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The Sites of Geissenklösterle, Hohle Fels, and Middle Paleolithic sites in the Swabian Alb near the city of Ulm

Important areas of ice age art occurred near Ulm (Germany), in the Schwaebische Alb (Swabian Alb), in the valleys of the Ach and Blau river near Blaubeuren (48°24'25.03"N, 09°47'02.67"E) and the Lone valley (48°32'58.27"N, 10°10'16.09"E), where the famous lion/human figure was found in the Hohlenstein-Stadel cave.

A number of world-famous caves, such as the Geissenklösterle, Brillenhöhle ('spectacle cave'), Grosse Grotte (great cave), Sirgenstein and Hohle Fels cave, can be reached from Blaubeuren on a labelled hiking path and are easily accessible from the important Museum für Ur-und Frühgeschichte (Museum of Prehistory, also known as the Urgeschichtliches Museum) which display the earliest known flutes made of the bone of a swan's wing and the radius of a griffon vulture, as well as one of mammoth ivory (made of two pieces of ivory, hollowed out and glued together!), a museum that displays a gallery of 40 000 years of art.

Hohle Fels map

Map showing the major Middle Paleolithic and Aurignacian sites in the Swabian Jura.

1: Kogelstein;
2: Hohle Fels;
3: Sirgenstein;
4: Geißenklösterle;
5: Brillenhöhle;
6: Große Grotte;
7: Haldenstein;
8: Bockstein (Bockstein-Höhle, Bocksteinloch, Bocksteinschmiede, and Bockstein-Törle);
9: Hohlenstein (Stadel and Bärenhöhle);
10: Vogelherd;
11: Heidenschmiede

(note that the Ach is mislabelled on this map, it is a tributary of the Blau, and should over most of its length shown here, especially as it approaches the Danube, be labelled as the Blau. See the map below - Don )

Photo: Conard et al. 2011

Hohle Fels hiking trail map

This is an excellent map of the important archaeological sites near Blaubeuren, and the hiking trail which connects them.

The Blautal (Blau valley) and the Schmiechtal (Schmiech valley) are both parts of the former Danube valley. This valley was used by the Danube before and during the ice ages, when it carried even more water than today. As the modern Rhine did not exist then, the Danube also brought water from Switzerland, which goes down the rhine today. At the same time the limestone plateau of the Swabian Jura was lifted by the forces of the Alps orogeny, and subsequently the Danube valley became deeper and deeper. The valley has several cut-off meander spurs, formed as meanders where the river finally has cut through the spur and thus created a shortcut.

During the Ice Ages, since 1.5 million years BP, the Danube brought down an increasing amount of detritus and started to partly fill in the valley it had created. The uplift of the Swabian Jura continued and during the Riß-Eiszeit (120 000 years BP) the Danube started to use a new bed some kilometres to the south. The Blau, Schmiech and Ach rivers today use a valley which they never could have formed.

The spring of the Blau is called Blautopf. The river Ach is not the river Aach in the west of the Swabian Jura, which spring in the Aachtopf, although it is pronounced identical.

Stone Age finds were made in many caves and shelters of the Blau valley. In the Alb-Donau-Kreis, the administrative area belonging to Ulm, archaeological excavations in more than 28 caves were made. In the area belonging to Ehingen 19 caves were excavated. One of the caves was developed as a show cave, the Hohle Fels (Hollow Rock). The age of the oldest finds from this cave was determined, using 14C dating, to be 50 000 years. The time of the highest number of finds, which is assumed to be the time of the most intensive inhabitation, is from about 15 000 to 11 000 years BP.

Höhlenwandertag (Cave Hike)

Every year on Labor Day (the 1st of May), the city of Blaubeuren organizes the Blaubeuren Cave Hike . The goal is to walk a trail of 10 Km leading to the most important excavation sites (aka caves) between Blaubeuren and Schmiechen. These are caves like Hohle Fels, Brillenhöhle, Geißenklösterle and others.

Most of those caves are closed during the year, to protect the archaeological remains. But on this day the archaeologists are on site and visits, with famous archaeologists giving tours and answering questions, are possible.

Photo: Michael Hess
Source: Sign on the hiking trail
Additional text:

Hohle Fels

Translation of the sign at left, at the start of a hiking trail which leads the walker on a tour of the caves and important sites near Blaubeuren

The contrast could hardly be greater: here we have our highly developed mechanised civilisation, there, the primitive life of the people of the past. Finds from the local area show that between now and 40 000 years ago there emerged in this region anatomically modern humans with striking abilities in creativity. The earliest artists and craftsmen of mankind were in caves on the edge of the Swabian Alb, near the Ach and Blautal rivers.

These prehistoric sites are famous worldwide, and the caves near Blaubeuren are easily accessible via specially-marked hiking trails.

The finds from these caves are the subject of a unique presentation in the Prehistory Museum Gallery '40 thousand years of art'.

Perfect small sculptures made ​​of ivory depict mammoths, horses, bison or water birds as well as a composite human and lion. Compared with major Kunstwerke.n. about by Willi Baumeister be astonishing similarities visible-a bridge between glacial and modern art.

There are astonishing similarities Compared with important works of art such as by Willi Baumeister be astonishing similarities visible-a bridge between glacial and modern art. A bone flute made from a swan wing bone, the oldest musical instrument of all mankind, also shows that the hunters and gatherers of the ice age also had the leisure to make music - and dancing, as elsewhere proved by petroglyphs.

