Hallstatt culture

Hallstatt culture
Hallstatt LaTene.png
Geographical rangeEurope
PeriodBronze Age, Iron Age Europe
Dates1200 – 500 BC
Hallstatt A (1200 – 1050 BC);
Hallstatt B (1050 – 800 BC);
Hallstatt C (800 – 500 BC);
Hallstatt D (620 – 450 BC)
Type siteHallstatt
Preceded byUrnfield culture
Followed byLa Tène culture

The Hallstatt culture was the predominant Western and Central European culture of Late Bronze Age (Hallstatt A, Hallstatt B) from the 12th to 8th centuries BC and Early Iron Age Europe (Hallstatt C, Hallstatt D) from the 8th to 6th centuries BC, developing out of the Urnfield culture of the 12th century BC (Late Bronze Age) and followed in much of its area by the La Tène culture. It is commonly associated with Proto-Celtic and Celtic populations in the Western Hallstatt zone and with (pre-)Illyrians in the eastern Hallstatt zone.[1][2]

It is named for its type site, Hallstatt, a lakeside village in the Austrian Salzkammergut southeast of Salzburg, where there was a rich salt mine, and some 1,300 burials are known, many with fine artefacts. Material from Hallstatt has been classed into 4 periods, numbered "Hallstatt A" to "D". Hallstatt A and B are regarded as Late Bronze Age and the terms used for wider areas, such as "Hallstatt culture", or "period", "style" and so on, relate to the Iron Age Hallstatt C and D.

By the 6th century BC, it had expanded to include wide territories, falling into two zones, east and west, between them covering much of western and central Europe down to the Alps, and extending into northern Italy. Parts of Britain and Iberia are included in the ultimate expansion of the culture.

The culture was based on farming, but metal-working was considerably advanced, and by the end of the period long-range trade within the area and with Mediterranean cultures was economically significant. Social distinctions became increasingly important, with emerging elite classes of chieftains and warriors, and perhaps those with other skills. Society was organized on a tribal basis, though very little is known about this. Only a few of the largest settlements, like Heuneburg in the south of Germany, were towns rather than villages by modern standards.

Bronze Age Central Europe[3]
Beaker2600–2200 BC
Bz A2200–1600 BC
Bz B1600–1500 v. Chr.
Bz C1500–1300 v. Chr.
Bz D1300–1200 BC
Ha A1200–1050 v. Chr.
Ha B1050–800 v. Chr.
Iron Age Central Europe
Ha C800–620 BC
Ha D620–450 BC
La Tène
LT A450–380 BC
LT B380–250 BC
LT C250–150 BC
LT D150–1 BC
Roman period[4]
BAD 1–150
CAD 150–375

Hallstatt type site

Watercolour commissioned by Johann G. Ramsauer documenting one of his cemetery digs at Hallstatt; unknown local artist.

In 1846, Johann Georg Ramsauer (1795–1874) discovered a large prehistoric cemetery near Hallstatt, Austria (47°33′40″N 13°38′31″E / 47°33′40″N 13°38′31″E / 47.561; 13.642), which he excavated during the second half of the 19th century. Eventually the excavation would yield 1,045 burials, although no settlement has yet been found. This may be covered by the later village, which has long occupied the whole narrow strip between the steep hillsides and the lake. Some 1,300 burials have been found, including around 2,000 individuals, with women and children but few infants.[5] Nor is there a "princely" burial, as often found near large settlements. Instead, there are a large number of burials varying considerably in the number and richness of the grave goods, but with a high proportion containing goods suggesting a life well above subsistence level.

The community at Hallstatt was untypical of the wider, mainly agricultural, culture, as its booming economy exploited the salt mines in the area. These had been worked from time to time since the Neolithic period, and in this period were extensively mined with a peak from the 8th to 5th centuries BC. The style and decoration of the grave goods found in the cemetery are very distinctive, and artifacts made in this style are widespread in Europe. In the mine workings themselves, the salt has preserved many organic materials such as textiles, wood and leather, and many abandoned artefacts such as shoes, pieces of cloth, and tools including miner's backpacks, have survived in good condition.[6]

Finds at Hallstatt extend from about 1200 BC until around 500 BC, and are divided by archaeologists into four phases:

"Antenna hilt" Hallstatt 'D' swords, from Hallstatt
Ha C axehead, Hallstatt
Section of the Hallstatt salt mine
Model of a Hallstatt barrow grave

Hallstatt A–B (1200–800 BC) are part of the Bronze Age Urnfield culture. In this period, people were cremated and buried in simple graves. In phase B, tumulus (barrow or kurgan) burial becomes common, and cremation predominates. The "Hallstatt period" proper is restricted to HaC and HaD (800–450 BC), corresponding to the early European Iron Age. Hallstatt lies in the area where the western and eastern zones of the Hallstatt culture meet, which is reflected in the finds from there.[7] Hallstatt D is succeeded by the La Tène culture.

Hallstatt C is characterized by the first appearance of iron swords mixed amongst the bronze ones. Inhumation and cremation co-occur. For the final phase, Hallstatt D, daggers, almost to the exclusion of swords, are found in western zone graves ranging from c. 600–500 BC.[8] There are also differences in the pottery and brooches. Burials were mostly inhumations. Halstatt D has been further divided into the sub-phases D1–D3, relating only to the western zone, and mainly based on the form of brooches.[8]

Major activity at the site appears to have finished about 500 BC, for reasons that are unclear. Many Hallstatt graves were robbed, probably at this time. There was widespread disruption throughout the western Hallstatt zone, and the salt workings had by then become very deep.[9] By then the focus of salt mining had shifted to the nearby Hallein Salt Mine, with graves at Dürrnberg nearby where there are significant finds from the late Hallstatt and early La Tène periods, until the mid-4th century BC, when a major landslide destroyed the mineshafts and ended mining activity.[10]

Much of the material from early excavations was dispersed,[5] and is now found in many collections, especially German and Austrian museums, but the Hallstatt Museum in the town has the largest collection.