammetry, 3D-scanning (airborne and close-range laser-scanning), mapping and graphical representation (visualization in plans, maps and 3D models) of identified historical structures, mines, buildings, archaeological sites and archaeological finds is essential for documentation, archiving, publication and understanding of complex interactions and correlations between disciplines. As these different measurement techniques deliver data in different resolutions and accuracy, adequate and successful data fusion of these heterogeneous data into an identical framework of coordinates is still a challenging task.

Recording of thematic data of all groups is complemented by spatial registration (e.g. by using GPS receivers) to deliver data that can be stored and further used in any spatial context. Geoinformationsystems (GIS) have been established to acquire, archive, administrate, analyse and represent these spatial data. A graphical user interface (GUI) allows the access to the entire database with spatial concern (coordinates). Vice versa, the thus established databases can – in combination with geo-basis-data - be requested to represent these data in charts, maps and plans of its thematic content. Different subprojects / user groups so use of the graphical geobasis data for different questions, change and edit their own data and connect and correlate it with the result of others. Thus the establishment of a powerful Geoinformationsystems for the entire project was necessary from the beginning / planning of the project to guarantee that from the start onwards all available data can be used by all project partners simultaneously.

The above GIS databases have also been connected to historical maps and plans after having them referenced to the same coordinate frame as the other data already stored (geocoded). So a combined representation of all available (even recent topographical) data - within old maps - will be possible and e.g. has the potential to compute and visualize the historical changes in surface geometry the volume of waste-heap, erosion etc.

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