Dyeing techniques of the prehistoric Hallstatt-Textiles: analysis, experiments and inspiration for contemporary application

The Hallstatt-Textiles

Hallstatt in Upper Austria is famous for its 7000 years old history of salt production. The condition in the salt mine is ideal to preserve organic material from prehistoric times. Due to the impregnation by salt, the constant climate of the mine and the protection from light, coloured textile fragments survived up to 3500 years. Since 1849, more than 565 textile fragments have been excavated, most of them from the Hallstatt Period (800-400 BC, early Iron Age), some even from the Bronce Age. The fragments are pieces of fabrics with spinning and weaving patterns, but also fine ribbons made of woolen yarns only 0,2 mm thin.

Research and inspiration

The interdisciplinary research project is funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF: L431-G02; duration 2008-2011). The aim of the project is to gain knowledge about the prehistoric dyeing techniques and to apply this knowledge on reproductions. Furthermore, links shall be created between the unique cultural heritage of the Hallstatt-Textiles, reflection in textile arts and inspiration for today’s commercial products. The main parts of the project are:

Analysis. 68 samples taken from the prehistoric textiles were analysed by high performance liquid chromatography with photo diode array detection (HPLC-PDA), optical microscopy and scanning electron microscopy with energy-dispersive X-ray analysis (SEM-EDX). Several dyes respectively dye plants were identified, e.g. woad (Isatis tinctoria), saffron (Crocus sativus), species of Rubiaceae and tannins. The yellow dyes apigenin and luetolin can originate e.g. from weld (Reseda luteola) and scentless chamomile (Tripleurospermum inodorum). The use of buckthorn berries (Rhamnus sp.), insect dyes and lichens is also possible, but could not be proven for sure. Element analysis was performed because aluminium, iron and copper could have been used as mordants in the dyeing process. These elements, however, could also originate from the embedding material in the mine and therefore could have changed the original colour shades of the textiles.

Experiments. Wool of four sheep breeds with fleece comparable to the Iron Age sheep was tested during experimental archaeology experiments. Different wool preparation and hand-spinning methods were successfully applied to produce yarns as thin as the prehistoric ones. Dyeing experiments were carried out to reconstruct the colour shades of the original textiles. Woad (Isatis tinctoria) was cultivated at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences and processed with traditional methods. Different fermentation vat dyeing techniques were performed with woad and indigo (Indigofera sp.). A broad range of domestic dye plant species was selected based on a literature review, and used to dye reference material. The dyestuff analysis of the reference material helped to improve the interpretation of the dyestuff analysis results from the Hallstatt-Textiles.

Reproductions. Three Iron Age ribbons were reproduced to show how they once may have looked like. Each ribbon was made in two possible colour variants, based on the analytical results and a colour comparison of dyed samples with the original Hallstatt ribbons. A short part of each reconstructed ribbon was put into copper solution to demonstrate the colour modifying effect.

Inspiration. A major intention of the project is to create links between the cultural heritage of the Hallstatt-Textiles and reflexion in contemporary textile art and design. Inspired by the prehistoric textile fragments, the weaving and dyeing techniques and the archaeological context, students of the University of Applied Art worked on objects of textile art and textile design.

Natural dyes today

Dyeing with natural dyes is not a technique belonging to the past. In Asia, Africa, South America and Eastern Europe some people are still practicing traditional techniques. Also in Europe and North America, artists and innovative companies have re-invented traditional dyeing techniques by the study of historic sources and experiments. Based on the use of natural resources, natural dyes can contribute to more sustainable production methods – if ecological criteria are considered in the whole production process. Together with the new developments in slow fashion, fairtrade and organic textiles, natural dyes have a high potential to make clothing more appealing, fair and environmentally sound.

Symposium and exhibition

Symposium and exhibition

Results of the research project will be presented at the symposium
3000 Years of Colour - from Tradition to Art and Innovation
, together with contributions about textiles from simultaneous cultures of the Hallstatt period, today’s commercial use of natural dyes and a fashion show. The exhibition will show the prehistoric Hallstatt-Textiles, the reproductions and the objects of textile art and textile design created by the students of the University of Applied Arts Vienna.
3000 Years of Colour – from Tradition to Art and Innovation
2nd International Symposium on Hallstatt-Textiles

Natural History Museum Vienna, 21st – 23rd of March 2012
Registration, program and further information: http://3000YearsOfColour.nhm-wien.ac.at/
hallstattfarben | Textile Verbindungen zwischen Forschung und Kunst
colours of hallstatt | textiles connecting science and art
Exhibition at the Natural History Museum Vienna
1st of February 2012 – 6th of January 2013

