Project Part 05: Silex and Rock-Crystal Mining in Alpine Prehistory



A.o. Univ.-Prof. Dr. Walter Leitner


Mag. phil. Thomas Bachnetzer Bakk. phil. 
Mag.a phil. Beatrix Nutz
Mag.a phil Julia Hammerschmied Bakk. phil. 

University of Innsbruck
Institute of Archaeologies
Center for Ancient Cultures
Langer Weg 11
6020 Innsbruck, Austria


Abstract Project Part 05

Silex (high-silica stones) and its different varieties (flint, chert, radiolarian rock, 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 silex. 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 Unterinntal and in the neighbouring province Vorarlberg where mining activities began in the Mesolithic period.

The main aim of the sub-project 05 is based on the archaeological and geological exploration of silex deposits in the research area. On the one hand extensive inspections, prospections, sampling and excavations while on the other hand certain geological-petrological and archaeometric analyses of the material form part of the plan.

Regarding the inadequate state of research the result of the project will illumine the earliest beginnings of mining and the utilisation of raw materials in Tyrol. Furthermore an important aspect of early silex trade routes is the fact that e.g. at Brixlegg-Mariahilfbergl together with the earliest mining activities in the late Neolithic the lithic raw material was provided by different groups south and north of the Alps. Apparently the earliest trade routes into and through the Alps were opened up by these people whose tracks can be followed by the silex they used. Therefore this part of the project will offer an important contribution to the trade routes to PP 06 (metal mining & trade).


Cooperation Partners:

Mag. Michael Brandl (Austrian Academy of Sciences - Prehistoric Commission)



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