(R)evolutions: from the Stone to the Iron Age

From the Neolithic to the end of the early Iron Age



(R)evolutions: from the Stone to the Iron Age

(R)evolutions: from the Stone to the Iron Age

The excavation of a burial mound dating back to more than 2,600 years at Frög near Rosegg revealed a lead model of a magnificent wagon, of a type that would have been the preserve of the elite.

By that time humans had long become settled and learned how to practise agriculture and domesticate animals – an epoch-making advance on the life of the earlier hunters and gatherers.
Over the course of time, mining and trade became the foundations of the wealth of an elite that had supraregional connections. Figural depictions and the first writing systems attest to the existence of religious and social life.

Bronze Age roads

During the Second World War two dugouts were found in a bog at Sattnitz near Klagenfurt. Dating back to the second century BCE, they had been made using bronze axes. As they have a shallow draught, these boots were also ideal for navigating streams and shallow lakeshores. Found all over the world, they represent the beginnings of wooden boat construction. In Central Europe dugouts were mainly used for fishing and hunting on the shores and banks of lakes and rivers, but they also served to transport people and goods along the waterways – the ‘roads’ of the Bronze Age.

The final journey

At the burial ground of Frög near Rosegg a grave dating from around 600 BCE yielded a miniature wagon made of lead resembling the four-wheeled elite wagon familiar from the Hallstatt Culture. Since there was as yet no developed road network, these wagons can only have served as part of ceremonial processions for the elite. At the same time, all over Central Europe high-ranking men and women were customarily buried with a ceremonial wagon to take them on the journey into the beyond. The miniature wagon could also have been part of a representation of a sacred procession, although no figures to support this interpretation were found in the burial mound at Frög.

Life on the water

In the middle of Lake Keutschach the precious remains of an ancient pile dwelling were discovered. Decorated tableware found there belongs to a culture that had established itself around 4350 BCE between the Danube and the Sava, also extending into the south-eastern Alpine region.

The people who settled at Lake Keutschach were farmers, practising horticulture and grinding cereals. They ground wheat to make bread and used barley for gruel and stews, a diet that was supplemented by meat from game and domestic animals such as cows and pigs. Utensils for spinning such as spindle whorls attest to the production of small-size textiles from plant fibres, but clothing continued to be made from leather and fur.

Precious ingots

Four thousand years ago, copper and bronze circulated or were hoarded in the form of ingots. In the southern Alpine region these ingots had the form of axe blades until the middle of the Bronze Age, while in the northern Alpine region they took the form of neck rings or fibulas. The valuable metals were buried as single objects or in larger quantities and covered with a stone slab, probably as a gift to the gods to ensure their goodwill. Blacksmith’s tools including a hammer, chisel, file and rasp together with a series of smaller iron ingots in various shapes come from the important Celtic hilltop settlement on the Gracarca mountain on the southern shore of Lake Klopein.

Clothes make the man

Pins and fibulas used to fasten clothing or worn on the shoulder as decoration were usually made of bronze or iron. The shapes and decoration of these accessories reveal when and where they were made, and which supraregional trend was in vogue at a particular time.

Warriors were buried with weapons such as battleaxes and spears, while in isolated cases finds of bits and harness indicate the graves of mounted warriors (‘knights’).
Women and girls were buried wearing all kinds of ring jewellery as well as necklaces made of glass and amber beads. Ornaments made of sheet metal were worn as decoration on the chest. Spinning and weaving were a female preserve, and looms were buried in the graves of wealthier women.

Tableware and diet

In a number of richly-furnished graves in the eastern Alpine regions hundreds of precious bronze vessels and utensils were found, occasionally alongside highly expensive imported objects from the Mediterranean. Large cups or ladles were used to transfer drinks such as wine, mead or beer from huge mixing vessels into pails for serving. The process involved the use of sieves, as all alcoholic drinks at the time were mixed with spices and also contained additives with preservative properties such as resin. Meat from domestic animals and game was cooked in cauldrons or roasted with the aid of firedogs and long spits.

Supraregional trade in goods

Regular and intensive contacts saw the introduction of foreign goods into the eastern Alpine region, including items of dress, weapons, precious tableware and beverages. Local artisans imitated these coveted pieces, and it is possible that itinerant craftsmen travelled around offering their services. Workshops in the Venetic region made high-quality cooking utensils and tableware. It was also via northern Italy that trends in fashion and knowledge of images and writing penetrated the Alpine regions. In addition, there was contact with the Bavarian and Upper Austrian region and to a lesser extent with present-day Lower Austria and Burgenland. These regions lay on an important route connecting northern and southern Europe via which amber from the Baltic reached the Mediterranean.

From image to writing

This image from a richly-furnished grave in Waisenberg near Völkermarkt of an outsize duck in the middle of a herd of stags that is being attacked by a lion and a sphinx probably depicts an ancient myth involving a tutelary ‘duck man’.

Carved inscriptions in the region of the Carnic Alps represent the earliest traces of writing on Carinthian soil. Men with names such as Gavirro, Vottos or Barbo (‘Bearded One’) were perhaps thanking the gods for having safely crossed the mountains.
Dedicatory plaques with inscriptions from Gurina, a hill in the upper Gail Valley (‘Atto gave this gift to the gods for his well-being’), were intended to increase the hoped-for divine protection.

Figures from Frög

Finds from the graves at Frög included numerous lead figures and plaques that reflect the society of those times and its beliefs. Male riders astride stallions with phalluses are an expression of how a wealthy elite that bred horses saw themselves.

Water fowl and spoked wheel refer to the symbolism of the solar boat with birds, a common symbol across Europe for the life-giving effect of sun and water.
Naked men and women with raised hands, figures carrying small buckets in their hands or on their heads, depictions of horses, occasionally with riders, and cattle may be indications of a fertility cult.

Heaven’s tent

The Bronze Age inhabitants of Central Europe observed the stars to identify the right time for their agricultural activities and simultaneously to ask the gods for their favour. Around 700 BCE the Greek poet Hesiod described the importance of the heavenly bodies in the cycle of the farming year:

When the Pleiades, daughters of Atlas, are rising,
Begin your harvest, and your ploughing when they are going to set.
Forty nights and days they are hidden,
And appear again as the year moves round,
When first you sharpen your sickle.
(Hesiod, Works and Days, 383–387; trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White)

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