Project team

Institute of Art and Technology / Archaeometry
Ao. Univ.-Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Dr. Bernhard Pichler
(supervision of students’ projects)
AProf. Mag. Dr. Regina Hofmann-de Keijzer
(project coordinator, project proposal, dyestuff and fibre analysis, Hallstatt-Textile database, supervision of students' projects, organising committee of symposium and exhibition)
AProf. DI Rudolf Erlach (element analysis with SEM-EDX)
Ing. Robert Kralofsky (database design)

Institute of Artistic Science, Art Education and Communication / Textiles
Univ.-Prof. Mag. Barbara Putz-Plecko (supervision of students’ projects, organising committee of exhibition)
Mag. Eva Lachner (supervision of students’ projects, organising committee of exhibition)
Ute Neuber (supervision of students’ projects, organising committee of exhibition)
Students of the University of Applied Arts Vienna (objects of textile art and design)
in cooperation with Mag. Manuel Wandl (supervision of students’ projects, organising committee of symposium and exhibition)

Institute of Art and Technology/ Textile Technology
Mag. Ute Huber-Leierer (screen printing, supervision of students’ projects)
Sen. Art. Ing. Robert Wiesner (supervision of students’ projects)

Institute of Organic Farming, WG Knowledge Systems and Innovation
DI Dr. Anna Hartl (project proposal, literature review, woad cultivation and processing, dyeing experiments, reproductions, wool of rare sheep breeds, natural dyes today, contributions to students’ project, organising committee of symposium and exhibition)
Mag. Johanna Putscher (literature database, assistance in woad cultivation and processing)
Berta Gielge (assistance in woad cultivation and processing)
Tanya Niedermüller (assistance in woad cultivation and processing)

Prehistoric Department

HR. Dr. Anton Kern (organising committee of symposium and exhibition)
Mag. Hans Reschreiter (archaeological context, organising committee of symposium and exhibition)
Mag. Dr. Karina Grömer (wool preparation, spinning and weaving experiments, reproductions, contributions to students’ project, organising committee of symposium and exhibition)
Mag. Helga Rösel-Mautendorfer (wool preparation, spinning experiments, reproductions, contributions to students’ project, organising committee of symposium and exhibition)
in cooperation with Dr. Katrin Kania, pallia / Erlangen (wool preparation, spinning experiments, reproductions)

Department of Exhibition and Education
Dr. Reinhard Golebiowski (organising committee of exhibition)
Mag. Iris Ott (organising committee of exhibition)

Sector Research Movable Heritage
Dr. Ing. Maarten R. van Bommel (dyestuff analysis with HPLC-PDA, computer based colour reconstruction, contributions to dyeing experiments)
Art Néss Proaño Gaibor (dyestuff analysis with HPLC-PDA, computer based colour reconstruction)
Dr. Ineke Joosten (fibre analysis with SEM-EDX)
Ing. Suzan de Groot (light fastness tests)

Peter Bichler (organising committee of symposium)

Furthermore, cooperation, exchange and support was gratefully provided by:

Ao.Univ.Prof. Dr. Marianne Kohler-Schneider and Dr. Andreas Heiss, Institute of Botany, WG Archeobotany (providing literature, support with plant determination); Gerhard Wagner, Institute of Botany (woad cultivation); Ao. Univ. Prof. DI Dr. Jürgen Friedel, Institute of Organic Farming, WG Soil Fertility & Cropping Systems (providing laboratory); AProf. Dr. Roswitha Baumung, Institute of Livestock Sciences (information on sheep breeds); DI Erwin Binner, Institute of Waste Management (advice and tool for woad couching); all Institutions at BOKU. Botanical Garden of the University of Vienna; Botanical Garden of Linz; Royal Botanik Gardens Kew; Botanical Garden of the University of Copenhagen; Univ.Prof. Dr. Roman Türk, Fachbereich Organismische Biologie der Universität Salzburg; Mag. Dr. Claudia Mack, Landesversuchsanstalt Wies; Alfred Galke GmbH; Oberförster Ing. Hannes Minich MA 49, Forstamt Wien; (providing plant samples). DTzt. Beate Berger, LFZ Raumberg Gumpenstein (information on sheep breeds). DI Günter Jaritz, Markus Stadlmann, Barbara Soritz, DI Hans Kjäer, all Arche Austria – Verein zur Erhaltung seltener Nutztierrassen (providing sheep fleeze). Dr. David Hill, University of Bristol, the dyers Josef Koó and Helen Melvin, Ian Howard from Woad Inc. (advice for dyeing experiments). Organic bakery Kaschik (natural sourdough for fermentation dyeing). Numerous natural textile and natural dye companies provided material samples for the students’ project. Scientific exchange with the EU-funded projects „DressID - Clothing and Identity - New perspectives on textiles in the Roman Empire” and “CinBA - Creativity and Craft Production in Bronze Age”.