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26 April 2004
Austrian Bronze Age settlements as centres of trade

Austrian settlements in the Region of the Danube were prosperous and cosmopolitan in the Bronze Age. That's what new studies undertaken by researchers in the Prehistoric Commission of the Austrian Academy of Sciences show in a project supported by the Austrian Science Fund FWF. It is centred around analysing the findings from excavations on the Oberleiserberg Mountain in Lower Austria where scientists discovered traces of a major trade and relics of a once-flourishing culture of crafts.
     The excavation site is one of the most prominent locations in Lower Austria. This is where one of the largest settled areas of the Bronze Age (2300 - 800 BCE) in Central Europe was discovered measuring seven hectares. The excavations have been underway since 1976 and they supply a wide range of findings from the Bronze Age, the Late Latène Period and the time of the great migrations after the fall of the Roman Empire. The project supported by the Austrian Science Fund FWF was only recently able to precisely tap the findings from the Bronze Age.
     The analysis of findings clearly show that the first large-scale settlement of the Oberleiserberg mountain region was in the early Bronze Age (2300 to 1600 BCE) when the Moravian/Austrian group of the Aunjetitz culture held sway here in the northern region of the Danube. The major characteristic of the Aunjetitz culture was large regular fields of graves and diverse burial gifts made of bronze. There was a great exchange of goods in this group, especially raw materials. For instance, in the early Bronze Age, the settlers at the Oberleiserberg Mountain used flint from Moravia to make a wide variety of implements such as blades and arrowheads.
     Dr. Michaela Lochner from the Austrian Academy of Sciences points out that "we analysed the mineralogical characteristics of the flint and its type and arrived at the surprising result that the types of stones to be found at Oberleiserberg mountain were often made and used in the early Bronze Age, although these implements were previously assigned to the Stone Age. In addition, most of the flint originates from the Moravian region that is much further away, which is a strong indication of the settlements in the Danube region exchanging goods with one another". This era of intensive trade came to an abrupt end at the Oberleiserberg Mountain when the settlement was abandoned due to a disastrous fire.
     There were only more recent settlements at the end of the older phase of the middle Danube region urn field culture (about 1000 BCE) named after the preferred manner of burying the dead by cremating them and burying them in urns. The analysis of findings from this time show that the settlement flourished due to its safe location on the mountain and excellent access to trade routes.
     Dr. Lochner told that "we found a number of everyday implements for manufacturing textiles such as weaving weights and wharves in the excavations, so that we concluded that there was a lot of crafts and trading being done that produced a significant amount of prosperity. This is something we can also see from bronze garment needles with carefully designs needle heads in shape of vase heads or spindles that were used as clothing decorations". These objects were cast in forms made of stone or clay that we still have today along with stove or oven plates. The ceramic of that region also prove how highly developed crafts were then. What is especially remarkable are the very thin-walled bowls that are decorated with a wealth of new types of line, rhombic and circular designs.

Source: Austrian Science Fund FWF (26 April 2004)

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