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

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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)
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A bronze ornament found in the prehistoric salt mine, is pictured on August 16, 2018, in Hallstatt, Austria. (AFP)
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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)
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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)
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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
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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.


Abu Dhabi Festival reveals exciting 2019 lineup

Updated 10 December 2018
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Abu Dhabi Festival reveals exciting 2019 lineup

  •  Dubbed ADF19, the festival will feature more than 100 events across 25 venues in Abu Dhabi, including 18 productions, two co-productions and two commissioned artworks
  • The festival will also shed light on artists with disabilities, with the central theme announced as “Culture of Determination”

The month-long Abu Dhabi Festival, set to be held in March 2019, announced its art-and-culture filled lineup in a press conference at the Emirates Palace hotel on Monday, with the packed itinerary set to entertain culture vultures in the capital in what will be the festival’s 16th edition.

Dubbed ADF19, the festival will feature more than 100 events across 25 venues in Abu Dhabi, including 18 productions, two co-productions and two commissioned artworks. If that isn’t enough, the festival will also feature more than 500 artists from 17 different countries.

The festival’s headline program includes performances by the Korean National Ballet — set to perform “Giselle,” a romantic ballet about a peasant girl with a passion for dance — and the Korean Symphony Orchestra. Korea has been singled out as ASF19’s “Country of Honor” and organizers are focusing on sharing its classical talent with audiences in the Middle East.

“Abu Dhabi Festival… has been contributing enormously to the region’s intercultural competence, so I’m very happy that Korea could be a part of the wonderful celebration,” the Republic of Korea’s Ambassador to the UAE Kang-ho Park told the press via video link on Monday.  

The festival will also shed light on artists with disabilities, with the central theme announced as “Culture of Determination.”

Festival founder Huda I. Alkhamis-Kanoo took to the stage alongside Peter Wheeler, CEO of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi, to sign a cooperation agreement at Monday’s press conference and a March 16 concert titled “Stand Up For Inclusion” was announced as one of the main events during next year’s festival.

The festival will also host an exhibition called “Distant Prospects,” presenting the history of European landscape painting through renowned pieces by key figures in the Late Renaissance and Baroque eras.

Other highlights include a performance by award-winning US jazz pianist Justin Kauflin on March 11, a dance show by the Sara Baras Flamenco Ballet Company on March 21 and a full-length, three-act plotless performance by the Paris Opera Ballet, backed by the Pasdeloup Orchestra — the oldest symphony orchestra in France — on March 29 and 30.