The prehistoric exhibition on the ground floor gives a comprehensive and vivid picture of life in the Stone Age.

The exhibition ranges from the development of the landscape and the evolution of man, to the Neanderthals of the Ach and Blau river valleys, the animal and plant world of that time, to the hunting tools and techniques of the Neolithic period.  Fire drills and hand axes can be tried, and up close experiences with leather and wood can be obtained!

Michael writes:

This is a display of the hiking path, at the Blautopf where the paths begins.

In an area north of Ulm, there are further archeologically important places. What is now the Lone valley (near the Autobahn A7, 25 km North of Ulm) was a tropical sea in the Jurassic - the Tethys. The now small, frequently dry creek called Lone meanders through a wide valley confined by the limestone reefs formed by the corals that populated that Jurassic sea. The retreating Tethys left the mighty Ur-Lone, flowing southwards, with its estuary first more to the South near the Alps, later near its present streambed.

Photo: Michael Hess
Source: Sign on the hiking trail

Hohle Fels Hohle Fels

The Water Mill near Blaubeuren, at the spring of the river Blau, the so-called Blautopf (blue pot), where the hiking path starts. The Blautopf is 21 metres deep and gives access to a large subterranean system of rivers and lakes in caves under the Alb.

The blue colour of the water is due to the high concentration of dissolved lime.

Photo and text: Michael Hess


The entrance to Sirgenstein, a Paleolithic cave site in the Lonetal.

Sirgenstein cave stands 35 metres above the valley bottom. R.R. Schmidt excavated at Sirgenstein in the summer and autumn of 1906 (Schmidt, 1910, 1912). He distinguished eight archaeological layers and correlated them with the French chronological system: one Magdalenian, one 'Solutreen' (Gravettian), four Aurignacian and two Middle Palaeolithic layers (type 'La Quina'and 'Primitiv-Mousterien').

The lithic material from the Middle Palaeolithic was reanalysed by Çep (1996). Between the Middle Palaeolithic layers VIII/ VII and the Upper Palaeolithic layer VI, Schmidt mentioned a thin sterile layer with a concentration of small rodents. (untere Nagerschicht ). He suggested a possible hiatus in human occupation between the Middle and the Upper Palaeolithic, but argued that the typology of the stone tools shows a continuity.

Text: Münzel et al. (2004)

Sirgenstein fauna table
Middle Palaeolithic fauna of Sirgenstein VIII and VII.

The faunal analysis was conducted by Koken, a palaeontologist at the University of Tübingen (Koken in Schmidt, 1912) Koken produced a species list, but no quantitative results, except remarks like 'common' or 'very common'. Schmidt mentioned 90% cave bear in the Middle Palaeolithic layers, but so far very few of these specimens have been found in the collections of the University of Tübingen. Horse is the second most important species, followed by reindeer and giant deer; the latter is represented by two bone retouchers.

Mammoth is represented only by an unworked piece of tusk from a juvenile animal. Schmidt argued that all the fauna was hunted by man, including the cave bears. Many of the large bones, including those of cave bear, he wrote, showed traces of impact fractures, and only a few gnawing marks from hyena were observed.

Trying to reanalyse and quantify the fauna for the Middle Palaeolithic layers at Sirgenstein, we recognised that despite the careful excavation, many of the faunal remains are missing. For example, cave bear should have been ‘very common’ in all layers, but the available faunal inventory is very small, considering the size of the cave and assuming that cave bear hibernated in Sirgenstein. Thus the quantitative results for layers VII and VIII are not conclusive.

Photo and text: Münzel et al. (2004)

Sirgenstein coupe
Transverse profile at the entrance of the Sirgenstein. The arrow points to the archaeologically sterile rodent layer between the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic.

Human activities

The profile below the entrance shows a vertical sequence of ash lenses or hearths dating from the Middle Palaeolithic to the Middle Ages (Schmidt, 1912). During the whole sequence the entrance was the preferred place of occupation. Each of the two Middle Palaeolithic layers contained a hearth, with that of layer VIII being the larger. The stratigraphic position of the hearths indicates at least two different periods of Neanderthal occupation.

Neanderthal activities, however, are not just reflected by stone tools and fireplaces, but also in the bones. Despite the small quantity of faunal remains, there are some clear cutmarks on horse bones including a first phalanx and a proximal metacarpal. These two levels also yielded several retouchers or 'compresseurs' from long bone shafts of giant deer and horse, as well as a retouched bone that resembles a side scraper. The use of shaft fragments as retouchers is well documented in both the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic of Swabia (Taute, 1965)

Photo: Schmidt (1912), in Bolus et al. (2012)
Text: Münzel et al. (2004)

Sirgenstein tools
Sirgenstein. Typical tools of the 'lower Diluvial layers'. 1-7 'Herdzone' VII La Quina culture (late Mousterian)'; 8-11 'Herdzone' VIII 'primitive Mousterian'. Both inventories are placed by Schmidt in the Upper Palaeolithic, but in the terminology of most researchers today they are assigned to the Middle Palaeolithic.

1 Bone retoucher
2 Laurel leaf pieces ('mallet shaped scraper with retouching on both surfaces')
3-4, scrapers with Quina retouch
5-6 scrapers
8-9 pointed scrapers
10 Piece with a concavity
11 Scraper with a concavity

After Schmidt (1912), Plates I-III.

