Discover caves with stone age art

Discover caves with stone age art

by Mark Swearengen
Stripes Europe

An extensive complex of eleven caves in southwest Germany with artifacts dating back more than 60,000 years could be of special interest to any historian, or an adventure for the curious traveler. Explorations going back to the 1860s have revealed many prehistoric art works that attribute a sophisticated creativity to early humans who lived in the Stone Age. The caves are located in the Achtal and Lontal, two valleys of the Schwäbische Jura in Baden-Württemberg.

Artifacts found in the caves include small figures of cattle, dogs, horses, and water birds carved from mammoth ivory; musical instruments including  flutes made from vulture bone; and an assortment of ivory jewelry and stone projectile points. Also of interest is a collection of tools made from bone, antlers and ivory thought to be used by the Neanderthals.

Of special interest is the Löwenmensch, or lion-human figurine found in 1939 and determined to be nearly 40,000 years old. At least three figures of this nature have been found, so it is assumed that more may exist. Another special find from the same era is a “Venus” figurine, known by several names including Venus vom Hohlen Fels, and Venus von Schelklingen. Smaller than the palm of a hand, it is thought to be one of the oldest examples of figurine art.

Most of the Stone Age finds are preserved and displayed in museums. Blaubeuren, a town west of Ulm on highway B28 in the Achtal, has a museum displaying many of the ancient artifacts which include the Venus figurine. Located at Kirchplatz, the museum is open most days throughout the year. Art works, including the Löwenmensch, are also displayed in the museum in Ulm, located at the Marktplatz near the town hall. Other museums displaying ancient art from the era include the museum of the University of Tübingen and the Landesmuseum Württemberg in Stuttgart.   

Where to find the caves

So where are the caves? Finding those in the Achtal, begin at Blaubeuren. They include the Geißenklösterle, Hohle Fels, and Sirgenstein. These three caves, together with three others in the Lontal northeast of Ulm, were designated a world heritage site recently by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Some other interesting caves in the Achtal are the Brillenhöhle, Große Grotte, and Kogelstein. 

Caves given heritage status in the Lontal by UNESCO are the Bockstein, Hohlenstein, and Vogellherdhöhle. These are located near the town of Niederstotzingen. Other caves in the Lontal area include the Haldenstein and Heidenschmiede.

Although most of the caves are closed for inside touring, the sites can be visited throughout most of the year. And both the Achtal and Lontal are pleasant valleys to visit and enjoy beautiful country trails and scenery. Arrangements for cave tours can be discussed with local authorities.  The town of Blaubeuren organizes a 10-kilometer cave hike every year on May 1, also German Labor Day. It allows walkers visit caves in the Achtal and view on-going excavations.

Plans to visit the area can start by contacting information offices in Blaubeuren or Niederstotzingen.

Blaubeuren:  Tel:  07344-966990. www.blaubeuren.de 

Niederstotzingen:  Tel:  07325-1020. www.niederstotzingen.de

Or with no plan, one should just head for either the Achtal, or Lontal valley. Then on foot or bike, with map in hand, explore.

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