A Tour through the Palaeolithic of the Swabian Jura

Authors Organisation Keywords
Jeany Weisheit and Hannes Wiedmann Museum of Prehistory Blaubeuren World Heritage, Themed Trails, Ice Age, Swabian Jura

In 2017, UNESCO declared six caves in the Swabian Jura a World Heritage Site under the title "Caves and Ice Age Art in the Swabian Jura." Divided between two valleys, these include the Sirgenstein, the Geißenklösterle, and the Hohle Fels caves in the Ach Valley, as well as the Bockstein and Vogelherd caves and the Hohlenstein-Stadel in the Lone Valley. These sites were selected due to their incredible and unique archaeological finds and their significant contribution to understanding human history.

Unique Archaeological Finds

Among the extraordinary discoveries are the oldest musical instruments, made of bird bones and mammoth ivory, as well as a female statuette, the so-called "Venus of the Hohle Fels," and the Lion Man made of mammoth ivory. Every year, these and other artifacts yield new scientific insights into what life was like on the Swabian Alb 40,000 years ago and even earlier. The knowledge highlights the special nature of the Swabian Jura and is evidence of the creativity and ingenuity of the first modern humans.

The five themed trails are designed to introduce adults and children to the Palaeolithic Age in the Swabian Jura through attractively illustrated information panels and experience stations, with each trail dealing with a different theme, such as music, flora and fauna or the beliefs of our ancestors.

Promoting the Discovery Region

The working group Weltkultursprung (World Culture Leap Working Group) has taken on the task of publicizing this discovery region as well as the objects found in the local museums. A few years ago, they launched a project to create a uniform signposting system that spans the valleys. The results are five themed trails, which are designed to introduce adults and children to the Palaeolithic Age in the Swabian Jura through attractively illustrated information panels and experience stations. Each trail deals with a different theme, such as music, flora and fauna, or the beliefs of our ancestors.

A row of outdoor information panels, a playground in the back
Welcome at the Ice Age Track Sirgenstein © URMU

Themed Trails and Educational Pathways

Signs direct visitors to the parking areas of the individual Ice Age Tracks, as they are called. At the beginning of each trail, there is an introduction to the archaeological peculiarities of the region and the caves and how this led to the nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Lone Valley Trails

In the Lone Valley, you will find the trail that leads along Bockstein Cave and deals with the theme of "überLeben" (“survival”). Here, a brief description is given of how Neanderthals, and also modern humans, hunted and lived in the Lone Valley for thousands of years – and were thus able to survive.

The Ice Age Track Vogelherd “Cave – Land – River" provides hikers with information on the climate and ecology in the Ice Age Lone Valley, the landscape, and the animals that lived here at that time, as well as the resources and materials that were in part essential for human life.

The path along the Hohlenstein focuses on the coexistence of cave lions and humans – and how these two hunters were brought together in the form of the Lion Man. "Animal – Human – Cave – Belief" also raises the question of people's beliefs at the time and to what extent religiosity might have had something to do with it, as well as music making and dancing. Along the Ice Age Tracks, there are many giant animal figures and climbing frames where children can have a great romp.

Information display and live size animal figure outdoors
Info point The animals of the Lone Valley © URMU

Ach Valley Trails

The path to the Sirgenstein Cave in the Ach Valley deals with the qualities that humans possess: "You are human because...". In addition to climbing frames, this trail also has a barefoot path, a selfie station, two transparent panels designed with Ice Age landscapes so that visitors can better imagine the environment of that time, as well as a play station where one learns to understand the pincer grip when threading beads. These stations are supportive when it comes to illustrating the characteristics that distinguish us from animals such as walking upright, sweating, the ability to make music, or grasping and gripping firmly with the security of not dropping something so easily thanks to opposable thumbs.

The path to the Geißenklösterle Cave is titled "This is where the music plays" because two bird bone flutes were excavated here – a discovery that is extremely important for understanding the cultural development of the Ice Age people 40,000 years ago. Other themes of this trail are bird life, flora, and the geology of the Palaeolithic Swabian Jura here at Geißenklösterle.

Continuing the Journey

All paths lead visitors in different ways to the origins of art and music, to a habitat that is nevertheless very different from our environment today, and to a time thousands of years ago when unique testimonies of culture were created. Those who want to continue this exploration can hike to Blaubeuren and visit the Museum of Prehistory (URMU) itself, where there is more in-depth information, where you can listen to three musical instruments and marvel at the "Venus of Hohle Fels," and where the way of life of the people of the Ice Age can be experienced.

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