Photo: Schmidt (1912), in Bolus et al. (2012)

Sirgenstein tools
Sirgenstein - stone tools from the Aurignacian of Sirgenstein (layer 'Herdzone' V: 1-3, 6, 8-10, layer 'Herdzone' VI: 7, 11) and the Bocksteinhöhle (4-5).

1,3 Kielkratzer, or keeled/ridged grattoirs, Grattoirs carénés
2 nosed scraper or Grattoir à museau
4,5 Bogenstichel, burins busqués, beaked burins (typical of the Middle Aurignacian - Don )
6, 10 scrapers with retouched edges
7 simple scraper
8 Point with retouched end
9 pointed blade
11 retouched edge blade

After Schmidt (1912), Plates III-V, XIX.

Photo: Schmidt (1912), in Bolus et al. (2012)

Sirgenstein tools
Sirgenstein - Bone/antler/ivory tools and ornaments from the Aurignacian of Sirgenstein (layer / 'Herdzone' IV: 2, layer / 'Herdzone' VI: 1), the Großen Ofnet (Große Grotte?) (3) and the Bocksteinhöhle (4).

1 Bone awl
2 double perforated ivory bead
3-4 Split-based spear points

After Schmidt (1912), Plates III, VII, XII, XX.

Photo: Schmidt (1912), in Bolus et al. (2012)



Between 30 000 and 12 000 years ago people lived in the Brillenhöhle and left numerous tools, jewellery and the remains of the hunt. It is assumed it was used mostly in winter and spring. Large fireplaces show that the cave was used extensively. A wall of stones was once built there for protection against the cold, and was probably used as a wall for a tent built in the cave. Geißenklösterle and the Brillenhöhle were used at the same time.

The Brillenhöhle is so called because of the two large holes in the roof which look like huge spectacles. They provide light and an exit for smoke from fires.



The gate is opened only for researchers or on special occasions. At one time local teenagers used to use the cave for parties.

Photo: © chalkviech via Panoramio


Harpoon points, ca 12 000 BP

Bone and antler

Brillenhöhle bei Blaubeuren, Alb-Donau-Kreis

Harpoons were invented about 15 000 years ago by reindeer hunters. The head piece is provided with a marked bone or antler barbed tip. The spear shaft was made ​​of wood and is hardly ever found. The actual projectile - the top - detaches from the shaft once it has penetrated into the animal body. It is usually connected by a short thong to the shaft. This meant that the harpoon and its shaft were much less likely to be broken, and either could then be easily replaced in the field.

When thrown with an atlatl or spearthrower, a fatal hit could be made from a distance of 100 metres. The harpoon points are in the permanent collection 'LegendäreMeisterWerke', at Landesmuseum Württemberg.


Brillenhöhle bones
The human remains from Brillenhöhle. Picture showing a possible infill of the fragments in the skull cap. 38 cranial and postcranial remains from a Magdalenian context in the Brillenhöhle in the Swabian Alb, Germany, reflect the process of secondary burial (Orschiedt 1997, 1999, 2002). The remains belong to at least three individuals, two adults and a child.

A direct AMS 14C measurement on a cranial fragment of 12 470 ± 65 BP (OxA-11 054) confirms the Magdalenian attribution. The remains were recovered from a hearth located centrally within the cave, and taphonomic or other factors for their positioning can be eliminated (Orschiedt 2002). Although the bones were considered to have been burnt, discolouration on the bone originates from ash and no traces of burning are present, and they seem to have been placed atop the hearth containing ashes from a bone fire (Orschiedt 1999) The study of the modifications has revealed evidence of dismemberment, defleshing, and careful 'cleaning' of the soft tissue from the bones probably shortly after death and prior to this deposition.

There are significant differences in the number and type of cutmarks on the bones compared with processed faunal remains from Magdalenian sites. The human remains from Brillenhöhle reveal a cutmark frequency of 64 %, compared to faunal assemblages with good bone preservation that show a frequency of 21% to 26%, (Orschiedt 1999, 2002) revealing that the majority of cutmarks on the human remains did not result from 'normal' butchery, but from defleshing that was considerably more intense and careful. The aim was evidently to free the skeletal remains as far as possible from soft tissue (Orschiedt 2002).

Cutmarks on phalanges, which are very rare among faunal assemblages, indicate careful skinning of the individuals, and marks on the crania indicate detachment from the cervical vertebra and scalping. The lack of long bones and dominance of cranial parts indicates that deliberate selection took place, i.e., the removal of all but the smallest anatomical elements and fragments. All of the recovered bones fit into the fragment of a skull cap, suggesting that it may have functioned as a container in which the retained remains were taken to the hearth. This might be a striking similarity to the suggested 'calotte containers' from Le Placard.

Photo: Orschiedt (2002)

Große Grotte

Große Grotte

Große Grotte was used by Neanderthals as living quarters. . Eleven layers have been documented that are 100 000 to 50 000 years old. They are among the oldest Neanderthal evidence from the Swabian Alb. Of great importance is the discovery of a bone spear tip. Tools made of animal materials are extremely rare for Neanderthals. The reasons for the preference of the Neanderthals for this site as a place to live are easy to see. The view of the valley and thus the hunting is excellent. the Ibex was the favourite food of the Neanderthals, but they also brought reindeer, wild horse, red deer and bison to the cave.

