Prehistoric Age: Cista from the princes' graves of Kleinklein-Kröllkogel, Styria, Hallstatt period
Prehistory, the study of the prehistoric age, the earliest period of human history, the study of which relies exclusively on archaeological evidence (excavations etc.). The oldest prehistoric finds in Austria were discovered in caves and date from the early and middle periods of the Old Stone Age (Paleolithic Age). The loess steppes of the Lower Austrian Alpine area, except for the glaciated parts (Ice Age), were settled by hunters and gatherers during the later part of the Paleolithic Age. Homo sapiens sapiens, whose presence has been documented from the late Old Stone Age onwards, already produced small sculptures (Venus vom Galgenberg, Venus von Willendorf) and lived in primitive shelters (Stratzing, Lower Austria). During the warm periods, caves at altitudes of up to 2,000 m served as dwellings in the Alpine region. The post-glacial cultures of hunters, gatherers and fishermen have been assigned to the Middle Stone Age (Mesolithic).
In the 6th millennium B.C. (New Stone Age, Neolithic Age) the first farming settlements started in the fertile regions of eastern Austria. Virgin forests were cleared and farmers erected large rectangular post-wall buildings, cultivated grains and bred sheep, goats and cattle. Fundamental changes occurred in the 4th millennium B.C. (Late Neolithic Age, Copper Age): Four-wheeled carts were invented in the Near East and spread rapidly to Central Europe (Baden culture), the first copper implements were produced and horses domesticated. In the Salzkammergut region(Mondsee) lake-shore settlements were built (Lake-dwellings), in the Pre-Alps and major Alpine valleys settlements were established on protected heights; warrior graves have been found from this period (battle-axe cultures, bell-beaker culture).
The end of the 3rd millennium B.C. saw the beginning of the Bronze Age in Austria. The upper class was probably that of warriors; copper ore was mined, processed and smelted in Alpine greywacke zones (Mitterberg, Arthur gallery). Commercial contacts necessary for bronze production extended across the continent. Major earthwork fortifications were erected (Stillfried); the Bronze Age is customarily divided, on the basis of the preferred burial forms, into an early (crouched burial culture), middle (barrow grave culture), Pitten) and late (urnfield culture), find at Franzhausen, Salzburg-Maxglan, Wildon) period.
The early Iron Age started in Austria in the 8th century B.C. (Hallstatt Culture). Communities were ruled by noblemen who sought to emulate Mediterranean forms of living. Their dead were buried in large tumuli furnished with drinking vessels (a gold neck ring was found at Uttendorf, Kultwagen von Strettweg, Kleinklein, Gemeinlebarn, Großmugl). The salt mine at Hallstatt (Upper Austria) is Austria's most important prehistoric monument: numerous richly furnished graves give evidence of far-reaching trading relations (ivory, amber, glassware, bronzes from Upper Italy). Herodotus mentioned the Celts on the upper course of the Danube, thus giving for the first time a name to the people inhabiting our area. The Celtic language is believed to have originated much earlier, in the 2nd millennium B.C.
By the beginning of the late Iron Age in the 5th century B.C. (La-Tène Culture), Austria had been largely settled by Celts. Ceremonial inscriptions in North Etruscan alphabets have documented the presence of Veneti (Gurina) in southern Carinthia and of Raetians in Tirol (Schneidjoch pass). Celtic craftsmen used zoomorphic and floral motifs taken over from Mediterranean art to produce new, highly imaginative forms whose symbolic character is as puzzling as that of geometric ornaments from the period. Particularly important documents of the early La Tène period are richly furnished warriors' graves (Bad Dürrnberg), while the late period is characterised by large central hill settlements (Magdalensberg). In the southern Alpine area the Regnum Noricum was established, a union of Celtic tribes under the hegemony of the Norici tribe, who started minting their own coins in the 1st century B.C. The most important trading commodity was Noric iron (ferrum Noricum). Among the first historic events in Austria was the migration of the Cimbri and the battle of Noreia (113 B.C.).
Museums with prehistoric finds: Museum of Natural History in Vienna, provincial museums in Bregenz, Eisenstadt, Graz, Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Salzburg; Asparn an der Zaya (Prehistoric Age), Traismauer (Early History), Hallein (Celts) and Nußdorf ob der Traisen (primeval period). Most local history museums display prehistoric finds from their vicinity.
Prehistoric Age: Finds in the Prehistory museum at Nußdorf ob der Traisen, Lower Austria
Prehistoric Age: Beaked flagon from Dürrnberg, 2nd half of the 5th century B.C. (Museum Carolino Augusteum, Salzburg).
Literature: J. Reitinger, Ur- und Frühgeschichte OÖ., 2 vols., 1968/69; L. Pauli, Die Alpen in Frühzeit und Mittelalter, 31984; A. Lippert (ed.), Reclams Archäologieführer Ö., 1985; H. Friesinger and B. Vacha, Die vielen Väter Österreichs, 1987; A. Lippert (ed.); O. H. Urban, Wegweiser in die Urgeschichte Österreichs, 1989; J.-W. Neugebauer, Österreichische Urzeit, 1990; Die Räter, exhibition catalogue, Innsbruck 1992.
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