© atelier olschinsky

Archaeological open-air site

© atelier olschinsky


Archaeological open-air site


© atelier olschinsky

Archaeological open-air site

© atelier olschinsky


Archaeological open-air site



Archaeological open-air site


© atelier olschinsky

Archaeological open-air site

© atelier olschinsky

© atelier olschinsky

Archaeological open-air site

© atelier olschinsky

© atelier olschinsky

Archaeological open-air site

© atelier olschinsky

Archaeological open-air site

  • Pit houses

    Pit houses


    In the Middle Ages, the typical type of dwellings were so-called pit houses. These are wooden buildings that are half sunk into the ground. The advantages of this type of construction were many. For example, the stored heat from the surrounding earth was used so that, at any time of the day or year, compared to the outdoor temperature the indoor temperature was more constant than in free-standing buildings. The cost of building the walls was also lower, thus saving on building materials, among other things - but more on that later.

    In archaeological excavations, mostly only pits and remains of fireplaces can be found. Since the roof and the walls of the houses were made of organic material such as reeds, straw, wood or clay, they no longer exist. Charred wood and burnt clay are highly durable.

    The walls of the pit houses were constructed in different ways, for example from wooden beams using the log construction technique, where the lowest layer either rested on the floor of the pit house or only on the edge of the pit.

    If the sides of the roof reached down to the ground, there were often no walls. If the roof was supported by wooden posts, the front and rear walls could be made of wattle. A wattle wall is woven from willow branches and plastered with clay. Today, we have no way of knowing whether these walls were painted.

    For practical reasons, the entrances were placed in the direction away from the wind and opposite the ovens. Access to the pit houses was by means of ladders, stairs or ramps.

    In most cases there was a stone-built dome oven in one of the corners. It was used to heat the house and often as a cooking area too. Usually, the dome oven was built on a simple clay slab in order to keep the moisture in the ground at bay. Domes made of clay over basket-like woven rods or a construction made of logs were commonplace too. Open stoves were also used for cooking. An additional stove could be dug into the clay wall, i.e. into the soil surrounding the house pit. This was ideal for baking bread.

    Some pit houses also served as workshops, for example to weave fabrics. In this case, archaeologists often find only the clay loom weights that stretched the warp threads of the loom.

    The size of the pit houses usually varied between 8 and 12 m2. That seems very small from today's perspective, although ethnographic comparisons show that this was sufficient for a family. However, they could also be considerably larger and provide around 20m2 of space.

    From the wooden furnishings of these houses - sleeping and seating accommodation, tables and shelves - only small round impressions, so-called plug holes, have survived. We can only speculate about whether there were any windows, how many and how big they were and where they were in the walls.

  • The blacksmith

    The blacksmith


    In the early Middle Ages, simpler tasks were carried out in the house. These included spinning yarn, sewing, grinding grain, sharpening knives and processing animal skins.

    The processing and treatment of metal was more complex, however, as special equipment and tools were required for this, as well as special knowledge and skills. First, the iron had to be processed in shaft furnaces. These were stoked with iron ore and charcoal and, in the so-called smelting process, the slag was separated from the iron at high temperatures. This took place both in larger metallurgical plants, in special settlements, and occasionally in villages and in the communities of this period.

    The blacksmith was responsible for further processing the iron into objects. He took care of all iron-related work in the villages, while the craftsmen in the central settlements became more specialized. Here, the fine blacksmiths also processed non-ferrous and precious metals. Some of them were proficient in very complicated techniques, such as granulation or filigree. Filigree is the application of tiny metal balls or wires for decoration, for which great craftsmanship and the corresponding know-how were required. Producing swords from iron was also challenging, because the cutting edges had to be hard and sharp on the one hand, while the sword had to be elastic enough not to break on the other. The most sought-after swords, however, were imports from the Kingdom of the Franks, especially the Rhineland. These served the wearer not only as a weapon, but also as a status symbol, comparable to a Porsche or a Rolex watch in this day and age.