Photo and text:

Große Grotte
Große Grotte (Big Grotto) was named thus because of the fact that it is really big and a grotto! The term grotte was used in German for a very short cave, in general a cave which is higher than deep. Such a cave has no totally dark part. It is bright and dry, and has enough room for a large group of people. Facing towards southwest the sun shines in during the afternoon, and the place is a warm and dry place. Today it is surrounded by trees, but during the ice age, without the trees, it had a fine view over the surrounding countryside.

The Große Grotte was excavated between 1960 and 1964 by the archaeologist Prof. G. Riek. The results were impressive, but not as extraordinary as the artworks of the nearby caves of the Aach valley. This cave was visited by Neanderthals between 60 000 BP and 45 000 BP. This was the beginning of the last cold period of the Ice Age, and so the cave was used only for short times, as climatic conditions made a continuous settlement impossible. The archaeologists believe the cave was visited the cave every 100 to 1 000 days, for a few days while on a hunting trip. It is possible the cave as used not only as a shelter, but also as a viewpoint to wait for groups of prey animals crossing the valley.

Today the cave is a popular stopping point for hikers. The path from the Blaubeuren village up to the castle has a short branch off to the cave. Several climbing routes on the rock make it a popular location for climbers, and several routes start in the cave. The cave is visible from far, at its location at the foot of the cliff. Together with the castle above it is a romantic motif, drawn and painted for centuries. It is one of the highlights of Blaubeuren.

Photo and text:

Große Grotte
Große Grotte

Photo: © Gisela Geprägs via Panoramio


The Worshipper, called 'Adorant', is one of the oldest, most impressive and mystifying statuettes from the Ice Age. It was discovered in an ashy bone layer near a possible hearth at Geißenklösterle. The bas-relief of a human being with raised arms, who seems to be either saluting or threatening, can be distinguished. The raised arms might also be interpreted as an attitude of worship, so the statuette was named the 'Adorant'.


Ascent to the cave of Geißenklösterle.

Photo: © Robert Bollo,



Photo: © Albrecht.Lange via Panoramio


Geißenklösterle entry.



Geißenklösterle entry.

The bent and twisted tree growing through an arch in the lower part of the stone massif is a favourite of photographers!

Photo: Silosarg, Thilo Parg
Permission: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


Geißenklösterle cave is situated just south of Blaubeuren-Weiler, on the slope about 60m above the valley bottom. It can be reached from the parking lot in the valley via a sign-posted path. Geißenklösterle presents itself to the visitor with a very large porch flanked by two ledges of rocks. In comparison, the cave itself is not very deep. The entire cave can be viewed through the iron bars.

Excavations have been going on sporadically ever since 1957, but activities were temporarily terminated in the autumn of 2002. Particularly since the 1970's, new excavation methods were applied and a great number of artefacts recovered. There are evidently six distinct living floors during the Aurignacian. In addition to Vogelherd cave, this is the second major site with early artworks. It had to be protected by an iron fence to save it from being plundered.

Photo and text:


Geißenklösterle. Excavations in August 2001 in the middle Palaeolithic and the deepest layers of the Aurignacien.

Photo: Conard (2002)


Stratigraphic profile of Geissenklösterle (modified after Hahn (1988)).

Photo: Zilhão et al. (2010)


Geißenklösterle, September 2004

Photo: GFDL, uploaded by Ötzi
Permission: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


Aurignacian of Geissenklösterle, Archeological Horizon III. 1-3. perforated fox canines; 4-5. ivory pendants; 6. ivory bead; 7. grooved bone; 8. artifact resembling a carinated endscraper; 9-10. carinated endscrapers; 11-12. nosed endscrapers; 13, 17. burins; 14, 21. bone points; 15. endscraper; 16. splintered piece; 18. ivory rod (projectile point?); 19. worked ivory splinter; 20. blade core with refitted blades. After Hahn, 1988 (1-2, 4-5, 7-21) and Hahn, 1989 (3, 6).

Photo: Zilhão et al. (2003)


Aurignacian of Geissenklösterle, Archeological Horizon II. 1-3. endscrapers; 4. pointed blade; 5. laterally retouched blade; 6, 10-11. splintered pieces; 7. busked burin; 8. burin on truncation; 9. truncated blade; 12. antler pendant; 13. Dufour bladelet; 14, 20, 22. ivory figurines; 15-19. double perforated ivory beads; 21. bone flute; 23. decorated bone; 24. bone point with split base; 25. bâton percé of ivory. After Hahn, 1986 (14, 20, 22), Hahn, 1988 (1-13, 15-19, 23-25), and Conard and Bolus, 2003 (21).

Photo: Zilhão et al. (2003)

Geissenklösterle Geissenklösterle

Geißenklösterle. The horizontal distribution of mammoth ivory artefacts and ornaments from AH III (left) and AH II (right).

Photo: Zilhão et al. (2003)



The distribution of processed mammoth ivory (yellow), Flute 1 (blue), Flute 2 (green) and Flute 3 (red). All findings are from the Archaeological Horizon II

Photo: Conard et al. (2004)


Geißenklösterle. The vertical distribution of mammoth ivory artefacts and ornaments from AH III.

