The study of leather and fur artefacts is a special subject in archaeology. The research project is being carried out on the basis of Iron Age Central European (Dürrnberg near Hallein [A] and Glauberg [D]) and ancient Near Eastern sites (Chehrābād in Iran). The investigations will contribute to cultural, craft and economic history.

An understanding of subsistence and resource management is a prerequisite for a better understanding of past societies. A detailed study of craftsmanship and the properties of worked materials is equally important. The techniques applied in the processing of skin, leather and fur were not only very important in the past but also form the basis of modern crafting techniques. The interaction between these fundamental techniques and the societies using them is explored in detail in this project based on archaeological sources.

The study of leather and related material is a specialist field of archaeology, whose potential has up to now barely been realised. In the project, artefacts will be examined that have been well preserved in the salt mines of Chehrābād, Iran (Achaemenid and Sassanidian period), and in the salt mine at the Dürrnberg, Austria (Late Hallstatt and Latène Period). In contrast, leather will also be investigated from two burial mounds of elite warriors from the Late Hallstatt-/Early Latène-Period superregional centre of Glauberg (Germany). The insights about leather technology that will be gained from the different sites, the different chronological and cultural contexts are directly comparable because of using a similar methodological approach and set of analytical tools. The results should illustrate the technical history of and the innovative power inherent in ancient societies in a diachronic perspective. There will also be a focus on resource management and the diverse use of collagenous materials. Following the identification of items made of internal hollow organs in the Dürrnberg salt mines, new questions arose, about the specialised production techniques and about the function of the items. The research on the unique dyed leather objects from Dürrnberg will lead to a better understanding of the techniques used to decorate leather in prehistory. The investigation of clothing from the salt mummies of Chehrābād can be expected to make a significant contribution to costume history. The crown-like headdress from Glauberg provides another unique leather object to be studied. Its use is also documented on the extraordinary statue that was excavated near the monumental mound, the warrior wearing a similar headdress was buried below.

To answer the research questions mentioned above, archaeological methods as well as typological and material analyses, analogies, experimental archaeology and archaeometric methods will be applied. Microscopic, chromatographic methods will be employed, also Strontium isotope and aDNA analysis. These innovative aspects of this scientific project will allow new research perspectives for economic archaeology and cultural history.

Principal investigator

Gabriela Ruß-Popa




FWF Hertha-Firnberg-Programm [Projekt T1025]