Focus Scientific Research

Dyeing techniques of the prehistoric Hallstatt textiles

Regina Hofmann-De Keijzer

Institute of Art and Technology / Archeometry

In the prehistoric salt mine of Hallstatt in Upper Austria, coloured textile fragments have survived for more than 3500 years due to the impregnation by salt, the constant climate of the mine and the protection from light. These circumstances offer unique conditions for research in prehistoric dyeing techniques, which is the overall aim of the proposed research project.
Knowledge about the prehistoric dyeing processes shall be gained by identifying the dyestuffs, the dyeing materials (dye plants and dye insects), the origin of the chemical elements aluminium, iron and copper detected in the textile fibres, and their influence on colours and fibre degradation. This should also lead to a better understanding of the origin of the Hallstatt textiles and the colour changes which possibly took place during their stay in the salt mine. About 75 samples of prehistoric textile fragments, especially of the multi-coloured ribbons, will be analysed by optical microscopy, scanning electron microscopy with energy-dispersive X-ray analysis (SEM-EDX) and high performance liquid chromatography with photo diode array detection (HPLC-PDA). Results of this analytical research will be applied in the preparation of reproductions of the prehistoric textiles to show what they once may have looked like. The aim is to draw conclusions on the prehistoric manufacturing process by using authentic materials (wool, natural dyes) and traditional spinning, dyeing and weaving techniques. A comprehensive literature review will be carried out and experiments using methods of experimental archaeology and ethnobotany will be performed.
Furthermore, the project aims at creating links between the unique cultural heritage of the Hallstatt textiles with reflection in textile arts and inspiration for today's commercial products: a scientific concept for textile products will be developed and examples of textile objects inspired by the Hallstatt textiles will be designed by students of textile art and textile design.