The Hallstatt culture was the predominant Central European culture from the 8th to 6th centuries BC (European Early Iron Age), developing out of the Urnfield culture of the 12th century BC (Late Bronze Age) and followed in much of Central Europe by the La Tène culture. It is commonly associated with Proto-Celtic and Celtic populations in the Western Hallstatt zone and with (pre-)Illyrians in the eastern Hallstatt zone.
By the 6th century BC, it spanned across territories north-south from the Main, Bohemia, the Little Carpathians, the Swiss plateau, the Salzkammergut, down to the border between Lower Styria and Lower Carniola, and from the western zone, that included Champagne-Ardenne, the Upper Rhine, and the upper Danube, to the eastern zone, that included Vienna Basin and the Danubian Lowland, for some 1000 km.
Hallstatt type site
In 1846, Johann Georg Ramsauer (1795–1874) discovered a large prehistoric cemetery near Hallstatt, Austria, which he excavated during the second half of the 19th century. Eventually the excavation would yield 1,045 burials.
The community at Hallstatt exploited the salt mines in the area, which had been worked from time to time since the Neolithic period, from the 8th to 5th centuries BC. The style and decoration of the grave goods found in the cemetery are very distinctive, and artifacts made in this style are widespread in Europe.
Stratigraphy at the type site, extending from about 1200 BC until around 500 BC, is divided by archaeologists into four phases:
Hallstatt A-B are part of the Bronze Age Urnfield culture. Phase A saw Villanovan influence. In phase B, tumulus (kurgan) burial becomes common, and cremation predominates. The "Hallstatt period" proper is restricted to HaC and HaD (8th to 5th centuries BC), corresponding to the early European Iron Age. Hallstatt D is succeeded by the La Tène culture.
Hallstatt C is characterized by the first appearance of iron swords mixed amongst the bronze ones. Inhumation and cremation co-occur. For the final phase, Hallstatt D, only daggers are found in graves ranging from c. 600–500 BC. There are also differences in the pottery and brooches. Burials were mostly inhumations.
Two culturally distinct areas, an eastern and a western zone, have been postulated by Kossack (1959). The dividing line runs across the Czech Republic and Austria, at about 14 to 15 degrees eastern longitude.
The main distinction is in burial rite and grave goods: in the western zone, members of the elite were buried with sword (HaC) or dagger (HaD), in the eastern zone with an axe. The western zone has chariot burials. In the eastern zone, warriors are frequently buried in full armour.
The approximate division line between the two subcultures runs from north to south through central Bohemia and Lower Austria, and then traces the eastern and southern rim of the Alps to Eastern and Southern Tyrol.
Western Hallstatt zone
- The western Hallstatt zone includes:
- northeastern France: Champagne-Ardenne, Lorraine, Alsace
- northern Switzerland: Swiss plateau
- Southern Germany: much of Swabia and Bavaria
- western Czech Republic: Bohemia
- western Austria: Vorarlberg, Tyrol, Salzkammergut
- North Italy, north of the Apennines
- northern and central Spain: Galicia, Asturias, Castile, Cantabria
- northern and north-central Portugal: Minho, Douro, Tras-os-Montes, Beira Alta
While Hallstatt is regarded as the dominant settlement of the western zone, a settlement at the Burgstallkogel in the central Sulm valley (southern Styria, west of Leibnitz, Austria) was a major center during the Hallstatt C period. Parts of the huge necropolis (which originally consisted of more than 1,100 tumuli) surrounding this settlement can be seen today near Gleinstätten.
Grave items from a chieftain's grave, including bronze armor and the burial mask and hands from the Kröllkogel between towns of Gleinstätten and Kleinklein as well as the famous Cult Wagon of Strettweg from the Strettweg excavation near Judenburg, Styria are on display in the Joanneum's Archaeology Museum located at Schloss Eggenberg in the Styrian capital of Graz.
Eastern Hallstatt zone
- The eastern Hallstatt zone includes:
- eastern Austria: Lower Austria, Upper Styria
- eastern Czech Republic: Moravia
- southwestern Slovakia: Danubian Lowland
- western Hungary: Little Hungarian Plain
- eastern Slovenia: Hallstatt Archaeological Site in Vače (at the border between Lower Styria and Lower Carniola regions)
- northern Croatia: Hrvatsko Zagorje, Istria
- northern and central Serbia
Culture and trade
Trade and population movements (very probably both) spread the Hallstatt cultural complex into the western Iberian peninsula, Britain, and Ireland. It is probable that some if not all of this diffusion took place in a Celtic-speaking context. In northern Italy the Golasecca culture developed with continuity from the Canegrate culture. Canegrate represented a completely new cultural dynamic to the area expressed in pottery and bronzework making it a typical western example of the western Hallstatt culture. The Lepontic Celtic language inscriptions of the area show the language of the Gollasecca culture was clearly Celtic making it probable that the 13th-century BC precursor language of at least the western Hallstatt was also Celtic or a precursor to it.
Trade with Greece is attested by finds of Attic black-figure pottery in the élite graves of the late Hallstatt period. It was probably imported via Massilia (Marseille). Other imported luxuries include amber, ivory (Gräfenbühl) and probably wine. Recent analyses have shown that the reputed silk in the barrow at Hohmichele was misidentified. Red dye (cochineal) was imported from the south as well (Hochdorf burial).
The settlements were mostly fortified, situated on hilltops, and frequently included the workshops of bronze-, silver-, and goldsmiths. Typical sites are the Heuneburg on the upper Danube surrounded by nine very large grave tumuli, Mont Lassois in eastern France near Châtillon-sur-Seine with, at its foot, the very rich grave at Vix, and the hill fort at Molpír in Slovakia.
In the central Hallstatt regions toward the end of the period, very rich graves of high-status individuals under large tumuli are found near the remains of fortified hilltop settlements. They often contain chariots and horse bits or yokes as commonly used by Cimmerian knights (Eurasian nomads). Well known chariot burials include Býčí Skála, Vix and Hochdorf. A model of a chariot made from lead has been found in Frögg, Carinthia. Elaborate jewellery made of bronze and gold, as well as stone stelae (see the famous warrior of Hirschlanden) were found in this context.
The material culture of Western Hallstatt culture was apparently sufficient to provide a stable social and economic equilibrium. The founding of Marseille and the penetration by Greek and Etruscan culture after ca 600 BC, resulted in long-range trade relationships up the Rhone valley which triggered social and cultural transformations in the Hallstatt settlements north of the Alps. Powerful local chiefdoms emerged which controlled the redistribution of luxury goods from the Mediterranean world that is characteristic of the La Tène culture.
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