Urgeschichte und Naturwissenschaftliche Archäologie

Hohle Fels

Hohle Fels is a cave site that was formed in the White Jurassic Period and is located in the Ach valley near Schelklingen.  The cave is about 7 m above today's flood plain of the Ach. It is of special importance for prehistoric research due to its Middle Palaeolithic and Upper Palaeolithic layers. 

The first investigations of the cave took place in the 19th century. Since 1977, scientists from the Institute for Prehistory, Early History and Medieval Archaeology of the Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen have been conducting excavations at Hohle Fels, focusing primarily on the Magdalénien and Moustérien layers. 


Additionally to questions regarding subsistence and settlement behaviors during the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic as well as environmental reconstruction, research focuses on the transitional period from Neanderthals to anatomically modern men. 

Middle Palaeolithic

Only small parts of the Middle Palaeolithic layers have been examined. Among the finds from these four layers are stone tools, mostly manufactured using local Jura horn stone, e.g. small Levallois cores and scrapers. Some cave bear and ibex bones recovered exhibit cutting marks. Horse, red deer and reindeer were also hunted. Evidence of cave bears is found less frequently compared to the Upper Palaeolithic layers. It is remarkable that this Neanderthal culture appears not to produce any art such as figurines or jewelry or musical instruments. The absence of tools crafted from organic materials should also be noted. This is known from other comparable sites. 


As opposed to the earlier Neanderthal methods, stone tool production methods in the Aurignacien aim to produce blades and  bladelets. 

Tools such as pointed blades, end scrapers and burins are commonly found. Although the most frequently used raw material is still local jura horn stone, more and more non-local materials are used. As opposed to the Middle Palaeolithic, we can observe the use of organic materials for tool production - from bone, antler and ivory. Typical tools and artifacts are projectile points, regular and split base, awls, smoothing tools as well as their production wastes. Mammoth, horse, reindeer and ibex were prefered for hunting, but bones of a cave bear, lions and wolves also exhibit cutting marks. The most remarkable difference in culture when comparing to the Middle Palaeolithic is the appearance of art and symbolism in the form of figurines, flutes and ornamental objects in the find spectrum. 

The oldest known evidence for art and music stem from the archaeological layer Vb of Hohle Fels. In 2008, six ivory fragments of a figurine depicting a headless woman were found. This figurine, known as the "Venus of Hohle Fels" measures 5,97 cm. Only 70 cm from where the Venus was found, 12 fragments of a flute were uncovered, which was crafted from the radius of a griffon. With its intact mouth piece, five fingerholes and a total length of 21,8 cm, this flute is the best preserved Aurignacien instrument so far. Three other ivory figurines were found in the Aurignacien horizons of Hohle Fels - a horses' head, a "Lion Man" and a water bird. 


Aside from human settlements, the cave was also occupied by cave bears for hibernation. Proving that cave bears were succesfully hunted by people in the Gravettien, a vertebra of a cave bear with a stone projectile was found. This is, aside from cutting marks, the only known proof for cave bear hunting. The point of a silex artifact, presumably from a spear, is stuck in the processus transversus of the bear's vertebra - on the processus spinosus, cutting marks verify that the hunt for this bear was successfull. 

In the Gravettien, green and red radiolarite was used for stone tool production, but the majority of tools was still manufactured from local jura horn stone. The most frequent tools found are end scrapers and burins. From the massive, split ribs of Mammoths, spear points, awls and smoothing tools were crafted; batons were made from reindeer antler. As for ornamental objects, the most common are drop shaped ivory pendants. Some animal teeth with holes and fossilised molluscs were also found. 


The composition of raw materials used for stone tool production rapidly changes in the Magdalénien. Aside from the local jura horn stone and green, tufaceous limestone from the Randecker Maar, shell lime horn stone, and slab horn stone from the Franconian Jura were used. Few artifacts were crafted from red jasper from the Upper Rhine region. The tool inventor is quite varied, with backed bladelets and backed points, end scrapers, burins and many drills. Among the artifacts from organic materials were points like harpoons, and sewing pins and awls made from bone. Ornamental objects were made using jet, molluscs and reindeer incisives. Further, several painted stones could be recovered. On four of them, two parallel row dot patterns were painted. 


Ongoing work

Every year during the summer months June to August, six to eight week long excavations take place at Hohle Fels. International students may join these campaigns. If you are interested in joining the excavation team, please contact  Maria Malina.


Large mammals: Dr. Susanne Münzel

Fish und amphibians: Prof. Madelaine Böhme

Birds: Dr. Petra Krönneck

Geoarchaeology: Prof. Christopher E. Miller

Botany: Dr. Simone Riehl, Dr. Katleen Deckers

Literature (selection)

Barth, M.M., Conard, N.J. & Münzel, S.C. (2009): Palaeolithic subsistence and organic technology in the Swabian Jura. In L. Fontana, F.-X. Chauvière & A. Bridault (eds), In search of Total Animal Exploitation. Cases Studies in Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic. Proceedings of the XVth UISPP World Congress, Lisbon, 4-9 September 2006, Session C 61, vol. 42, Oxford, J. & E. Hedges (BAR International Series 2040), 5-20. academia & researchgate

Conard N.J. & Bolus M. (2008): Radiocarbon dating the late Middle Paleolithic and the Aurignacian of the Swabian Jura. Journal of Human Evolution 55, 886–897. academia & researchgate

Conard, N.J. & Malina, M. (2010): Neue Belege für Malerei aus dem Magdalénien vom Hohle Fels. Archäologische Ausgrabungen Baden-Württemberg 2009. Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart, 19-22.

Conard, N.J., Malina, M. & Münzel, S.C. (2009): New flutes document the earliest musical tradition in southwestern Germany. Nature Vol. 460, 737-740. nature.com, academia & researchgate

Conard, N.J. & Malina, M. (2009): Spektakuläre Funde aus dem unteren Aurignacien vom Hohle Fels bei Schelklingen, Alb-Donau-Kreis. Archäologische Ausgrabungen Baden-Württemberg 2008, 19-22.

Conard, N.J. & Malina, M. (2008): Die Ausgrabung 2007 im Hohle Fels bei Schelklingen, Alb-Donau-Kreis, und neue Einblicke in die Anfänge des Jungpaläolithikums. Archäologische Ausgrabungen Baden-Württemberg 2007, 17-20.

Münzel S.C., Stiller M., Hofreiter M., Mittnik A., Conard N.J. & Bocherens H. (in press): Pleistocene bears in the Swabian Jura (Germany): Genetic replacement, ecological displacement, extinctions and survival. Quaternary International xxx (2011) 1-13. academia & researchgate

Münzel, S.C. & Conard, N.J. (2004a): Change and Continuity in Subsistence during the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic in the Ach Valley of Swabia (South-west Germany). Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 14, 225–243. academia & researchgate

Münzel, S.C. & Conard, N.J. (2004b): Cave bear hunting in Hohle Fels Cave in the Ach Valley of the Swabian Jura. Revue de Paléobiologie, Genève (décembre 2004) 23 (2), 877-885. academia & researchgate

Schiegl, S., Goldberg, P., Pfretzschner, H.-U. & Conard N.J. (2003): Paleolithic Burnt Bone Horizons from the Swabian Jura: Distinguishing between In Situ Fireplaces and Dumping Areas. Geoarchaeology: An International Journal Vol. 18, No. 5, 541-565. academia & researchgate