Revealing the Hallstatt Collection at the Ashmolean Museum

Dr Jennifer Foster, archaeologist and Departmental tutor, is working with the Ashmolean Museum to publish artefacts found at an epic early Iron Age site at Hallstatt in Austria. 

The importance of Hallstatt 

Just south of Salzburg along a mountainous lake in Austria, a cemetery of over 2000 cremations and inhumations was found amongst a maze of salt mines. This iconic site, Hallstatt, was so extensive and wealthy that it named an entire period of later prehistory. It is a stunning example from the early Iron Age (800-600 BC). 

The site was first excavated in the mid-19th century and was visited by Sir John Evans – a leading figure in the fields of prehistoric archaeology, numismatics and geology – in 1866. Evans and his friend John Lubbock financed work at the site from 1866–69, in part to secure artefacts for their personal collections.  

Says Dr Foster, ‘Researchers from all over Europe flocked to the site, and acquired grave goods, including John Evans and John Lubbock. The early Iron Age period in Europe is named after Hallstatt.’ She adds, ‘Hallstatt is a major archaeological site - though the settlement itself has not been found.’

John Lubbock’s finds were donated to the British Museum, and John Evan’s collection to the Ashmolean in 1927 by his son, Sir Arthur Evans, the first Keeper of Antiquities. 

The 187 finds from the 1866–69 phase of excavation at Hallstatt comprise a unique assemblage which has yet to be fully analysed. They include objects made of bronze, iron, gold, amber, glass, clay, bone and stone, and range from dishes to personal ornaments, from axes to weapons.  

The objects have never been published, and many scholars do not know of their existence. ‘It is very important that the objects in the Ashmolean are published, so that scholars can access the information,’ says Dr Foster.

Bringing the Hallstatt collection to light 

This collaborative project, funded by the Prehistoric Society's Collections Study Award, aims to catalogue and analyse the Ashmolean’s Hallstatt collection for the first time, providing information that will be freely available through Ashmolean Collections Online and various publications. The publication process will include an examination of the archive, to see what can be learned about the archaeological context, and about the people of Hallstatt from the objects in this antiquarian collection. 

As part of the project, Jennifer is also writing and illustrating a children’s book about the Hallstatt site, based on the artefacts in the Ashmolean. 

Says Dr Foster, ‘We hope to get the monograph finished by Christmas 2022, and the children's book should be out by then also. It is a wonderful project to work on.’ 

The project team includes Dr Jennifer Foster, University of Reading / University of Oxford; Dr Courtney Nimura, University of Oxford; and Alison Roberts, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford. They will also work with Ian Cartwright, University of Oxford (archaeological photographer); Nick Griffiths (archaeological Illustrator); and Ilaria Perzia, University of Oxford (project administration). 

Published 12 May 2021