Photo: Zilhão et al. (2003)


Geißenklösterle. The vertical distribution of mammoth ivory artefacts and ornaments from AH II.

Photo: Zilhão et al. (2003)



Geißenklösterle. The vertical projection of AMS dates on archeological material from the Middle Paleolithic, Aurignacian and Gravettian horizons.

Photo: Zilhão et al. (2003)

Geissenklösterle bear

Erect Bear, left side.

The bear was reconstructed from 11 pieces of ivory. Its head is raised and the snout slightly opened, which gives the animal a threatening appearance. It displays either aggression or a state of defence. Its body is covered with the lines of notches typical of these figures.

Length: 50 mm
Height: 21 mm
Width: 19 mm
Site: Geißenklösterle, Blaubeuren

The original carving is in the Württemberg Landesmuseum, Stuttgart

Photo: Holdermann et al. (2001)


Geißenklösterle bear, right side.

Photo: Rau et al. (2009)

Geissenklösterle mammoth

This sculpture from the Geißenklösterle cave was pieced together and reconstructed from more than 40 single fragments. Ivory grows in layers, so fossil ivory very often disintegrates into single flakes. Unfortunately, the lower parts of the head and trunk are missing, but the shape of the body clearly indicates a mammoth. The surface of the body was engraved with lines similar to those on the small bison, which was also found at Geißenklösterle.

Length: 67 mm
Height: 38 mm
Width: 29 mm
Site: Geißenklösterle, Blaubeuren

The original carving is in the Württemberg Landesmuseum, Stuttgart

Photo: Holdermann et al. (2001)

Geissenklösterle mammoth

Mammoth - another version, showing left, right and top views.

Photo: Adam et al. (1980)

Geissenklösterle bear

The bison from the Geißenklösterle cave is a very small and simple bas-relief. Head, neck and extremities are merely outlined, with faint hints of a beard and a horn, which leads to the assumption that this probably depicts a bison.

Length: 25.5 mm
Height: 14.5 mm
Width: 6 mm
Site: Geißenklösterle, Blaubeuren

The original carving is in the Württemberg Landesmuseum, Stuttgart

Photo: Holdermann et al. (2001)

Geissenklösterle jewellery

Geißenklösterle Cave is one of several caves in the Swabian Jura that have produced important examples of personal ornaments, figurative art, mythical imagery and musical instruments.

Photo: © Universitaet Tübingen

Geissenklösterle flute
These are the oldest musical instruments ever discovered.

Some of the world's first musicians may have been flautists. Archaeologists reanalysing artefacts from a cave in southern Germany have determined that two prehistoric flutes — one fashioned from bird bone, the other mammoth ivory — are somewhere between 42 000 and 43 000 years old. If the researchers are right, these primitive instruments predate the previous record holder (also a flute) by thousands of years.

Photo and text:

Geissenklösterle flute
The flutes were discovered in Germany's Geißenklösterle Cave, an important archaeological site to researchers who study the arrival and spread of modern humans in and across Europe (pictured up top is the flute fashioned from mammoth ivory, below the one made from bird bones). Now, a team led by Oxford University archaeologist Tom Higham has used a refined dating method to determine the age of animal bones excavated from the same geological layers as the instruments. Their findings are described in the latest issue of the Journal of Human Evolution.

'These results are consistent with a hypothesis we made several years ago that the Danube River was a key corridor for the movement of humans and technological innovations into central Europe between 40 000 and 45 000 years ago,' explained Tübingen University researcher and study co-author Nick Conard in a statement.

Photo and text:


Facsimile flutes on display at Monrepos Archäologisches Forschungszentrum und Museum.

The upper and lower flutes are obviously the same as the two flutes in the images above, the centre flute is the one discovered at Hohle Fels archaeological horizon Vb, see the report below.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source: Facsimile, Monrepos Archäologisches Forschungszentrum und Museum, Neuwied, Germany

Here is what a reconstruction of an ivory flute from the archaeological horizon II at Geißenklösterle sounds like. The new flute found at Hohle Fels (see below) would have had a deeper register since it is a larger flute:

© Wulf Hein, University of Tübingen

Hohle Fels

Venus of Hohle Fels
Hohle Fels Venus - The Venus of Hohle Fels is an Upper Paleolithic Venus figurine dated to between 35 000 and 40 000 years ago, belonging to the early Aurignacian, and is the oldest undisputed example of Upper Paleolithic art and figurative prehistoric art in general. Also on this page are other artworks from the cave.

Geissenklösterle flute
Entry to Hohle Fels Cave.

Hohle Fels (also Hohlefels, Hohler Fels, German for "hollow rock") is a cave in the Swabian Alb of Germany that has yielded a number of important archaeological finds dating to the Upper Paleolithic. Artefacts found in the cave represent some of the earliest examples of prehistoric art and musical instruments ever discovered.

The cave is just outside the town of Schelklingen in the state of Baden-Württemberg, near Ulm.

Hohle Fels Cave is situated on the eastern extension of the Swabian Jura about 2 0 km west of Ulm. The cave is formed within an Upper Jurassic (Malm) limestone reef and occurs at about 534 metres above sea level in the valley of the Ach River, a tributary of the Danube. The Ach Valley was cut by the Danube before it left its bed shortly during the Riss glacial maximum. Today the Ach River is about 3 m wide and flows to the east into the Blau river. Prior to the Riss Glacial Period the valley bottom was up to 40 metres lower than today and much narrower; it has subsequently been filled with gravel and sand. The cave is located on the southeast side of the valley, about 7 metres above the current valley bottom which hereis about 350 metres wide. During the terminal Pleistocene the valley bottom was ca. 5 - 10 metres lower than today's position.

