Department of Prehistory, Natural History Museum Vienna

Natural History Museum Vienna

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Core facility (CF)

Short Description

The Department of Prehistory houses over 1,3 million individual objects (more than 160,000 inventory complexes) from Stone Age to c 1000 AD. This is one of the largest and most diverse archaeological collections in Europe with outstanding individual artefacts of international importance such as the 29,500 year old Venus von Willendorf, the 6,000 year old gold discs from Stollhof, the bull from Býčí skála from around 500 BC. BC, the dagger from Maiersdorf, the conical neck vessels from Sopron and the unique finds from the Hallstatt mine and cemetery.

The Department of Prehistory has aimed since its creation in depicting the diversity of European cultural phenomena from the beginning of human history to the written civilisations (in Central Europe: the Roman Empire). In addition, the department studies the Early Medieval period (timeframe ca until the first mention of Austria "Ostarrichi" in the year 996 AD).
In the 19th century, the original concept of the Natural History Museum Vienna planned an anthropological-ethnographic department, dedicated to the study of humanities - in addition to the bio and geo science departments. Thus, the museum served as the first state research center in Austria for the three classical human sciences: anthropology, ethnology and prehistory. In 1924, the advances in these scientific fields made it necessary to split the department into three parts, with ethnology being incorporated into the Museum of Ethnology in 1927 (today: Weltmuseum Wien).

The basis of the prehistoric collection are the court collections of the Habsburg imperial house (e.g. the former coin and antiquities cabinet) and the collections of the Anthropological Society Vienna. From the middle of the 19th century until the First World War the collection recorded its strongest growth. Josef Szombathy acquired objects from all parts of the Habsburg Monarchy from excavations and purchases, bringing together objects from all cultural and historical periods of the empire. Also today, artefacts from the research excavations of the department (e.g. Hallstatt, Grub-Kranawetberg, Brunn am Gebirge, Mannersdorf an der March and Roseldorf) keep adding new and unique evidence of the past.

The collections are divided into several individual collections that offer a chronological cross-section through human history: Paleolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Early and Late Iron Age, and Early Medieval period. The Hallstatt Collection takes account of the fact that at this particular site, being a special research focus for over 100 years, salt mining takes place since 7000 years (such embracing various periods in human history). In addition, the Natural History Museum Vienna has a branch in Hallstatt, from where not only the excavations inthe saltmine and at the cemetery are carried out, but also science communication activities.
The collections are supplemented by a comprehensive library, an archive of historical documents about the archaeological sites and an archaeological restoration workshop.

Contact Person

Dr. Anton Kern

Research Services

Identification of artifacts in terms of chronological and regional distribution possible on request, information about the collection material and context information about the excavations.

Methods & Expertise for Research Infrastructure

Collection, conservation and research of material remains of human history.
Macroscopic and microscopic analysis of the artifacts, interdisciplinary cooperation with other departments, especially the central research laboratories of the NHM Vienna.
Contextualization of the artifacts with the archaeological evidence, studying the documentation of the excavations (images, graphics, excavation documentation, etc.). For artefacts that were excavated in the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, historical documents and images from the excavations or collections / acquisitions are to be studied (archives of the prehistoric department).
The archaeological restoration workshop is equipped with the usual instruments such as a vacuum drying cabinet, sandblasting equipment and an extraction system, in order to ensure that the valuable collection and display items are supplied.


Dr. Anton Kern
Prähistorische Abteilung
+43 1 52177-277
Appointment necessary.
Analysis of the original artifacts is provided due to the Austrian Monument Protection laws.
Sampling of objects is only possible within the framework of scientific cooperation.
University Vienna
Austrian Academy of Sciences
Salinen Austria
Cultural Heritage Authority Austria
GRÖMER, K. & KERN, A. (eds.) (2018): Artifacts. Treasures of the Millennia. A Guide through the Prehistoric Collection. Natural History Museum Vienna Exhibition guide. Wien 2018: Verlag des Naturhistorischen Museums.