    The blacksmith held an important position in society, as he provided both agriculture and other branches of production and warfare with equipment and weapons. Iron objects, such as the knife, were also indispensable in everyday life. Moreover, as mentioned earlier, he made products that the wearers could use to display their social status. Since the blacksmith was able to transform material and change shapes, supernatural powers - or at least a special role - are attributed to him in some communities; nowadays this is often reflected in legends, fairy tales, heroic stories and customs.

    The so-called smith’s hearth was a simple fireplace surrounded by stones and clay. The open fire was kindled using leather bellows. The iron was heated there and worked on the anvil, which was placed alongside. The iron anvil was fixed in a block of wood and thus offered a flat, hard work surface.

    Tongs, hammers, pokers, files, chisels and whetstones are just a few of the many tools the blacksmith needed. Since these were expensive to buy, it is assumed that they were handed down from father to son.

  • Farmer / arable farming

    Farmer / arable farming


    Peasant life was determined by the course of the year. Cultivation, care, harvesting and processing of field and garden crops were essential. As today, the harvest was threatened by bad weather, pest infestation and fires.

    In the course of the early Middle Ages, agricultural techniques and methods developed further: Improvements in equipment and the use of higher yielding, more resilient crops brought an increase in the yield. It was also important to adhere to regulated land use systems, i.e. fields were, alternately, tilled with different types of grain and left fallow.

    In addition to iron ploughshares, simple hook ploughs made of wood, which merely scratched the ground, were still used in some areas. The value of ploughing is made clear in the laws of the Franks: The punishment set out there for the theft of the iron plough knife was based less on its material value than on the damage caused by the loss of work. The plough knife was attached in front of the share and cut the ground vertically, which made ploughing easier and improved the result.

    Over time, developments moved in the direction of the heavy medieval bed plough, which turned the clod of earth with a mouldboard, thus greatly improving the yield. Oxen were harnessed to the front of the plough. Horses could only be used for this following the innovation of the breast collar or breast collar harness (horse collar). Their hooves were protected from wear and tear by nailed horseshoes.

    Toothed sickles were used to cut stalks of grain. Grass was cut with scythes to make hay for winter fodder for the cattle. At that time, the scythes were swung diagonally from above and, in contrast to long scythes, did not cut the grass close to the ground, which meant that the meadows were not yet fully exploited.

    Much of the agricultural equipment - for example harrows, spades, rakes and flails - was made of wood and was only used under special conditions, e.g. in moist soils such as bogs.

    Plant residues also were only preserved in a moist environment or through charring. Finds of charred plants in archaeological excavations are the most important source of information as regards nutrition. Bread was baked and nutritious porridge dishes were made from grain. In what is now Lower Austria, millet was the most popular grain in the early Middle Ages, followed by wheat, barley and rye .

    Flax, hemp and opium poppy were processed into edible oil and also served as sources of fibre, while legumes, such as lentils, were important sources of protein.

    There was very little cultivation of fruit and vegetables. Pears, peaches, plums, damson plums, walnuts, cucumber and parsnips should be mentioned here. Viticulture was already practiced too.

    Collected wild fruits, such as sloe, strawberry, blackberry and elderberry, supplemented the diet.

  • Merchants



    Archaeological evidence of trade such as coins, weights made of lead, or parts of scales is rare. Metal bars had the shape of elongated axes and may have served as an exchange value. The same is probably true of linen cloths. In the 9th century, the Moravian Empire did not have its own coinage. The golden Byzantine, Carolingian and Arabic coins found here were used in international trade. Weighed pieces of precious metal may also have played a certain role. Simple barter transactions were certainly predominant.

    Objects from distant areas found during excavations also bear witness to trade or may have come here as gifts or spoils of war. However, they are not so common as to be able to assume regular, intensive, firmly established long-distance trade.

    A great deal of information about trade comes from written sources, such as the Raffelstetter customs ordinance: This covers, for example, the transport of Bavarian salt along the Danube to a “market of the Moravians”. It is probable that mainly imported goods were traded in this market. Another part of this customs ordinance regulates the arms trade and provides for a ban on the transfer of Carolingian swords to the East. According to archaeology, however, this was not strictly observed!

