DOC3: The Impact of Prehistoric and Historic Mining Activities on the Vegetation of the Kitzbühel Region

Doctoral candidate
Mag.a Barbara Viehweider



Univ.-Prof. Dr. Klaus Oeggl 

University of Innbruck
Institute of Botany
Sternwartestr. 15, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria
p 0043 (0)512 507 5945


  Mag.a Barbara Viehweider and Univ.-Prof. Dr. Klaus Oeggl at Kelchalm/Jochberg


Prehistoric mining activities influence the natural environment sustainable, although more extensively than later in the ancient world and the Middle Ages. Thereby the development and progress, which is happening in montane technique, is linked to changes in the entire montane landscape. For a long-term utilisation of an ore deposit, the following factors need to be fulfilled: quality and accessibility of resources, the availability of raw materials (e.g. firewood for the smelting process) and farmland to supply the miners, as well as the existence of marketplaces in a regional economy and therefore the possibility of trade (Stöllner 2003). These conditions apply for the Kitzbühel area. This eastern alp region was an important and prominent mining district in the Bronze Age, as well as in the Middle Ages and the early Modern Age. In the 15th and 16th Century AD Kitzbühl was, beside Schwaz, the most important centre of mining activities in North-Tyrol (Mutschlechner 1968).

The Kelchalm represents the “locus classicus” of alpine pasture farming in connection with mining. So the investigation area offers a unique opportunity, to explore the coherence between the changing vegetation, settlement, mining activities and alpine pasture in an interdisciplinary study within the DOC-Team of the ÖAW. To verify the biological data concerning the past vegetation and there change, historical and archaeological facts will be admitted to the study.


The purpose of this project is to evaluate the palaeoecological effects of prehistoric mining on the vegetation in a spatial and temporal scale. This includes the impact of mining on the local vegetation of the Kelchalm region, in terms of devastation of the vegetation cover by ore mining, processing and smelting, as well as woodland exploitation and alpine pasture. Also the geochemical impact in peat deposits will be an objective of the study. On a regional scale, the impact concerning deforestation for settlement and agricultural activities to subsist the mining activities, will be investigated. Furthermore, the duration of the initiation, intensivation and regression phases of the prehistoric mining will be investigated.


The settlement activity of prehistoric and historic people is palynologicaly established by the Landnahm-Phases of Iversen (1941, 1956). Therefore forest clearance for agricultural activities are primarily collected. This is adequate for agriculture communities from the Neolithic up to the industrial revolution. To confirm mining activities, this approach is inadequate, because multiple aspects affect vegetation. The locale wood-requirement for the ore mining on one hand, causes a clearance of the forest in the immediate area of the ore deposit.

The same can be applied to the smelting process, which is clearly dislocated in Kitzbühl from the mining itself. If a supply with local grown wood can be guaranteed, this needs to be proven through pollen analysis. On the other hand miners have to be supplied with food and basic-need-goods, provided through an overspill by an agricultural society. The outcome of this is an additional changing factor for the vegetation in this region. This could be evaluated by pollen analysis from peat deposits in bogs and also by settlement-archaeological and archaeological excavations (DOC1 Thomas Koch-Waldner).

Concerning this, it is crucial that these changes are really caused by mining activities. The principal assignment is therefore to separate the palynological signal of agricultural and settlement activities from the signal of mining activities. To test this problem, it is necessary to gain independent proxy-data, which can be found in the case of the ore mining and smelting process, in the spectrum of species and the number of dendrochronological dated wood (construction wood, tool kits, wood charcoals, etc.), found in the archaeological excavations. The number of dendrochronological ordinated wood can be correlated with the palynological data. Therefore mining activity can be validated or verified as the cause for vegetation change. Additional, to find references for pollution coused by mining, heavy metal analysis from peat deposits of the palynological determinate bogs should be conducted. Comparable geochemical analysis was realized successfully in other mining areas (Shotyk 1996, Martínez-Cortizas et al. 2002, Monna et al. 2004a, Baron et al. 2005, Jouffroy-Bapicot et al. 2007, Breitenlechner et al. 2010).

An essential part of this multi-proxy interdisciplinary study is historical and early modern mining in Kitzbühel, which could be a consult model for the prehistoryphase. Population, quantitative details about maintenance of miners (corn, meat, leather, wood, etc.), output of raised ore can be correlated with palynological vegetation change, to test the effect of mining on local and regional vegetation. DOC2 Anita Haid, in line with the DOC-Team, gives the historical data referring to this.

