News Release

Bronze Age mining sites received deliveries of pre-processed foods

Cereal plant remains at an Austrian mining site were processed, but not on site

Peer-Reviewed Publication


Bronze Age mining sites received deliveries of pre-processed foods

image: The Late Bronze Age metallurgical site of Prigglitz-Gasteil (Lower Austria) during excavation view more 

Credit: Peter Trebsche, University of Innsbruck

Bronze Age mining sites relied on outside sources to deliver pre-processed food to sustain the community, according to a study published March 24, 2021 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Andreas Heiss of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and colleagues.

Bronze Age copper mining sites are thought to have been specialized communities of craftspeople and miners that would not have produced their own food, instead requiring food to be provided by outside sources. While some research has examined the animal-based foods common to these communities, few studies have investigated plants. In this study, Heiss and colleagues contribute to this discussion with an examination of plant remains from the mining site of Prigglitz-Gasteil in the Eastern Alps in Austria, which was active between the 11th and 9th Century BCE.

The study identified a variety of cereal plant remains showing signs of various forms of processing, such as grinding and dehulling, but little evidence of plant remains discarded during processing, such as chaff, or of tools used to process the material. This suggests that much of the site's cereal food was being processed and possibly cooked off-site before being delivered to the miners--and presents the idea of specific groups' cuisine as an archaeobotanical topic worthy of further consideration, beyond simple plant remains.

These results were found to match analyses of other Bronze Age mining sites of the Eastern Alps, but it remains unclear exactly where these delivered foods were being originally processed, whether in nearby farmlands or more distant sources. The authors hope that further study on cereal plant remains and cooking tools at Prigglitz-Gasteil and other sites will help archaeologists piece together the details of how specialized sites were provided essential supplies.

The authors add: "Food is an artefact - just like an axe, a jug or a table. By including such culinary artefacts into "classical" archaeobotany, this study provides not only further evidence on the consumption patterns in Bronze Age mining, but also helps open the door to prehistoric cuisine a little bit further."


Citation: Heiss AG, Jakobitsch T, Wiesinger S, Trebsche P (2021) Dig out, Dig in! Plant-based diet at the Late Bronze Age copper production site of Prigglitz-Gasteil (Lower Austria) and the relevance of processed foodstuffs for the supply of Alpine Bronze Age miners. PLoS ONE 16(3): e0248287.

Funding: TJ, SW, and AGH received funding from the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) project "Life and Work at the Bronze Age Mine of Prigglitz" (proj. No. P30289-G25, PI Peter Trebsche) for the analysis of plant macroremains and charcoal.
AGH received funding from the Federal Government of Lower Austria for the analysis of plant macroremains and charcoal during the pilot project.
AGH received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) project "PlantCult" (ERC-CoG-2015, GA 682529, PI Soultana Maria Valamoti) for the SEM analysis of some of the cereal products.
The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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