    The travelogues of Ibrahim Ibn Jakub, a Jewish envoy of the Caliph of Cordoba (in today's Spain), who toured large parts of Europe in the 10th century, contain many details about trade. He describes the different peoples, especially of Eastern Europe, and their peculiarities, history, castles, etc. He also reports on trading venues, prices for various commodities and different export goods, and reveals useful details, such as whether merchants could find good, inexpensive accommodation for themselves and their pack animals.

    The location of Lower Austria in the middle of Europe, the topographical conditions (e.g. the flow of the Danube) and the existence of the political power factor of the Great Moravian Empire are reasons why extremely important trade routes ran here.

    Into our area from the west, i.e. the Kingdom of the Franks, came valuable, high-quality swords, lance tips, riding accessories and glass vessels, as well as salt from Transylvania and Bavaria. By contrast, silk, other valuable fabrics and glass lamps from the Orient, as well as amber from the Baltic region, came here via long-distance trade.

    We do not know how this merchandise was paid for. However, prisoners of war and displaced people may have been sold as slaves.

    Merchants could be both “self-employed” and arrange commercial transactions on behalf of rulers or high clergymen, such as abbots and bishops. They did business as soon as goods needed to be transported over a long distance or offered on national markets.

  • The elite

    The elite


    The early medieval fortresses were extensive areas around a central manor house. They were part of larger settlements. In the largest of them, the ruler of the Great Moravian Empire had his residences in which he spent some time (palaces).

    In front of the actual fortified castle, there could be another settlement area, the so-called outer bailey. This was where the home of the castle warden was; he was in charge when the prince was away. A reconstruction of the core area of such a settlement is shown in the outdoor section of the MAMUZ.

    In addition to dwellings and farming buildings, this settlement also had its own church. The church had probably been established by the holder of office and formed the symbolic centre of this settlement. This is where the members of his household went to Mass and were also buried in the cemetery around the church.

    A manor house was used as a dwelling for the holder of office and his family. According to archaeological findings, it could have been, for instance, a block building made of oak beams and comprising several rooms or a two-storey, white plastered building made of wood with brick foundations in places. The other buildings – dwellings for the rest of the population, farm buildings and workshops – were built entirely of wood. Larger buildings, whose walls consisted of wattling, were possibly used for meetings.

    The elite of society could afford to wear magnificent robes, dress accessories and jewellery which were elaborate and made of expensive materials. Earrings, a necklace made of glass pearls and finger rings served as jewellery. Franconian, Byzantine and South-Eastern European influences were taken up here. Luxurious belt elements made of precious metal were reserved for the ruling dynasty. Round, hollow buttons made of tin, so-called "ball buttons" often kept the outer clothing of the elite together; sometimes, they also only served as decoration. They could be made of coloured metal, silver or gold and sometimes have very elaborate decorations in different techniques. These could be hammered or etched into the buttons or comprise embossed tiny metal balls or wires. This is referred to as granulation or filigree.

    Expensive weapons (swords) and elaborately decorated riding accessories were also hallmarks of the elite. The swords were frequently imports from the Rhineland, from Franconian workshops. In this, they were inspired by the Franconian prestigious appearance, i.e. one that befitted their status. The elite also dined differently to the average population: They used ceramic vessels in special shapes and of a particular quality as well as glass vessels imported from the Kingdom of the Franks. Their diet was exquisite and probably relatively varied; they drank wine with their meals.

    Whereas simple (board) games were a popular pastime, hunting was undoubtedly the preserve of the elite. At some courts, even bears were kept for entertainment.

  • Christianity/Church/Missionaries



    Christianity was of great power political importance and was an important economic factor in the early Middle Ages. Christianity also provide important impulses in architecture, art and education. Missionary work, i.e. conversion to the Christian faith, continued to be a means of controlling the population. It was done by means of sermons, baptisms (and administering of the sacraments), the consecration of priests and the construction and dedication of churches. In this time, conversion to Christianity was done "top down", i.e. firstly among the ruling and higher levels of the population and then among the average population.

    In the years around 800 A.D., the domination of the Avars, an eastern horseback people, was ended in the eastern parts of present-day Austria by Charlemagne. Subsequently, the lands on the Lower Austrian Danube were given to Bavarian nobles, bishoprics and monasteries; the extending of territories and missionary work went hand in hand.

