Urgeschichte und Naturwissenschaftliche Archäologie


The site

Bollschweil, located in the black forest about 10 km southwest of Freiburg, is a site where amateur paleontologists Emil Blattmann and Rudolf Ritz discovered ice age bone deposits near the edge of a limestone pit Koch. They recovered numerous bones from a north-south sloping valley not far from the northwest edge of the pit, where limestone was being mined. Despite the difficult conditions, they were able to successfully recover several dozen animal remains. The remains were identified as horse, rhino, large bovid and mammoth, with mammoth dominating the assemblage. Recovering the large mammoth bones and tusks, which were found in a poor condition, posed quite a difficult task. Aside from the  animal remains, some stone artifacts were also found.  

After the Landesdenkmalamt was informed of the discoveries and it became clear that this site was soon to be destroyed by the limestone mining, the Universität Tübingen and the Landesdenkmalamt conducted a ten-week rescue excavation in the fall of 1997. Following the rescue excavation up until the end of 1998, Mr. Blattmann, Mr. Ritz, and the Landesdenkmalamt succeeded in saving further finds from destruction in Bollschweil. 

Stone artifacts

Among the many stones recovered at the excavation and the nearby surface area, there were twelve artifacts crafted from six different stone materials. Among them were two tools. The first tool is a scraper, a typical tool of the Middle Palaeolithic. The other, more important artifact, is a hand axe made of grey-green, white banded Plagioklas-Amphibolite. The worked edges of the hand axe do not appear rounded, which would suggest that the tool was not transported far from the site of its original use in prehistoric times. 

Dr. W. Burkert from the Tübingen Institute for Prehistory, Early History and Medieval Archaeology investigated the origin of the raw materials: Amphibolite, Quartz, Jura hornstone, siliceous schist and Quatrzite. While shell lime horn stone nodules can be found about 750 m southeast of the site at the Elsberg according to C. Pasda, in an internal report, Burkert wrote: "The origin of the other raw materials such as Quartz, Quarzite, siliceous rock and Amphibolite may be the early pleistocene gravels of the river Möhlin, of which some smaller areas are found in the nearby town Bollschweil itself, as well as a larger gravel strip in the south of Bollschweil."

These gravels are located about 1 to 1,4 km from the site. Furthermore, smaller autochthone deposits of Amphibolite, a material quite diverse in appearance, are located 3,5 km southeast of the site. However, the rounded cortex of the hand axe suggests, it originated somewhere further away. The investigations concluded that all materials could have been gathered near the site, making it unlikely that the tools were transported far. 

While hand axes are amongst the primary stone tools in the Early Palaeolithic, in Southern Germany, they are frequently found in Middle Palaeolithic sites and layers. One example for this are the finds from the Rems valley, which provide the best parallels for the hand axe from Bollschweil. 

Faunal remains

During field work, 60 bones could already be identified. Most of these finds were preserved badly. An examination of 116 bones in the laboratory concluded that the majority of remains were from mammoths, counting at least five individuals. Horse, rhino and bovides were also identified, although in smaller quantities. For the mammoths, different life stages could be identified - mostly young animals from 3 to 4, adult animals from 15 to 20 and 35 to 40. 

The examinations of the faunal remains and the ecological data and findings about the seasonal use of the site drawn from them will hopefully provide the first indications for subsistence and settlement dynamics in the black forest shortly before homo sapiens appear in this region. Although no hominine bones were found in Bollschweil, the site was most likely occupied by Neanderthals. At the moment, it is not possible to determine whether the faunal remains are to be considered in an archaeological context or as a palaeontological coincidental accumulation. 

Preparation of the faunal remains

The scientific examination of the faunal remains was only possible after preparatory work had taken place due to the bad preservation of the bones. Further, some bones had to be recovered in the surrounding sediment to keep them stable, they need to be fully recovered. This happens in a laboratory in a vacuum, using special tools. The finds are impregnated with an artificial resin to prevent them from falling apart. If possible, broken pieces are glued together. 


Geology and Dating

During the excavations, two geological main units were defined: GE 1 and 2. Both units fall steeply from north to south and from the west and east sides to the middle of the small valley. The center area is where the find concentration was highest. GE 1 consists of mostly lime gravel and larger limestone blocks. GE 2 is made up of finer components. Aside from limestone, red brown, yellow and green silty loam was part of GE 1 and 2. The origin of these sediments are most likely deposits located higher than the site, which were documented in situ only a few meters away. The N-S-profile T2 displays the complex geological relations in Bollschweil and 

Neither the stratigraphy nor the artifacts provide reliable dating for the palaeolithic site in Bollschweil. The hand axe, undoubtedly the most significant find in Bollschweil, is prominently found in Early and Middle Paelaeolithic sites and layers in Southern Germany. Preliminary ESR-dating conducted by Prof. W. Jack Rink at the McMaster University in Ontario suggest an median age of 138 000 BP  (±25 000). This dating would correlate with OIS 6, a cold phase in the late Riss glacial period. The faunal remains and the sediments support this conclusion. However, it is possible that some of the faunal remains are from OIS 5, during the early Würm glacial period. These matters will be further investigated to provide an answer to the question of whether all finds are from the same time.


N.J. Conard und L. Niven, The Paleolithic finds from Bollschweil and the question of Neanderthal mammoth hunting in the Black Forest. The World of Elephants - International Congress, Rome 2001.

N. J. Conard und A. W. Kandel, Die neuen Ausgrabungen in Bollschweil, Kreis Breisgau-Hochschwarzwald - Ein mittelpaläolithischer Fundplatz mit Mammutresten. Arch. Ausgr. Bad.-Württ. 1998,1999, 35 - 40.

N. J. Conard und E. Blattmann, Ein Faustkeil aus Bollschweil, Lkr. Breisgau-Hochschwarzwald. Arch. Nachrichten aus Baden, 63, 2000.

W. J. Rink, A. Kandel, N. J. Conard, The Chronostratigraphy of the Paleolithic Site of Bollschweil, Lkr. Breisgau-Hochschwarzwald, Germany. Manuskript in Vorbereitung.