All produced data will be brought into the data model of DOC4 Anja Masur. This model with an adequate database is going to be the central collecting point for all existing data concerning the Kitzbühel area. The linked data of the other DOC-Team partners, creates new options in the analysis of the own data and another, enlarged perspective on the prehistoric and historic mining activity in the Kitzbühel area.


A multi-proxy approach (pollen, sedimentology, and archaeological excavations) is applied to achieve these objectives structured inBohrkernDOC3 a spatial scale. The local impact of prehistoric mining activities on the Kelchalm will be determined by pollen analysis of peat deposits from an adjacent bog. As a result the record of exploitation of wood resources and the subsistence of miners by alpine pasture (animal husbandry, dairying) could be explained. This is possible, because pollen is chemically resistant and good conserved in peat deposits and sea-sediments (Faegri & Iversen 1993).

The regional impact of prehistoric mining activities, concerning change of forest vegetation due to woodland use and agriculture, is also going to be evaluated by pollen analysis of peat deposits from bogs located in different altitudes and distances around the mining sites.

Every pollen supplement is standard counted up to an accident rate of 1000 tree pollen grains, to provide a sufficient data quality for the evaluation of an anthropogenic vegetation change. The illustrations of the results will be displayed as relative diagrams and pollen concentration diagrams. Additional non-pollen palynomorphs and micro-charcoal are going to be specified and quantified. They provide crucial evidence to anthropogenic engagement in the vegetation. For a chronological classification of diagrams, radiocarbon dating after a first exploratory pollen analysis will be conducted. Recent surface samples of modern pollen deposition from different vegetation units, serve as analogon past vegetation conditons.

Extracted peat column from the “Kelchalm“



Baron S., Lavoie M., Ploquin A., Carignan J., Pulido M., De Beaulieu J. L. 2005: Record of metal workshops in peat deposits: history and environmental impact on the Mont Lozère Massif, France.

Breitenlechner E., Hilber M., Lutz J., Kathrein Y., Unterkircher A., Oeggl K (2010): The impact of mining activities on the environment reflected by pollen, charcoal and geochemical analyses, Journal of archaeological science.

Faegri K. & Iversen J. 1993: Bestimmungsschlüssel für die nordwesteuropäische Pollenflora. Gustav Fischer Verlag, Jena.

Iversen J. 1941: Landnam i Danmarks Stenalder: En pollenanalytisk Undersøgelse over det første Landbrugs Indvirkning paa Vegetationsudviklingen (Dansk tekst 7-59, Engl. text 60-65). Danmarks Geologiske Undersøgelse II.række, 66, 1-68. (reprinted 1964)

Iversen J. 1956: Forest clearance in the stone age. Scientific American, 194, 36-41. German translation (1956) Neolitische Waldrodungen beleuchtet durch Pollenanalyse und Experiment. Mitteilungen der Naturforschender Gesellschaft Bern N.F., 13, 30-32.

Jouffroy-Bapicot I., Baron M. P. S., Galop D., Monna F., Lavoie M., Ploquin A., Petit C., De Beaulieu J.-L., Richard H. 2007: Environmental impact of early palaeometallurgy: pollen and geochemical analysis. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology, 16: 251-258.

Martínez Cortizas A., García-Rodeja E., Pontevedra Pombal X., Nóvoa Muñoz J. C., Weiss D., Cheburkin A. 2002: Atmospheric Pb deposition in Spain during the last 4600 years recorded by two ombrotrophic peat bogs and implications for the use of peat as archive, The Science of the Total Environment 292, pp. 33–44.

Monna F., Petit C., Guillaumet J.-P., Jouffroy-Bapicot I., Blanchot C., Dominik J., Losno R., Richard, H., Lévêque J., Chateau C. 2004: History and Environmental Impact of Mining Activity in Cletic Aeduan Territory Recorded in a Peat Bog (Morvan, France). Environmental Science & Technology 38: 665-673.

Mutschlechner G. 1968: Das Kitzbüheler Bergbaugebiet. In: Stadtbuch Kitzbühel 2 (Kitzbühel) 11-30.

Shotyk W. 1996: Natural and anthropogenic enrichment of As, Cu, Pb, Sb, and Zn in ombrotrophic versus minerotrophic peat bog profiles, Jura mountains, Switzerland. Water Air Soil Pollut 90, pp. 375–405.

Stöllner T. 2003: Mining and Economy – A Discussion of Spatial Organisations and Structures of Early Raw Material Exploitation. Der Anschnitt, Beiheft 16: 415 – 446.


Overview DOC-team


small miner Schwazer Bergbuch

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