Caves and Ice Age Art in the Swabian Jura

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee decided on July 9th 2017 during its 41st session in Krakow (Poland) to inscribe the "Caves and Ice Age Art in the Swabian Jura" on the World Heritage list.

The Way to UNESCO World Heritage

From 2012 to 2017 the State Office for Cultural Heritage Baden-Württemberg worked on the World Heritage nomination under the title „Caves with the oldest Ice Age art“. A special working group prepared the nomination file according to UNESCO guidelines. The working group, which also takes care of the site after inscription, consists of three scientists specialised in Ice Age research and hunter-gatherer archaeology as well as an excavation technician specialised in Palaeolithic fieldwork.



The oldest mobile art of mankind comes from the Swabian Jura

When modern humans (Homo sapiens) spread into Europe more than 40,000 years ago, they brought with them a material culture which we today refer to as the “Aurignacian” – named after a site in France. In addition to stone artefacts and tools made of bone and ivory, art objects and personal ornaments are part of this technocomplex. Cave sites in the Swabian Jura play a major role in the context of the dispersal of modern humans to Europe – a significant process in human prehistory. Archaeological excavations – beginning in the 19th century and continuing until today – have revealed evidence of the oldest  mobile figurative art worldwide. Furthermore, archaeologists uncovered direct evidence for the earliest known music. At present, more than 50 figurative art objects and eight flutes are known. While most of these pieces are made of ivory, some are also of bone. The archaeological layers containing these finds have been dated to a period between ca. 32,000 and 43,000 years before present.


Animals, humans, composite beings …

Most of the art objects discovered so far show the characteristic fauna of an Ice Age landscape, the steppe-tundra – mammoth, bison, horse, cave lion or cave bear. However, beside this megafauna, the objects also depict smaller animals – a waterfowl, a fish and probably a hedgehog. Extraordinary are depictions of humans and composite  human/animal beings. Most prominent are the Venus from Hohle Fels, the oldest depiction of a woman in this particular style, and the Lion Man from Hohlenstein Stadel, which is an upright-standing composite being, part lion, part human. Further anthropomorphic figurines have been found in the Geißenklösterle, Hohle Fels and the Vogelherd.


… and in addition music

The unique ensemble of Ice Age art is completed by the discovery of eight flutes. They prove that the Pleistocene hunter-gatherers of the Aurignacian did not only produce mobile art, but also already made music.


Six caves in a unique archaeological landscape

The artefacts described here all come from cave sites in two valleys in the Swabian Jura ­– the Ach Valley and the Lone Valley,  ca. 15 km to the west of and 20 km northeast of the city of Ulm respectively. The sites  are Geißenklösterle, Hohle Fels and Sirgenstein (Ach Valley) as well as Vogelherd Cave, Hohlenstein Stadel Cave und Bockstein Cave with the Bocksteintörle (Lone Valley). Aurignacian layers containing personal ornaments and art objects were uncovered during archaeological excavations in all these caves. Therefore, the respective valley sections of the rivers Ach and Lone are a unique archaeological landscape of the Aurignacian. They yield a singular concentration of sites in a worldwide context. The presence of the oldest art and music at several sites within one micro-region illustrates the significance of the Ach and Lone Valleys as a central settlement area for the earliest modern humans in Europe.

Special protection for a special cultural heritage

Since the World Heritage site “Caves and Ice Age Art in the Swabian Jura” is an outstanding cultural heritage, it receives special protection from the Cultural Heritage Protection Act of Baden-Württemberg. While the caves themselves are listed as “Cultural Monuments of particular importance”, large areas in the valley sections around the caves have been demarcated as “Excavation Protection Areas”. This guarantees the highest possible legal protection and meets the requirements of protecting a World Heritage site. It prevents disturbance of the World Heritage site and ensures the conservation of the unique cave sites and the surrounding landscape.


Overview of important events in the World Heritage procedure

April 2009 Stakeholders agree on World Heritage nomination
February 2012 Start of drafting the proposal at the State Office for Cultural Heritage
December 2012 Submission of nomination for the national tentative list to the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal State of Germany ("Kultusministerkonferenz" / KMK)
February 2014 Expert assessment by a committee convened by the KMK
June 2014 The "Caves with the oldest Ice Age art" are selected No. 1 of the German tentative list
September 2014 Meeting of stakeholders with state secretary Ingo Rust MdL in Rammingen near Hohlenstein in the Lone Valley to agree on further steps in the nomination process
June 2015 Meeting of stakeholders at the State Office for Cultural Heritage
September 2015 Pre-submission of the proposal to the World Heritage Centre
January 2016 Submission of the proposal
July 2017 Decision to inscribe property on the World Heritage list

Contact information

Claus-Joachim Kind
Landesamt für Denkmalpflege
Berliner Straße 12
Esslingen am Neckar, 1, 73728 84.2
+49 (0711) 90 44 51 44
Conny Meister
Landesamt für Denkmalpflege
Berliner Straße 12
Esslingen am Neckar, 1, 73728 82
+49 (0711) 90 44 51 77
Stephan Heidenreich
Landesamt für Denkmalpflege
Berliner Straße 12
Esslingen am Neckar, 1, 73728 82
+49 (0711) 90 44 51 77