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Antiquity Vol 82 Issue 317 September 2008

The history of mining activities in the Tyrol and adjacent areas: impact on environment and human societies (HiMAT)

Klaus Oeggl, Franz Mathis, Johann Moser, Ingo Schneider, Walter Leitner, Gerhard Tomedi, Thomas Stöllner, Rüdiger Krause, Ernst Pernicka, Peter Tropper, Jörg Schibler, Kurt Nicolussi & Klaus Hanke


Figure 1
Figure 1. Location of the four HiMAT key areas in prominent mining areas of the Eastern Alps: the Mitterberg (1) region in Salzburg, Kitzbühel/Kelchalpe (2b), Schwaz and Brixlegg (2a) in the Tyrol and the Montafon (3) in Vorarlberg. In addition, studies on Mesolithic transit routes should detect if they provide the basics for Neolithic ‘trade’ connections.
Click to enlarge.

In prehistoric times the exploitation of copper ore deposits in the Eastern Alps led to complex technological developments. During the Bronze Age and again with the beginning of the later Middle Ages, technological know-how became more widespread, which enabled ore exploitation – particularly of copper and silver, respectively – at many different sites over a wide area. Consequently, local and supra-regional metal production territories were established during the second and first millennia BC and again between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries AD. The advanced pyrotechnical knowledge brought about the establishment of a large-scale techno-complex extending from the Grisons in eastern Switzerland to Upper Styria in eastern Austria. The conformity in the technology of mining and in metallurgical processes reveals an area with common economic ties, which suggests a co-operation in the form of logistical concepts. A detailed research of these features demands a regionally branched, diachronous approach structured to consider two main aspects: a spatial aspect with a classification of the mining ensemble, mining district and mining landscape, and a temporal aspect divided into sporadic, seasonal and year-round exploitation and production processes. In addition, the implementation of technological and economic concepts depends on regionally determined factors, such as the surrounding environment, transport routes and dissimilarities between ore deposits.

Figure 2
Figure 2. These aspects of economic, cultural and environmental development in a mining area (according to Stöllner 2003) provide the basis for the interdisciplinary network of the 13 project elements by experts in archaeology, archaeobotany, archaeometallurgy, archaeozoology, dendrology, ethnology, geodesy, history, linguistics, mineralogy and palaeoecology.
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So far only some of these features have been studied in a few areas of the Eastern Alps, and our knowledge of the structure and organisation of the mining landscape in space and time is poor. This is mainly due to a lack of multidisciplinary research; if implemented, it can provide additional essential information on the turnover in ‘international trade’, on the environmental impact and on the depletion of the available resources. This is a long-needed desideratum in mining research and constitutes the major objectives of the ten-year research project HiMAT at Innsbruck University in Austria.


The research goals outlined above demand a regional approach, which analyses the archaeological and historical source data according to a chronological time frame ranging from Neolithic to modern times, also including the very first beginnings of mineral use from Mesolithic times onwards. Therefore, the research strategy of HiMAT envisages time-vertical studies dealing with changes from a long-term perspective as well as time-horizontal studies dealing with selected important periods of mining. Both types of study are conducted in specific key areas (Figure 1) in the course of an interdisciplinary network of researchers based at the University of Innsbruck cooperating with international experts from the Universities of Basel, Bochum, Frankfurt and Tübingen, as well as from the German Mining Museum in Bochum.

Figure 3
Figure 3. Key area 1: Mitterberg provides excellent conditions for studying primary copper production stages. Top: 3D-visualisation of a Bronze Age mine in the Arthurstollen (after G. G. Steffens, Deutsches Bergbau-Museum). Bottom: working stage and mine timbering in the deep mine part of the Arthurstollen (Photograph: P. Thomas, Deutsches Bergbau-Museum).
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Figure 4
Figure 4. Key area 2a: In ‘Schwaz/Brixlegg’ valuable archaeological, historical and ethnographic data for mining are available. They enable the establishment of an analogue for mining in early modern times by mutual validation of historical, linguistic, ethnological and palaeoecological data, which later will be applied to prehistoric times. In the centre of the image recent pollen-analytical results from the bog ‘Koglmoos’ are shown and major anthropogenic impact on vegetation is correlated with historically documented settlement activities shown on the left side of the image (land register map: Bundesamt für Eich- und Vermessungswesen) and forest cultivation on the right side (Bartels et al. 2006).
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Figure 5
Figure 5. Key area 2a: ‘Schwaz Brixlegg’: Schwarzenberg-Moos. Late Bronze Age ore processing site (crushing and washing area) with a well preserved wooden construction. Embedded in the environmental archive of a peat deposit, this site delivers excellent material for archaeological, mineralogical, archaeobotanical and dendrochronological analyses as well as for 3D modelling.
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Figure 6
Figure 6. Key area 3: Bartholomäberg, Montafon. Reconstruction of the Bronze Age fortified settlement ‘Friaga Wald’ based on digital topographic mapping and records from archaeological excavations. It becomes apparent that there was a hierarchy of Bronze Age settlements in the Montafon, which indicates a structured society with a governing leadership that probably held control over mining and metal production (3D-model by Martin Schaich, ArcTron Dokumentation).
Click to enlarge.

