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Knappenkost and Knappendrink


In addition to leftover food, clothing and equipment, human faeces that are up to 3000 years old have been preserved in the Alpine salt mountains. From the wealth of finds that have been made in recent years, especially in the Hallstatt salt mine, you can get a good picture of the eating habits of the Bronze Age miners.

Findings of cooking spoons and shards of large pots indicate that cooking was carried out directly on site in the pit. Large charred pieces of wood show that powerful pit fires were maintained, which not only served as a source of light and cooking fires, but also warmed the pit weather and thus increased the weather draft.

What was being prepared over the great cooking fires a good 3000 years ago? The remains of barley, millet and broad beans as well as splinters of gnawed animal bones can be found in the excrement of the Hallstatt miners. The main course of the Hallstatt miners was probably a hearty stew made from pulses and rinds of inferior meat, similar to today's Ritschert. They drank water or milk from small wooden vessels.

Examination of the excrement also revealed that practically all miners were infested with intestinal worms. This led to abdominal pain, colic and diarrhea.

The Hallstatt miners suffered from massive joint arthrosis because of the hard work. In addition, the carbohydrate-rich diet led to severe tooth decay.               

So the prehistoric Hallstatt miner was a nearly toothless miner bent over from work, constantly looking for a quiet place. Truly not a nice miner's life!!!

The closest information about miner's diet comes from early medieval writings. These sources provide important information about the food needed, its prices and the great difficulties in obtaining food

Even in the Middle Ages, daily food was one-sided and lacking in vitamins. Before the early shift started, the miners prepared their mush from rye flour, water and salt. For lunch they ate bread and bacon without exception. In the evening you ate egg dough dishes like Schmarrn or Nocken. Table drinks were mostly water and milk.

Large amounts of alcohol could generally only be drunk on non-working days, such as church festivals or public holidays. There was more than enough of that. In the Salzkammergut of the 17th century, the miners had 58 non-working holidays a year.

The fact that some miners resorted to drugs because of poor nutrition and hard work seems understandable today. Alcohol was seen as a tonic and a cure for diseases.

Since it was very difficult to supply the miners with free purchases on the markets, payment in kind was introduced in many mines.

The trades set the exact quantity of provisions to be delivered and their price. The provisions essentially consisted of grain, lard and bacon.                                                                      

In around 1553, a married worker in the Carinthian gold mine was given 3 kg of flour, 1 kg each of lard and meat, and 10 loaves of bread for 14 days.

If one assumes that the trades charged the miners an average of 20% higher prices, this resulted in an additional profit for the trades that should not be neglected.

The trades also endeavored to give the miners as little cash as possible, as they thought they would only spend it on drink, games and women anyway.

With this "free money" the miners had to buy all other food and luxury goods such as some salt, oil, vegetables, wine or schnapps from the trades at exorbitant prices.

Old files report on a special feature of the Salzkammergut - salt pans:

In 1815, 70,000 miners or 3,100 tons of grain were needed to supply the 2,900 Arab salt miners and their families. Most of the grain had to be obtained from Hungary by ship via the Danube and Traun, which was expensive. In order to lower the supply costs, under Maria Theresia a marriage license was introduced by the salt office for young miners.                                                   

When grain prices were high, the Oberamt simply stopped issuing marriage licenses. As a result, the number of families to be cared for was quickly reduced.                                                                     

But the young, marriageable men left the Salzkammergut in droves because of the ban. The urge to start a family was greater than the joy of the poorly paid drudgery in the state salt mines. Grinding their teeth, the Oberamt had to withdraw the marriage bans again and again and even pay marriage money so that the young people could return to the Salzkammergut.

An important step towards food supply in the Salzkammergut was the introduction of potato cultivation from 1765. The population soon got used to eating potatoes, and cultivation of them increased rapidly. In 1807 more than 50 tons of potatoes were harvested in the Salzkammergut.

Around the middle of the 18th century, wage payments in Austrian mining increased as the situation on the free market improved significantly. Merchants were able to supply food at affordable prices to even the most remote Tauern valleys.                                                          

With more cash now available to miners, alcohol consumption became a real problem.       


  A letter from the Vordernberger trades from 1792 states:                                   

"Any cash income that goes beyond the most urgent need, only tempts the worker to drink, play and idleness."

Even in the 19th century, miners' fare remained inadequate and one-sided. Lack of milk throughout the long winter, little meat, mostly only flour food, very rarely vegetables, but earlier and excessive alcohol consumption meant that the average life expectancy was well under 50 years.

From the end of the 19th century, industrially produced alcohol became cheaper and more widespread. Beers from innumerable breweries increasingly displaced must, schnapps and wine from rural production.

The food situation only improved at the end of the 19th century. With the founding of workers' consumption cooperatives, the food supply was significantly expanded and also made more affordable.

Nevertheless, lard, bacon and flour remained the most important foodstuffs, along with potatoes and corn, well into the 20th century. Meat dishes, usually beef, were only served on Sundays and public holidays.

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