Research in the Austrian Alps shows mining dates back to the Bronze Age

Excavation in the Montafon region, which lies in the Central Alps in the south of the Austrian federal state of Vorarlberg. Image: Goethe University

Excavation in the Montafon region, which lies in the Central Alps in the south of the Austrian federal state of Vorarlberg. Image: Goethe University

In the Austrian Alpine region of Montafon it has been discovered that mining dates back to 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  detected in the course of prospecting in the Bartholomäberg region at a height of 1450 metres traces of mining from the middle Bronze Age.

The researchers also discovered that 2500 years later – towards the end of the Early Middle Ages – mining was 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.

Students excavating in the Bartholomäberg region. Image: Goethe University

Students excavating in the Montafon region. Image: Goethe University

The discovery, 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 also only very few places with evidence of Alpine mining in the early and late Middle Ages.

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 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. “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.

Archaeobotanical coring. Image: Goethe University

Archaeobotanical coring. Image: Goethe University

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.


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.

Full bibliographic information
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), www.habelt.de