During the first four-year phase of HiMAT (2007–2010), the origin, rise, and fall of mining districts north of the main Alpine ridge will be studied. Four key sites (Figure 1) provide excellent preconditions to evaluate crucial factors of the production domains (Figure 2) and opportunities to define these along chronological and functional criteria. In order to understand the nature of the compound interdependence of prehistoric metallurgists, comparative studies between these mining areas will be conducted in cooperation between experts in archaeology, archaeobotany, archaeometallurgy, archaeozoology, dendrology, ethnology, geodesy, history, linguistics, mineralogy and palaeoecology. Figures 3 – 6 exemplify the ongoing interdisciplinary research.

In the second phase (3 years), the studies will be extended to mining areas south of the main Alpine ridge. In this way, a representative area of investigation will be made available to study large-scale problems in aspects of socio-economy (trade connections, subsistence strategies) and environment (human and climate interrelationships, limitation of natural resources).

In the third and final phase (3 years), long-term changes brought about by the impact of mining and its causalities will be observed and analysed using the dataset compiled during the previous phases in order to detect cycles and their causal processes (socio-economic or climatic impact) in the interrelationship between man and environment.


The specific research programme HiMAT is funded by the Austrian Science Fund (grant-no: SFB F31-G02), the University of Innsbruck, the Austrian Counties of Salzburg, Tirol, Vorarlberg, the Autonomous Province of Bozen-Südtirol, the City of Schwaz, the Communities of Bartholomäberg and Silbertal, the Industrialists’ Association of Tyrol, the Stand Montafon, trans IT, Entwicklungs- und Transfercenter der Universität Innsbruck and the Wilhelm-Mommerts-Stiftung, Bochum.


  • BARTELHEIM M., E. PERNICKA & R. KRAUSE (ed.). 2002. The beginnings of metallurgy in the Old World. Rahden: Marie Leidorf.
  • BARTELS C., A. BINGENER & R. SLOTTA (ed.). 2006. Das Schwazer Bergbuch. Band 1: der Bochumer Entwurf von 1554 (facsimile edition). Bochum: Deutsches Bergbau-Museum.
  • HÖPPNER B., M. BARTELHEIM, M. HUIJSMANS, R. KRAUSS, K.-P. MARTINEK, E. PERNICKA & R. SCHWAB. 2005. Prehistoric copper production in the Inn valley (Austria), and the earliest copper in Central Europe. Archaeometry 47: 293–315.
  • RYCHNER, V. & N. KLÄNTSCHI. 1995. Arsenic, nickel et antimoine: une approche de la métallurgie du Bronze moyen et final en Suisse par l’analyse spectrométrique (Cahiers d’archéologie romande 63-4). Lausanne: Cahiers d’archéologie romande.
  • STÖLLNER, T. 2003. Mining and economy: a discussion of spatial organisations and structures of early raw material exploitation, in Th. Stöllner, G. Körlin, G. Steffens & J. Cierny (ed.) Man and mining, studies in honour of Gerd Weisgerber (Der Anschnitt, Beiheft 16): 415–46. Bochum: Deutsches Bergbau-Museum.
  • WEISGERBER, G. & G. GOLDENBERG (ed.). 2004. Alpenkupfer – Rame delle Alpi (Der Anschnitt, Beiheft 17). Bochum: Deutsches Bergbau-Museum.


(*corresponding author)
  • Klaus Oeggl* Institute of Botany, Innsbruck University, Austria (Email: Klaus.Oeggl@uibk.ac.at; home page: http://www.uibk.ac.at/himat/.
  • Franz Mathis Institute of History and Ethnology, Innsbruck University, Austria (Email: Franz.Mathis@uibk.ac.at.
  • Johann Moser Institute of German language, Innsbruck University, Austria (Email: H.Moser@uibk.ac.at.
  • Ingo Schneider Institute of History and Ethnology, Innsbruck University, Austria (Email: Ingo.Schneider@uibk.ac.at.
  • Walter Leitner Institute of Archaeologies, Innsbruck University, Austria (Email: Walter.Leitner@uibk.ac.at.
  • Gerhard Tomedi Institute of Archaeologies, Innsbruck University, Austria (Email: Gerhard.Tomedi@uibk.ac.at.
  • Thomas Stöllner Mining Archaeology, Deutsches Bergbau-Museum, Bochum & Institute of Archaeological Science, Bochum University, Germany (Email: thomas.stoellner@berbaumuseum.de; thomas.stoellner@ruhr-uni-bochum.de.
  • Rüdiger Krause Institute of Archaeology, Frankfurt University, Germany (Email: R.Krause@em.uni-frankfurt.de.
  • Ernst Pernicka Institute of Pre- and Early History, Tübingen University, Germany (Email: Ernst.Pernicka@uni-tuebingen.de.
  • Peter Tropper Institute of Mineralogy and Petrography, Innsbruck University, Austria (Email: Peter.Tropper@uibk.ac.at.
  • Jörg Schibler Institute for Prehistory and Archaeological Science, Basel University, Switzerland (Email: Joerg.Schibler@unibas.ch.
  • Kurt Nicolussi Institute of Geography, Innsbruck University, Austria (Email: Kurt.Nicolussi@uibk.ac.at.
  • Klaus Hanke Institute of Basic Sciences in Civil Engineering/Surveying and Geoinformation Unit, Innsbruck University, Austria (Email: Klaus.Hanke@uibk.ac.at.

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