    The situation was different in the Moravian principalities which formed the Great Moravian Empire from 833 onwards. Here, in the first half of the 9th century, there were more or less successful missionary efforts by priests of different origins, for example from the bishopric of Salzburg or Regensburg. Finally, however, Prince Rastislav – with the goal of a Moravian archbishopric in his sights – himself asked for Christian teachers, firstly from the Pope in Rome, who, however, ignored him, and finally from the Byzantine emperor who ruled over the Eastern Roman Empire. In 863, the Byzantine mission reached Great Moravia, under the leadership of the two so-called "Slavic Apostles": These were the brothers Cyrill, a philosopher and theologian, and Method, a monk. They translated the most important liturgical (relating to worship) texts into the Slavic language and even created a specific alphabet for this: the Glagolitic script. This subsequently also spread to other Slavic countries.

    Influences in the architecture of church construction during this time in our region (i.e. northern Lower Austria and Southern Moravia) come from the Kingdom of the Franks, the Adriatic region and Byzantium, i.e. the Eastern Roman Empire. The churches could have different shapes and sizes, depending on what their function was and the environment in which they were built. This extends from simple square hall churches to round churches, such as those at the open-air site in Asparn, to large, multi-nave basilica that were reserved for the prince and his close followers. These churches could be equipped with stained glass windows and metal bells and have artistically painted interiors.

    In general, burial in the interior of the church, and in particular in the main chamber was reserved for members of the ruling dynasties or other elitist families. The rest of the population were buried in the cemetery around the churches.

    In the most important centres, there were probably already schools affiliated with churches in which the schoolchildren wrote on wax tablets using a stylus (a metal writing instrument).

    Archaeological findings that indicate Christian belief and its practising are, for instance, metal crosses both to hang around your neck as well as for processions or as metal fittings. Christian symbols were primarily Christ/Saviour representations, cross signs, birds and lambs.

  • Map of surrounding area

    Map of surrounding area


Flagge Europaeische Union_DE.jpginterreg_OESTERREICH-TSCHECHISCHE REPUBLIK_DE_RGB.jpg

From the Stone Age to the Iron Age, residential, farming and trade buildings at the archaeological open-air site give a view of past living environments which are hard to imagine today. Huts made of loam and wood show living and working areas displaying the craftsmanship of stonebreakers, weavers, bronze founders and turners. The buildings are centralised in settlements containing arable and garden areas. The first types of cereal – emmer and spelt – can be seen here alongside peas, beans and dye plants.

The settlement complexes are divided into Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age.

The Palaeolithic Age is represented with a tent and a yurt. The lifestyle of people from the Palaeolithic Age can be understood by looking at the weapons and tools found in the tents.
The Neolithic Age is represented using a Neolithic longhouse, a bread baking hut and also a grain field and a well built using Stone Age technology.

A bronze foundry, a large residential building (beam construction) and a small residential building with the corresponding field – on which those plants which were also already available in the Bronze Age are cultivated – represent this era.

In the Iron Age houses it can be seen that the living areas are already more separate, so alongside residential buildings a smithy, a pottery and a bread baking hut can be seen. A Celtic sacred site is the highlight of this settlement complex. The basis for this was a discovery from the Celtic religious district of Roseldorf. It was built including finds from sacred sites in France. It is a model which is unique worldwide. The Celtic meeting house is another remarkable building in this residential area. It was built on the basis of a discovery from Michelstetten (town of Asparn). Archaeologists assume that in the meeting house splendid weapons, chariots, horse harnesses, war trophies and booty were stored that were displayed at meetings of warriors, celebrations and feasts.

The houses are all models of buildings based on archaeological digs. In the interior everyday items can be seen which make the living environment of our ancestors come alive.

The last part of the round tour is dedicated to the implementation of prehistoric technologies. Here, for example, students from the Department of Experimental Archaeology at the University of Vienna meet each year to recreate prehistoric handiwork. As well as smelting ovens and an anvil, grinding stones to grind grain and clay cupola furnaces to bake bread can be seen.

At the historical festivals the open-air site is full of life – when Stone Age hunters, Celts and Huns camp and visitors are invited to join in the celebrations.

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