Bronze Age Hallstatt – a plenty of inventions – but no innovation?

Hans Reschreiter (Natural History Museum Vienna)

During the middle Bronze Age extensive copper production is attested for the Eastern Alpine region. In an area spanning from Upper Italy to Vienna the mining and smelting techniques seem nearly identical. The construction plans for kilns and roasting beds are strikingly similar indicating intensive information exchange.

At the same time, also in the Eastern Alps at Hallstatt, large scale underground salt mining is taking place. It is interesting to note that none of the techniques developed for copper production seem to have been used in Hallstatt. For every working task from breaking the salt to transporting it special tools and constructions unique to Hallstatt were developed.

None of these „Hallstatt inventions“, although highly efficient, functional and in use over centuries, are attested outside of Hallstatt. These inventions stay inventions and do not become innovations. Moreover at other salt production sites highly specific and unique production solutions can be observed.

It is important to note that the highly specialized mining technique in Bronze Age Hallstatt cannot be explained through the specific geological situation. As Early Iron Age salt mining again develops entirely new technological solutions to the same geological situation. Bronze Age and Early Iron Age mining in Hallstatt differ on every level and in every aspect. Neither Bronze Age tools nor mining techniques are used in the Early Iron Age mines.