Lonely Planet Writer

Six caves with Ice Age art become Germany’s 42nd Unesco World Heritage site

The Unesco World Heritage Committee has added a new site to its cultural list: six caves containing artistic artefacts from the last Ice Age in the Swabian Jura in Baden-Württemberg, Germany.

Upper Danube Valley in early autumn – Swabian Jura Baden-Württemberg, Germany Image by Jorg Greuel/Getty Images

Modern humans first arrived in Europe c.43,000 years ago, and the set of caves in the Ach and Lone Valleys were one of the places they chose to take up residence. Excavated since the 1860s, over 50 artefacts mainly composed of bone and ivory dating from 33,000-43,000 years ago, were discovered throughout the caves.

Inside view of Bockstein Cave. © Landesamt für Denkmalpflege (LAD) im Regierungspräsidium Stuttgart

The relics included carved animal figures of mountain lions, mammoths and horses. Some figurines portray creatures that appear to be half-human, half-animal and there was a single carving of a female unearthed. Remains of musical instruments and what is thought to be jewellery were also uncovered. The caves held some of the oldest known hand-made three-dimensional artistic depictions and have helped enlighten historians as to the origins of human creative development.

The University of Tübingen Museum has an equine figure carved from mammoth ivory on display, called ‘Vogelherdpferd’. Other artefacts from the era can be viewed as part of the permanent Stone Age exhibition of the Landesmuseum Württemberg in Stuttgart.

Front view of Hohlenstein Stadel. © Landesamt für Denkmalpflege (LAD) im Regierungspräsidium Stuttgart

The Prehistoric Museum Blaubeuren is another top visit for those interested in the Paleolithic period. And visitors can even try working with stone tools at various locations around Baden-Württemberg. There are guided tours available that allow tourists and history buffs to explore the caves as well as the incredible landscape of the surrounding Swabian Alps. Budding archaeologists can also try their hand at fossil-hunting at dedicated sites dotted throughout the area.