Breakthrough for mining research in the Bronze Age

Tuesday, November 10, 2015



Mining already took place 3,500 years ago in the Austrian region of Montafon.

FRANKFURT/BARTHOLOMÄBERG. Mining in the Alps dates back much further than previously thought - in the Austrian region of Montafon since the Bronze Age. Thanks to C14 dating, a group of researchers from Goethe University in Frankfurt led by Professor Rüdiger Krause of the Institute of Archaeological Sciences was able to detect in the course of prospecting in the Bartholomäberg region at a height of 1450 metres ancient traces of mining from the middle Bronze Age. The C14 method, also known as the radiocarbon method, makes a relatively precise age classification possible, for example of charcoal, on the basis of decreasing radioactivity in carbonaceous material.

It was in this way that the researchers also discovered that 2500 years later - towards the end of the Early Middle Ages - mining evidently even resumed there, since there are clear traces in the terrain from this period too. That means that this is one of the oldest mining areas provable to date in a mountainous region of Europe. The discovery, which was made possible through funding from the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)), equates according to Professor Krause to "a small sensation, since the academic world had so far not considered that Bronze Age mining in the Montafon mining area could be possible." There are only very few places with evidence of Alpine mining in the early and late Middle Ages either. Professor Krause now sees an exciting link, for instance, to the historically documented nine iron-smelting furnaces in Drusengau - the region around Bludenz, Klostertal and Montafon - which are mentioned in the Imperial Register of Chur (Churer Reichsurbar) of the year 843.

Professor Krause and his team, which includes archaeobotanists and a large number of students from Goethe University, have been researching for 15 years in the Montafon region, which lies in the Central Alps in the south of the Austrian federal state of Vorarlberg. The objective is to explore early settlement history and early mining in this unique inner-Alpine "settlement chamber" with Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements and Bronze Age castle buildings with stone walls up to 3 metres thick.

Excavations in the newly discovered mining area are due to commence next summer. An exciting project, as the only other evidence of comparably ancient mining activity is in the Eastern Alps, for example in the famous Mitterberg mining area, where Bronze Age miners dug galleries as far down as 200 metres and developed mining on the most intensive scale in this period in the Alps. "What significance our new site in Montafon had in the context of Bronze Age copper supply in the Alps will be seen when we examine it further", says Professor Krause.

For archaeological research in Frankfurt, Montafon - with its special colonization history with Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements - is an important priority. After all, it is regarded as a model region for an interdisciplinary approach where archaeobotany, soil science and metal analysis, in particular the analysis of heavy metals in the ground as a relict of ancient mining, are very important sources of information. Work focuses on questions about what could have originally induced people to settle in this Alpine valley landscape. From what point in time onwards was their self-sufficient economy - gathering as well as livestock, arable and pasture farming - supplemented by mining activity? Thanks to the researchers in Frankfurt it is now known that this inner-Alpine valley landscape has been inhabited on a continuous basis since about 2000 B.C. and that Montafon can today look back on 4000 years of settlement history.

The scientific "breakthroughs" in the former mining area are now also visible in book form: On the 9th of November, the first monograph on the archaeology and early history of mining in Montafon will be presented in Bartholomäberg (Montafon): A "colourful" book richly illustrated with photographs and diagrams, which wants to familiarize the reader and observer in short and easily comprehensible words and in a lively way with the oldest history of an Alpine valley landscape using the example of Montafon as well as with the different types of exploration. Martin Vallaster, Mayor of the Municipality of Bartholomäberg, is noticeably impressed: "We are all very proud of this book, which is a product of lasting value for relaying the research results and their wide variety of new findings. Allow yourself when reading this book to be transported into the world of our ancestors and experience our exciting and unique settlement history".

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Book details:
Rüdiger Krause, Archäologie im Gebirge. Montafoner Zeitmaschine. Frühe Besiedlungsgeschichte und Bergbau im Montafon, Vorarlberg (Österreich). With contributions by Lisa Bringemeier, Rudolf Klopfer, Astrid Röpke, Astrid Stobbe, Franziska Würfel. 150 pages, 213 colour and large-format images, 23 x 23 cm, hard cover, € 19,80 Bartholomäberg/Bonn 2015 (ISBN 978-3-7749-3981-0), Distribution: Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH, Bonn (Germany), http://www.habelt.de
Information: Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Krause, Faculty of Linguistics, Culture and Arts, Westend Campus, Tel.: ++49(0)160-824 7 824, Email: r.krause@em.uni-frankfurt.de

 

Stonehenge archaeologists discover 'superhenge' neolithic site buried underground

A computerised interpretation of what the 'superhenge' site is believed to have looked like before being buried.

Archaeologists say they have found the buried remains of a mysterious prehistoric monument close to Britain's famous Stonehenge heritage site.

Up to 90 standing stones, some originally measuring 4.5 metres and dating back some 4,500 years, may have been buried for millennia under a bank of earth, they said.

The discovery was made at Durrington Walls — a so-called "superhenge" located less than three kilometres from Stonehenge — thanks to high-tech sensors.

The site may have been used in neolithic times for rituals or as some kind of arena.

"Durrington Walls is an immense monument and up until this point we thought it was merely a large bank and ditched enclosure, but underneath that massive monument is another monument," Vincent Gaffney, of the University of Bradford, told the BBC.

The discovery was made by the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, a collaboration between the University of Birmingham and the Vienna-based Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology (LBI ArchPro).

The newly discovered stones, which have yet to be excavated, are thought to have been toppled over, with the bank of the later Durrington Walls henge built over them.

The monument, which lies in the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, is one of the largest known henges — a circle of stone or wooden uprights — ever found.

It measures 500 metres across and more than 1.5 kilometres in circumference.

Surrounded by a 17.6-metre-wide ditch and a bank around 1 metre high, the site has long mystified archaeologists as one side is straight and the other curved.

Now ground penetrating radar has revealed that the straight edge in fact sits on top of a "C-shaped" monument, which may have been used as a site for rituals or an arena for gatherings, researchers said.

Project initiator Wolfgang Neubauer, director of the LBI ArchPro, described the discovery as a "very important and fantastic finding" and said the monument could originally have comprised up to 200 stones.

"The missing stones might be the stone material which was used later on to build Stonehenge," he explained, adding that those left in place were probably broken during attempts to move them.

Although none of the stones have yet been excavated, archaeologists believe they may be locally sourced stones similar to a single standing stone, known as "The Cuckoo Stone", in an adjacent field.
The earthwork enclosure at Durrington Walls was built about a century after Stonehenge, a ring of standing stones believed to have been erected between 3,000 and 2,000 BCE.

Archeologists said the new stone row could date back to the same period, or even earlier.

"This discovery of a major new stone monument, which has been preserved to a remarkable extent, has significant implications for our understanding of Stonehenge and its landscape setting," Professor Gaffney said.

"Not only does this new evidence demonstrate a completely unexpected phase of monumental architecture at one of the greatest ceremonial sites in prehistoric Europe, the new stone row could well be contemporary with the famous Stonehenge sarsen circle or even earlier."

Nick Snashall, a National Trust archaeologist for the Stonehenge site, said the findings provided "tantalising evidence" of what lies beneath Durrington Walls.

"The presence of what appear to be stones, surrounding the site of one of the largest Neolithic settlements in Europe, adds a whole new chapter to the Stonehenge story," he said.

 
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