Photo: Dr Eugen Lehle
Permission: GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Text: Adapted from Wikipedia, and Goldberg et al. (2003)

Hohlefels location map
Hohle Fels is one of the largest caves in the region with a large cave hall that has a maximum height of 12 m and covers an area of 500 m2. The entrance is connected with the cave hall by a 30 metre long passage. During the first scientific excavations in 1870/71 Oscar Fraas recovered an enormous number of cave bear bones, as well as stone, bone, and antler artifacts. R. R . Schmidt (Schmidt 1910, 1912) presented the Paleolithic from Hohle Fels in his classic monograph, 'Die diluviale Vorzeit Deutschlands'.

From 1958-1960 G. Matschak and G. Riek conducted excavations in several parts of the cave, most notably in a large niche on the left side of the passage leading to the main hall of the cave. The excavators never published their results, and C. Saier (Saier 1994) was the first to systematically study the finds from these excavations. Between 1977-79 and 1987-1996 Joachim Hahn renewed excavations in the niche in the hopes of gaining a stratigraphic section for comparison with the profile from nearby Geißenklösterle (Hahn 1988).

Photo and text: Goldberg et al. (2003)

Hohle Fels outside

No hint is given from the outside as to the size of the cave.

Photo: silosarg via Panoramio

Hohle Fels inside

Entry corridor to Hohle Fels.

Photo: silosarg via Panoramio

Hohle Fels inside

Inside Hohle Fels. The entry corridor gives access to the huge main chamber.

Photo: silosarg via Panoramio

Hohle Fels inside

This is the section of the cave where the Venus of Hohle Fels was discovered.

Photo: silosarg via Panoramio

Hohlefels coupe
Longitudinal profile at Hohle Fels, 1912.

Photo: Schmidt (1912), in Bolus et al. (2012)

Hohlefels coupe
Profile showing stratigraphy with archaeological units and geological layers, as well as sampling locations.

The inset map shows the deep interior chamber and the location of excavated area with exposures of sediments discussed in the text. The grid lines are 1 metre apart.

Photo and text: Goldberg et al. (2003)

Hohlefels coupe
Cross Section of Hohle Fels Cave.

Photo: © University of Tübingen Source:

Hohle Fels dig

Hohle Fels. Excavations in August 2002. On the left the top layer of the middle Palaeolithic is being excavated. At right, the ivory workshop of the AH Aurignacian layer IV is being unearthed.

Photo: Conard (2002)

Geissenklösterle flute
In their excavations in Hohle Fels the researchers made an extraordinary discovery: a 35 000 years old musical instrument.

Musical instruments from the past discovered by Conard and his colleagues are already well known. In 2004 they discovered in the nearby Geißenklösterle cave near Blaubeuren prehistoric flutes from swan bones and mammoth ivory . In contrast to these smaller instruments, the ones now discovered would be likely to produce a greater variety of sounds and melodies with the griffon vulture flute, suspected Conard. According to the researchers, the larger diameter of the instrument mainly produces lower notes. The musical repertoire resembles that of the reconstructed ivory flute from Geißenklösterle.

Photo: © Maria Malina, Universität Tübingen
Source of photo:
Text: Conard et al. 2009, via

Hohlefels flute
This flute was discovered by Nicholas Conard of the University of Tübingen in the Swabian Alb. It is 35 000 years old and comes from the Aurignacian culture - the oldest flute known.

The manufacture of musical instruments made of ivory requires a very complex technology, says Conard: First, the mammoth ivory was shaped, halved, then both halves were processed individually before recombining them finally gluing the two halves into an airtight tube. Typical traces of this complex process are found in the three exposed ivory fragments. This includes a number of grooves along the longitudinal edge of ivory, to seal the two halves better, air holes to generate different frequencies, and great care taken because of the curved shape of the hollow material. Due to the different sizes and thicknesses of the objects found, the researchers concluded that they are fragments of several different flutes.

The flutes artifacts were from the lower strata of the Aurignacian culture stage, a stage of culture of early man (Homo sapiens sapiens) , which began with the younger Palaeolithic in Europe. Radiocarbon dating of the deposits gave an age of layers 31 000-40 000 years. Thus, the flutes of 'Hohle Fels"' are probably a little older than their counterparts from the Geißenklösterle and are among the oldest musical instruments in the world. The first modern humans in Europe had therefore already a highly developed musical culture, the archaeologists concluded. The music could even helped to maintain a better social network and have promoted the spread of modern humans.

Photo and text: © Universität Tübingen
Source of photo and text:

Hohlefels flute
Bone flute from Hohle Fels archaeological horizon Vb.

Photomicrographs documenting striations and notches from manufactureand polish from use:
a, b, d, incident-light fluorescence mode (ultraviolet-and violet-light excitation);
c, e, incident light, obliquely crossed polars, λ plate.

