In a remote region of Austria, between mountains and a lake, lays the picturesque town of Hallstatt. Because of the town’s geography, the people started to run out of space to bury their dead in the early in the 18th century. So they built a charnel house, or beinhaus (bone house) near the cemetery, in which they stored the bones of their loved ones.
When a family member died, the body was buried in the cemetery for 10 to 15 years. Then the remains were exhumed and the bones were left out and sun-bleached, then stacked in the Hallstatt Charnel House next to the bones of other family members.
The tradition of painting the skulls began in the 1720’s, as a way for the deceased to maintain their identity. Today there are more than 1200 skulls stacked in the Hallstatt Charnel House, with about 610 of them lovingly painted. After the body was exhumed and the bones bleached by the sun, the gravedigger would paint the crania with the deceased’s name, birth and death dates, and symbolic designs. The skulls belonging to women were painted with colorful floral designs, and skulls belonging to men were decorated with an ivy motif.
The last skull to be placed in the Beinhaus belongs to a woman who died in 1983, and she requested that her bones be laid to rest in the charnel house. Her skull was placed in the ossuary in 1995 as she wished.
Photographer Paul Kranzler documented the skulls and the town of Hallstatt. His worked can be viewed here.
Hallstatt Charnel House. Atlas Obscura. Retrieved on January 20, 2014 from: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/hallstatt-charnel-house
Wender, Jessie. (2014 January 9). The Bones House. The New Yorker. Retrieved on January 20, 2014 from: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/photobooth/2014/01/slide-show-paul-kranzlers-photographs-of-an-austrian-bone-house.html#slide_ss_0=7