We left Hallstatt in the rain and saw a very different view as we took the boat across the lake and made our way back to the tiny train station. Hallstatt looked just as beautiful in the mist and rain. The lake and mountains like an ever changing painting.
As ever the Austrian train system was impeccable and soon we were on the train to Linz where we had been given the opportunity to visit the depot of the museum – the store for all of the artefacts that couldn’t fit into the museum as an exhibit, and also the home of the labs and behind-the-scenes work of further archaeological research.
The depot was in an industrial estate on the outskirts of the city. A big building that looked like any warehouse from the outside, but when we were led downstairs I could barely believe what I saw. We passed shelves and shelves of ancient pottery of varying shapes and sizes and were led towards a set of large drawers. Our guide was a friend of our friend who was responsible for the the Hallsatt culture and late bronze age/early iron age finds. She opened the drawer and I could feel my eyes widen at what I saw. The drawer was filled with brooches, pins, jewellery that had been found in the over 1500 graves on the mountainside of Hallstatt. There it was, right in front of me. I barely had time to see it when the drawer was closed. I thought that was it, it was over, and asked if I could look a little longer, but then the second drawer was opened and this one was filled with swords and knifes. I realised that the entire chest was full of finds! The next drawer opened and more jewellery.
“Is it okay to hold some?” we asked.
“Of course”, was the reply.
I couldn’t believe it. Usually items like this are held behind glass in museums, out of reach, sanitised, static. Here were items that were made by human hands nearly 3000 years ago. I could see the scratches in the metals made by those hands. I picked up a spiral brooch and held it in my hand. That simple act instantly brought the person who had painstakingly made the broach from the past, right into the present. It was like they were standing beside me, enjoying my reaction as I stood holding their art near to tears at the intimacy of that moment. I thought about the clothing that it would have been placed upon. Of the sounds and voices that this little object would have heard. As a modern Druid I knew that the person who wore this brooch had lived at a time before the Romans, before the attack on Ynys Mon, at a time when Druids were breathing the same air. This brooch knew them. It was quite overwhelming.
But there was more.
I held the blades of swords, and stone axe-heads from the neolithic. Moments I will never forget.
As Samhain approaches and we begin to create our altars in honour of the Ancestors those moments will be on my mind. As I browsed the tray I found a little bronze statue of a bull, it’s horns slightly bent, but still exquisitely made. Our friend had bought me a gift from the Hallstatt museum just before we left. A beautiful bronze statue of a bull. I was holding the original in my hands. The replica is now on my altar and will forever link me to those moments.