Hipercorig-Hallstatt-History (H3)

A deep insight into the past of Lake Hallstatt

The H3-Project deploys a newly developed drilling platform on Lake Hallstatt. The researchers are interested in uncovering the climate and environmental history of the Inner Salzkammergut over the last 10,000 to 12,000 years. To do this, sediment cores of at least 40 meters in length must be taken from a water depth of over 100 meters. This drilling depth was previously unattainable, but can now even be exceeded with the new drilling rig from the Uwitec company.
Prehistoric mining
The oldest finds from the Hallstatt mine and its surroundings are 7000 years old. They thus provide evidence of very early salt mining. How salt mining developed from these first beginnings in the Stone Age to Bronze Age mining (proven from 1300 BC) cannot be said at present. However, investigations in a bog (Siegmoos) above the Salzberg valley show that there was a constant human presence from 4300 BC until today (Festi et al. 2021; Knierzinger et al. 2021).
Bronze Age mining was interrupted by a landslide around 1061 BC (Grabner et al. 2021). Subsequent mining reached gigantic dimensions, creating mining chambers 300 meters long and up to 20 meters high (Barth & Reschreiter 2019). This operation was also buried around 662 BC (Grabner et al. 2021). The restart of salt production took place immediately afterwards. Further landslides followed. However, the Hallstatt communities and their networks were so stable that a reconstruction of the infrastructure and a new start in mining was possible each time - until today.

Man and environment
Over the last few years, the interdisciplinary Facealps project (funded by the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the Friends of the NHM) has provided essential insights into the settlement history of the Inner Salzkammergut and the man-environment relationship. On the one hand, it could be shown that the prehistoric mining communities in the Hallstatt High Valley had a high resilience to extreme natural events. On the other hand, it became clear that these communities designed the environmental intervention caused by their resource demand in a sustainable way (Festi et al. 2021).

The analyses on the drill core from the bog also give very good indications about the development of salt production over the last 6300 years (Festi et al. 2021; Knierzinger et al. 2021). However, we also aim to determine the onset of salt production, to further capture the operational phases of mining over the last 7000 years, and to explore the extent and frequency of landslides. Moreover, we aim to understand the responses to these catastrophes. Lake core drilling in recent years has shown that many of the answers to these questions are stored in lake-bottom deposits. Analyses on the drilled lake sediments as part of the Facealps project have provided insights into the climate and environmental history of the last 2300 years, highlighting the high value of this environmental archive (Strasser et al. 2020).


New drillings in Lake Hallstatt
However, the cores taken so far are max. 15m long and cover a period of only 2350 years. The novel drilling platform "Hipercorig", which has been developed by the company Uwitec in the last two years and successfully tested in Lake Mondsee and Lake Constance with deep cores up to 63m long (Harms et al. 2020), will now be used in Lake Hallstatt.
The goal of the "Hipercorig Hallstatt History" (H3) project is now to drill the complete sedimentary sequence in Lake Hallstatt that has been deposited in the lake since the retreat of the Traun glacier. This will make it possible to determine when man first settled in the Inner Salzkammergut, began to influence its environment and produce salt.
The 6-week drilling campaign started in April 2021, and seismic surveys of the lake bottom were conducted prior to drilling to identify ideal drilling locations.

Sincere thanks for the support of this project go to the Österreichischen Bundesforste, the Salinen Austria AG, the Salzwelten GmbH, the municipalities Hallstatt and Obertraun and the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the University of Innsbruck and the Freunde des NHM Wien.

Project Coordination:

M.Strasser1; K.Kowarik2, H.Reschreiter2, A.Brauer3, F.Anselmetti4, S.Fabbri4
1Institut für Geologie, Univ. Innsbruck
2Naturhistorisches Museum Wien
3Sektion Klimadynamik und Landschaftsentwicklung, GFZ Potsdam
4Institut für Geologie, Univ. Bern


Universität Innsbruck, Naturhistorisches Museum Wien, UWITEC, Geoforschungszentrum Potsdam, Universität Bern, Fraunhofer IEG, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Freunde des NHM Wien, Gemeinde Hallstatt, Salinen Austria AG, Salzwelten GmbH, Österreichische Bundesforste

Barth, F. E. & Reschreiter, H. 2019. Prähistorische Bergbauspuren im Kernverwässerungswerk des Salzbergwerkes Hallstatt. In: Kern, A., Grömer, K., Kowarik, K. & Reschreiter, H. (eds.): ArchOn Hallstatt 1 (Wien). https://www.nhm-wien.ac.at/en/publications/scientific_series/ArchOn/mining
Festi, D., Brandner, D., Grabner, M., Knierzinger, W., Reschreiter, H. & Kowarik, K. 2021. 3500 years of environmental sustainability in the large-scale alpine mining district of Hallstatt, Austria. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 35, 102670. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2020.102670
Grabner, M., Wächter, E., Nicolussi, K., Bolka, M., Sormaz, T., Steier, P., Wild, E. M., Barth, F. E., Kern, A., Rudorfer, J., Kowarik, K., Stöllner, T., & Reschreiter, H. 2021. "Prehistoric salt mining in Hallstatt, Austria. New chronologies out of small wooden fragments."  Dendrochronologia 66:125814. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dendro.2021.125814
Harms, U., Raschke, U., Schwalb, A., Anselmetti, F., Strasser, M., Wittig, V, Wessels, M., Schaller, S,. Fabbri, S., Niederreiter, R. 2020. HIPERCORIG – an innovative hydraulic coring system recovering (post-) glacial sediments from Lakes Mondsee and Constance. Scientific Drilling 28, pp. 29-41. https://doi.org/10.5194/sd-28-29-2020
Knierzinger, W., Festi, D., Limbeck, A., Horak, F., Brunnbauer, L., Drollinger, S., Wagreich, M., Huang, J-J. S, Strasser, M., Knorr, K-H., Reschreiter, H., Gier, S., Kofler, W., Herzig, C. & Kowarik, K. 2021. Multi-proxy analyses of a minerotrophic fen to reconstruct prehistoric periods of human activity associated with salt mining in the Hallstatt region (Austria). Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 36, 102813. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2020.102670
Kowarik, K., 2019. Hallstätter Beziehungsgeschichten. Wirtschaftsstrukturen und Umfeldbeziehungen der bronze- und ältereisenzeitlichen Salzbergbaue von Hallstatt/OÖ. (Mit Beiträgen von Michael Grabner, Julia Klammer, Konrad Mayer, Hans Reschreiter, Elisabeth Wächter und Georg Winner). Studien zur Kulturgeschichte von Oberösterreich 50 (Linz).


Project webseite University of Innsbruck
Hallstatt Research Natural History Museum Vienna
UNESCO österreichischer Welterbetag HALLSTATT