The photomicrographs were made with a Leica DMRX-MPVSPmicroscope photometer. The long axis of the micrographs is 2.8mm long

The maker of the flute carved the instrument from the radius of a griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus ). This species has a wing span of between 230 and 265 cm and provides bones ideal for large flutes. Griffon vultures and other vultures are documented in the Upper Palaeolithic sediments of the Swabian caves with several examples identified from Gravettian and Aurignacian deposits at Geißenklösterle.

The preserved portion of flute1 from Hohle Fels has a length of 21.8cm and a diameter of about 8mm (Fig. 1). Comparisons withmodern specimens indicate that the unmodified radius had a length of roughly 34cm. The surfaces of the flute and the structure of the bone are in excellent condition and reveal many details about the manufacture of the flute. The flute has five finger holes. The maker carved two deep, V-shaped notches into one end of the instrument, presumably to form the proximal end of the flute, into which the musician blew. This end of the flute corresponds to the proximal end of the radius. The other end of the flute isbroken in the middle of the most distal of the five finger holes. Several centimetres of the flute aremissing from this end. As many as four very fine lines were incised near the finger holes. These precisely carved markings probably reflect measurements used to indicate where the finger holes were to be carved using chipped-stone tools. Only the partly preserved,and most distal, of the five finger holes lacks such markings.

It is possible that the flute was played by blowing directly into the proximal end without using a mouthpiece. The smaller, three-holed bone flute, made from the radius of a swan, that was recovered from the Aurignacian deposits of archaeological horizon II at the nearby cave of Geißenklösterle can be played by blowing obliquely into its proximal end to produce four basic notes.

Three additional overtones can be produced by blowing more sharply into the flute. Given that the three-holed flute from Geißenklösterle produces a range of notes comparable to many modern kinds of flute, we expect flute 1 from Hohle Fels to provide a comparable, or perhaps greater, range of notes and musical possibilities. The larger diameter of the bone flute from Hohle Fels would have made its tone deeper than that of the bone flute from Geißenklösterle, and closer to that documented experimentally from a reconstruction of the ivory flute from archaeological horizon II at Geißenklösterle.

Photo and text: Conard et al. 2009

Hohlefels flutes and venus positions

The stratigraphic positions of flutes 1–3 from Hohle Fels and associated radiocarbon dates. AMS, accelerator mass spectrometry (dates in noncalibrated years before present).

The 'Venus' marked on the diagram is the Venus of Hohle Fels.

The stratigraphic situation suggests that the flutes from the basal Aurignacian of Hohle Fels date from the initial Upper Palaeolithic settlement of the region, about 40 000 calendar years ago. These flutes pre-date the two bone flutes and the ivory flute from the upper Aurignacian at nearby Geißenklösterle.

Photo and text: Conard et al. 2009

Aurignacian musical instruments from the Swabian Jura

Conard et al. 2009

SiteFluteArchaeological horizonCultural groupMaterialNumber of piecesExcavatedFirst publication
Geißenklösterle1IIUpper Aurignacian Swan radius231990Hahn et al. (1995)
Geißenklösterle2IIUpper Aurignacian Bird bone, swan size71973Hahn et al. (1995)
Geißenklösterle3IIUpper Aurignacian Mammoth Ivory311974-1979Conard et al. (2004)
Hohle Fels1VbBasal Aurignacian Griffon vulture radius122008 -
Hohle Fels2Va.10Basal Aurignacian Mammoth ivory12008 -
Hohle Fels3VbBasal Aurignacian Mammoth ivory12008 -
Vogelherd1-Aurignacian Bird bone32005Conard et al. (2006)
Vogelherd2-Aurignacian Mammoth ivory12008 -

Hohle Fels

Aurignacian of Hohle Fels near Schelklingen. Archeological Horizon III (1, 9-11, 15, 19, 21), Archeological Horizon IV (2-8, 12-14, 16-18, 20), and Archeological Horizon V (22-23). 1. perforated bear incisor; 2. perforated upper eyetooth from red deer; 3. roughout for ivory beads; 4. half-finished ivory bead; 5-7. double perforated ivory beads; 8-9. burins; 10. truncated blade; 11. busked burin; 12-13. disc-shaped ivory beads; 14. pointed blade; 15. carinated burin; 16. double nosed endscraper; 17. blade with Aurignacian retouch; 18. blade pointed at one end and truncated at the other; 19. bone awl with intense polishing; 20. fragment of a bone point; 21. worked mammoth rib; 22. nosed endscraper; 23. endscraper combined with a pointed end. After Conard and Bolus, 2003.

Photo: Zilhão et al. (2003)

Hohle Fels harpoons

Hohle Fels. Two harpoons from the Magdalenian.

Photo: Conard (2002)

Hohle Fels bear tooth

Canine tooth of a cave bear, drilled with a hole to use as a pendant, from Hohle Fels.

Photo: © Hilde Jensen, Inst. für Ur- und Frühgeschichte der Universität Tübingen
Source and text: Münzel (ca 2001)

Hohle Fels aretefacts

Organic tools, jewellery and art objects from the Magdalenian of Hohle Fels in Schelkingen (1, 3, 6), the Kesslerloch (2, 4-5, 7, 9) and from Andernach (8).

1 pierced wolf incisor
2-3 bone needles
4 antler tip with one side beveled base
5, 7 double row harpoons
6 bone point (?) with line decoration
8 bird illustration from the Rosenstück a Rengeweihs
9 pierced reindeer antler with engraved illustration of a reindeer

Photo: Schmidt (1912) pl XXI, XXX-XXXI, XXXVIII, in Bolus et al. (2012)

water bird
Wasservogel, a water bird from Hohle Fels, facsimile.

