A day at prehistoric caves
A day at prehistoric caves
Imagine an Ice Age family returning to their toasty cave after a day hunting woolly mammoths. During their long evening around a fire, one plays music on their flute while another carves a mammoth tusk.
This scene may have really played out in one of the caves southeast of Stuttgart and you can feel like a time traveler visiting them. Two valleys contain six caves designated as the “Caves and Ice Age Art in the Swabian Jura” UNESCO heritage site, where numerous prehistoric items have been found. The caves also lie within the UNESCO geopark Schwäbische Alb, an area distinguished by scenic limestone cliffs that are full of caves, fossils and Ice Age artifacts.
Visit Stars and Stripes Europe on Komoot for route maps of both locations.
Three caves lie along the scenic Ach Valley (Achtal) between the villages of Schelklingen and Blaubeuren. They can be visited on a pleasant 8.5km hike or bike on the paved Ice Age trail. Alternatively, you can drive and park at each cave.
- Hohle Fels is the first cave in the valley and contained the oldest carving of a human in the world: the ‘Venus’ figure. A bone flute, beads, and stone tools are among the other thousands of artifacts found. It is open from May to October and costs €1-€4.50 to enter.
- Sirgensteinhöhle is on the opposite side of the valley and reachable across the street from the Ice Age trail. This cave was occupied by both Neanderthals and subsequent humans and is a rare example of prolonged continuous use. It is open to freely explore from May to September.
- Geißenklösterle is further down the valley. It yielded the oldest known instruments in the world: a collection of three flutes. The large fence across the entrance is usually locked, but it is interesting to see the grids used by current researchers. The cave is 60 meters above the valley on a rocky trail.
- BONUS: The Urgeschichtliche Museum (URMU) is located in Blaubeuren and displays many of the prehistoric finds from the area including the Venus and a bone flute.
The Lone valley (Lonetal) also has three cave areas. Only two of them are currently accessible on a 5km roundtrip hike via a multi-use trail: the Lonetal Wanderweg. Along the way are wooden play structures depicting animals found in local cave art.
- Bocksteinhöhle is a small complex of caves where ice age people lived and hunted. It is one of the oldest Neanderthal sites in Germany. Hike to the caves via a 1km spur trail with information boards. It is free to explore anytime. Park nearby along Öllingerstrasse.
- Hohlenstein is in the middle of the Lone valley, and an easy 2 km hike from the parking area. This cliff face contains two caves. Stadel Cave yielded numerous tools and carvings including the ‘Lion Man’ statue housed at the British Museum. Bear Cave contained thousands of Ice Age cave bear bones. Both are partially open to freely explore.
- Vogelherd Cave lies within the Archaeopark Vogelherd which was closed at the time of writing due to funding issues.
- BONUS: Charlottenhöhle. While not a UNESCO heritage site, this tourist cave is worth a visit. An entry fee gets you a cave tour in German (with an English pamphlet), entry to the geology museum and access to the sizeable playground and beer garden.
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