Salt of the Alps: ancient Austrian mine holds Bronze Age secrets

1 / 5
The well-preserved remains of a prehistoric miner, found in the salt mine in the year 1734, is pictured on August 16, 2018, in Hallstatt, Austria. (AFP)
2 / 5
A bronze ornament found in the prehistoric salt mine, is pictured on August 16, 2018, in Hallstatt, Austria. (AFP)
3 / 5
Hans Reschreiter, chief archaeologist at the Natural History Museum in Vienna, lifts with his hand a 3000 year old prehistoric rope, at the salt mine in Hallstatt, Austria, on August 16, 2018. (AFP)
4 / 5
Hans Reschreiter, chief archaeologist at the Natural History Museum in Vienna, is pictured at the salt mine in Hallstatt, Austria, on August 16, 2018. (AFP)
5 / 5
Hans Reschreiter, chief archeologist at the Museum of Natural History in Vienna, is pictured on August 16, 2018 in Hallstatt, Austria, beside well-preserved remains of a prehistoric miner, found in 1734 at the Hallstatt salt mine. (AFP)
Updated 24 August 2018
0

Salt of the Alps: ancient Austrian mine holds Bronze Age secrets

  • The vast deposit of sea salt inside was left by the ocean that covered the region some 250 million years ago
  • In the mid-19th century, excavations revealed a necropolis that showed the site’s prominence during the early Iron Age

HALLSTATT, Austria: All mines need regular reinforcement against collapse, and Hallstatt, the world’s oldest salt mine perched in the Austrian Alps, is no exception. But Hallstatt isn’t like other mines.
Exploited for 7,000 years, the mine has yielded not only a steady supply of salt but also archaeological discoveries attesting to the existence of a rich civilization dating back to the early part of the first millennium BC.
So far less than two percent of the prehistoric tunnel network is thought to have been explored, with the new round of reinforcement work, which began this month, protecting the dig’s achievements, according to chief archaeologist Hans Reschreiter.
“Like in all the mines, the mountain puts pressure on the tunnels and they could cave in if nothing is done,” Reschreiter told AFP.
Hallstatt was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997 and the work aims to protect it for “future generations,” said Thomas Stelzer, governor of Upper Austria state where the mine is located.
Towering over a natural lake — today frequented by masses of tourists, particularly from Asia, who come to admire the picture-perfect Alpine scenery — the Hallstatt mine lies more than 800 meters (2,600 feet) above sea level.
The vast deposit of sea salt inside was left by the ocean that covered the region some 250 million years ago.

Among the most striking archaeological discoveries was that of an eight-meter-long wooden staircase dating back to 1100 BC, the oldest such staircase found in Europe.
“It was so well preserved that we could take it apart and reassemble it,” Reschreiter said.
Other items date back much further. Excavated in 1838, an axe made from staghorn dating from 5,000 BC showed that as early as then, miners “tried hard to extract salt from here,” Reschreiter said.
In the mid-19th century, excavations revealed a necropolis that showed the site’s prominence during the early Iron Age.
The civilization became known as “Hallstatt culture,” ensuring the site’s fame.
“Thousands of bodies have been excavated, almost all flaunting rich bronze ornaments, typically worn by only the wealthiest,” Reschreiter said. “The remains bore the marks of hard physical labor from childhood, while also showing signs of unequalled prosperity.”

Salt — long known as “white gold” — was priceless at the time. And Hallstatt produced up to a ton every day, supplying “half of Europe,” he said, adding that the difficult-to-access location “became the continent’s richest, and a major platform for trading in 800 BC.”
Testifying to this are sword handles made of African ivory and Mediterranean wine bowls found at the site.
A second series of excavations — started by Vienna’s Museum of Natural History some 60 years ago — produced more surprises.
In tunnels more than 100 meters below the surface, archaeologists discovered “unique evidence” of mining activity at an “industrial” scale during the Bronze Age, Reschreiter said.
As well as revealing wooden retaining structures more than 3,000 years old which were perfectly preserved by the salt, the excavation unearthed numerous tools, leather gloves and a rope — thick as a fist — as well as the remains of millions of wooden torches.

Also used by Celts and during the Roman era when salt was used to pay legions stationed along the Danube River — it is the origin of the word “salary” — the mine has never stopped working since prehistoric times.
Today, about 40 people still work there, using high-pressure water to extract the equivalent of 250,000 tons of salt per year.
“Salt doesn’t have the same value as in antiquity anymore. But some of its new uses, such as in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, are still highly profitable,” said Kurt Thomanek, technical director of salt supplier Salinen Austria.
Tourism linked to the archaeological discoveries is also “a pillar of our activities,” Thomanek added.
Last year, some 200,000 people visited the Hallstatt mine.


Iran film for Oscars stirs debate on home front

“No Date, No Signature,” won best director at Venice last year. (AFP)
Updated 11 min 34 sec ago
0

Iran film for Oscars stirs debate on home front

  • The Farabi Cinema Foundation tasked with selecting Iran’s contestant for the best foreign-language film category has announced its choice of “No Date, No Signature,” which won best director and best actor at the 2017 Venice Film Festival

TEHRAN: The Iranian film for next year’s Oscars has stirred controversy at home both over the choice of a downbeat movie and for taking part in the Hollywood spectacle at a time of tense Tehran-Washington ties.

The Farabi Cinema Foundation tasked with selecting Iran’s contestant for the best foreign-language film category has announced its choice of “No Date, No Signature,” which won best director and best actor at the 2017 Venice Film Festival.

Vahid Jalilvand’s film, which has scooped a host of other awards aboard, tells the tale of two men tormented by guilt over the death of a boy in a road accident, set against a background of social injustice.

“Every year the same debate surfaces over whether or not to submit a film” for the contest in Hollywood, Farabi said last Friday while naming its choice.

The US decision to pull out of the nuclear accord with the Islamic republic and to reimpose sanctions this year has “led certain parties to propose a boycott of the Oscars,” it said, referring to Iran’s conservative camp.

Defending its participation, the foundation said that members of the Academy which organizes the event were among leading critics of “the populist government of (President Donald) Trump and of its policies tainted with racism and unilateralism.” 

The choice of “No Date, No Signature” was vindicated by its success abroad and “the efforts of its distributor” to bring the movie to screens in the US, Farabi said.

But the ultra-conservative press was unimpressed.

“Like the strategy used by Trump in interviews and tweets to depict Iran as a nation abandoned by hope and mired in poverty and misery, ‘No Date, No Signature’, a most bitter and dark film, has been chosen for the Oscars,” Javan newspaper said in a commentary.

It said the foundation had squandered “a golden opportunity” to enlighten the outside world on the values of Iran by nominating another movie, “Damascus Time,” on its battle against jihadists in Syria.

Director Ebrahim Hatamikia’s film, funded by the Revolutionary Guards, the country’s ideological army, has been a hit at the Tehran box office.

After three films were shortlisted from a 110-strong field, “the decisive factor that made ‘No Date, No Signature’ the best choice was its professional and effective foreign distributor which the others did not have,” said Houshang Golmakani, a critic with “Film Magazine,” a monthly on Iranian movies he co-founded.

The subject matter makes it “a caustic film” as regards its portrayal of life in Iran, he told AFP. “But art is not a matter of touting for your country.”

In 2017, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi won his second Oscar for best foreign movie with “The Salesman,” but he boycotted the awards ceremony in Los Angeles in protest at Trump’s controversial policies on immigration.