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.


Egyptian start-up teaches artists ways to monetize their work

Updated 16 June 2019
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Egyptian start-up teaches artists ways to monetize their work

  • More Of was started by Sara Seif and Hania Seif partly to change society's attitude towards a career as an artist
  • While the company is still at an early stage, the two founders have no plans of slowing down

Art is for the soul what food is for the body. Yet it’s a fact that artists all over the world struggle to make a living out of their creations.

This is especially so in the Middle East, where it’s rare to find a family willing to support their child’s artistic endeavors, since more academic careers tend to take priority.

But two sisters in Egypt are aiming to change that particular mindset. Enter More Of, a startup focusing on the arts, helping those in relevant fields make a living out of it.

“It all started three years ago. My sister and I used to study theater and marketing, so we both had artistic and entrepreneurial sides,” said Sara Seif, co-founder and CEO of the startup.

“We were always surrounded by artists, and we always saw the struggle they faced, with so many talents out there and so little revenue. The artists can’t monetize their art, and it’s not because they’re not good. It’s because they don’t have the business skill set.”

Sara and Hania Seif want to introduce a entrepreneurial mentality into the world of art. (Supplied)

It wasn’t until Sara stumbled on an Injaz Egypt startup competition — just 12 hours before the deadline — that the idea started to take shape. She scrambled to put her ideas into words and called her sister and business partner Hania to help.

Invited to attend a pre-incubation program, where they learned how to turn their idea into a business model, they ended up winning the competition, receiving EGP 100,000 ($6,000) in seed funding, as well as a trip to Silicon Valley.

For More Of, there was a very specific problem they were trying to solve, said Sara: “There was this gap between the talents and the marketplaces; people didn’t know where or how to look for opportunities.”

The company works in two ways; the first is geared towards people who have creative end products.

“Creative artists have something you can actually buy, like wall paintings, fashion, jewelry, and so on. We offer them a talent management platform; we’re like a talent incubator for them,” Sara said. “What we do in this incubator is try to build capacities on the business side.”

They started doing so by conducting a series of workshops with topics including how to turn art into a business, sales for creative artists, and personal branding.

“Our part is to teach you the business side. If you’ve got the talent, now let’s sell your art,” said fellow co-founder Hania, who serves as More Of’s chief creative officer.

The second area they are facilitating is the performing arts.

Sara elaborated: “We’re going to build an online platform for performing artists — theater, dance, and music — and it’s going to work like an online casting agency, where there’ll be a lot of opportunities posted for the artists.”

The two plan on making the platform free so that any artist could use it, but there will also be a premium option.

“Premium users will have an edge, where we’ll be their own consultants and manage their talent. We’ll basically be an agent for the artist,” Hania said.

“Our part is to teach you the business side. If you’ve got the talent, now let’s sell your art,”

Hania Seif

While the startup is still at an early stage, they have no intention of slowing down.

“We want to collaborate with as many people as possible, to create as many initiatives as possible, and pull all resources out there so that the artists and art community could come together and establish an ecosystem,” Sara said. “We see ourselves becoming the leading talent-management platform in the MENA region and then internationally.”

Their plans to expand on an international level mean they could potentially land local artists opportunities on the global stage.

“People want to reach talent in Egypt and they want figures to address, and we plan on becoming that figure,” Hania said.

Making money out of being an artist might have seemed like a long shot at some point, but with initiatives such as More Of, it is changing.

“It’s no longer a hopeless case for artists to turn their art into an everyday career,” Sara said.

Hania added: “We want to empower artists to do ‘more of’ what they love. And that’s how we (came up with) our name.”

 

•  This report is part of a series being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region