The original is carved from mammoth ivory and is 47 mm long. Age about 32 000 years. Locality near Schelklingen.

Photo and text: dierk schaefer
Permission: Creative Commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Date: 2011.05.16

water bird
The sculpture depicts a water bird, perhaps a diver, cormorant or duck. The legs of the bird are short, but they lack feet, perhaps because to represent the bird in flight. The back is etched with a series of distinct lines representing feathers; 31 000 - 33 000 years old approximately; measures 47 x 13 x 9 mm; Hohle Fels, Germany

(this is either the original or a museum quality facsimile - Don )

Photo: © Universität Tübingen


In 1999 another example of art was uncovered at Hohle Fels. Carved in ivory, it represents the head of an animal, probably a horse. The object was found in the GH level 3d, that is to say in an intermediate position between the Gravettian levels and the Aurignacian levels of the cave.

The object is 36 mm long, 7 mm wide, 15 mm high and weighs 3.6 g. It is of ivory, recognisable by the lamellar structure quite typical of this raw material. The surfaces of the figurine are largely covered with manganese oxide dendrites. The nose and nostrils are clearly visible.

Photo and text: Conard et al. (2001)

There are no traces of eyes or ears but a hatching could possibly represent the mane. Both cheeks are engraved with a decoration very similar to the Aurignacian statuettes from Vogelherd.

On the lower part of the head, there is a long oval engraved which is subdivided into transverse rows. The sculpted surfaces of the head are smooth, suggesting a prolonged handling of the piece. It is broken at the neck, suggesting that this is only part of a more complex sculpture, perhaps even an entire animal.

Two 14C dates of skeletal remains that were found in the immediate vicinity of the statue were made. These ages of 29 560 ± 230 BP (KIA 8964) and 30 010 ± 220 BP (KIA 8965) point out in an exemplary manner the stratigraphic position of the object just below the base of the Gravettian.

Photo and text: Conard et al. (2001)


Another version of the horse head.

Photo: © H. Jensen, University of Tübingen

Ancient phallus unearthed in cave

By Jonathan Amos

BBC News science reporter

hohle fels phallus
A sculpted and polished phallus found in a German cave is among the earliest representations of male sexuality ever uncovered, researchers say.

The 20cm long, 3cm wide stone object, which is dated to be about 28 000 years old, was buried in the famous Hohle Fels Cave near Ulm in the Swabian Jura.

The prehistoric 'tool' was reassembled from 14 fragments of siltstone.

Its life size suggests it may well have been used as a sex aid by its Ice Age makers, scientists report.

'In addition to being a symbolic representation of male genitalia, it was also at times used for knapping flints,' explained Professor Nicholas Conard, from the department of Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology, at Tübingen University.

'There are some areas where it has some very typical scars from that,' he told the BBC News website.

Researchers believe the object's distinctive form and etched rings around one end mean there can be little doubt as to its symbolic nature.

Photo and text:

hohle fels phallus
'It's highly polished; it's clearly recognisable,' said Professor Conard.

The Tübingen team working Hohle Fels already had 13 fractured parts of the phallus in storage, but it was only with the discovery of a 14th fragment last year that the team was able finally to put the "jigsaw" together.

Photo and text:

hohle fels phallus
The different stone sections were all recovered from a well-dated ash layer in the cave complex associated with the activities of modern humans (not their pre-historic "cousins", the Neanderthals).

The dig site is one of the most remarkable in central Europe. Hohle Fels stands more than 500m above sea level in the Ach River Valley and has produced thousands of Upper Palaeolithic items.


Ice Age Paintings from the Swabian Jura, Southwestern Germany Document the Earliest Painting Tradition in Central Europe

Hohle Fels

Hohle Fels 2010. Two painted limestone cobbles with parallel lines of red dots.

ScienceDaily (Nov. 8, 2011) — Recent excavations conducted by the University of Tübingen at Hohle Fels Cave in the Swabian Jura of southwestern Germany have produced new evidence for the earliest painting tradition in Central Europe about 15 000 years ago. This period is referred to as the Magdalenian and is named after the site of La Madeleine in France.

Three of the new paintings show double rows of red dots on limestone cobbles, while one painted fragment may originate from the wall of the cave. These are the first examples of painted rocks recovered in Germany since 1998 when Prof. Nicholas Conard's team working at Hohle Fels discovered a single painted rock.

In addition to the painted rocks, finds of ochre and hematite that were used to make pigments have also been recovered. Although Ice Age cave paintings are well documented in western Europe, particularly in France and Spain, wall paintings are unknown in central Europe. The lack of wall paintings at Hohle Fels in particular as well as in Central Europe as a whole may in part be a reflection of the harsh climate of the region that continually led to the erosion and damage to the walls of the caves.

The paintings from Hohle Fels Cave in the Ach Valley near Schelklingen document the oldest tradition of painting in central Europe. The painted limestone cobbles from Hohle Fels all show very similar motifs, and these rows of painted red dots certainly must have had a particular meaning to the inhabitants of the region. This being said, unlike the many examples of painting of animals in the Paleolithic art, these abstract depictions remain difficult to interpret.

Photo: Marina Malina, University of Tübingen,


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