With its magnificent Hohenzollern castle, Wurmlinger chapel, Zwiefalten Abbey church, Hangender Stein monument and monasteries which exude a vivid sense of history, the true essence of the Swabian Jura (Schwäbische Alb in German), however, lies deep within – six archaeologically unique caves called the Höhlen der ältesten Eiszeitkunst (“Caves with the oldest Ice Age art”) are nestled deep inside its mountains. These caves have been home to the Neanderthals and the oldest humans on earth.

Hailed as an archaeological sensation, the Swabian Jura caves feature in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.


If you are willing to indulge in the artistic oevres of those primitive humans and stand testimony to their artwork, plan a trip to the hilly terrains of the Swabian Jura caves in Germany. Located on the east of the German state of Baden-Württemberg about 20 kilometers from the city of Ulm and bounded by the rivers Danube in the southeast and Necker to its northwest, Swabian Jura rises to the higher mountains of the Black Forest.

The entire Swabian region is steeped in prehistoric remnants. The geology of this place is mostly limestone, which formed the seabed during the Jurassic period. The sea receded some 50 million years ago. Fossils are found everywhere. Visit Holzmaden, outside of Weilheim unter Teck, a small private museum, called Urwelt-Museum Hauff, and you will get a chance to ‘dig’ for fossils in their shale deposits. The Urwelt-Museum Hauff houses the world’s largest petrified crinoid (sea-lily) colony which is about 180 million years.

The six caves, one located a few kilometers apart from the other, are spread over two valleys – Lone (Lonetal) and Ach (Achtal). The Lone valley includes the Hohlenstein-Stadel, Vogelherd and Bocksteinhöhle caves. While in the Ach valley you will find the Geisenklösterle, Hohle Fels and Sirgensteinhöhle caves.

An enriching sightseeing,  specially for the history buffs and the archaeologically inclined, alongside scholars and experts, in these caves you can view artwork of the oldest humans who first arrived in Europe during the last ice age some 43,000 years ago.

Being excavated since the 1860s to the present day, the Swabian Jura caves reveal a long record of human presence – first the Neanderthals lived in these caves and later the anatomically modern humans inhabited them.

When the humans replaced the Neanderthals and spread over to Europe, they left behind the oldest mobile work of art on the walls of these caves. Archaeologists have discovered more than 50 artefacts of jewellery, musical instruments and figurines hewn from ivory and bone, dating from 43,000-33,000 years ago. The unique being the ‘Lion Man’ and the ‘Venus of Hohle Fels’ figurine.



Relics are varied and represent a unique concentration of prehistorical archaeology which would transport you back to the primitive times – carved animal figures of mountain lions, mammoths and horses to figurines portraying creatures which look like half-human, half-animal. There is also a single carving of a female. Remains of musical instruments and what appears like jewellery have also been excavated. The caves hold some of the oldest known hand-made three-dimensional artistic depictions which will enlighten you on the origins of human creative development.

The artefacts of Venus of Hohle Fels achieved world fame as the oldest figurine of the female form. The Löwenmensch or the Lion-man of the Hohlenstein-Stadel is also of crucial importance, as it portrays the mythical beliefs of the Ice-Age people. The find also includes eight flutes made from the bones of swans and griffon vultures. All these art pieces are now on display at the Ulm Museum and the Urgeschichtliches Museum (Museum of Prehistory) in Blaubeuren.

Together with the artefacts and the surrounding landscape, you get a feel of an outstanding ancient cultural ensemble.

Attraction of the caves :

In the Lone Valley, northeast of Ulm –

Bocksteinhöhle :
Measuring 20 meters by 15 meters, the Bockstein Cave is an impressive natural hall about 50 meters above the floor of the Lone Valley. Early examples of flint knives are found here. Near Öllingen, this cave is always open and free to enter.

Hohlenstein-Stadel :
Many prehistoric artefacts have been found in the caves in this hillside – from human and bear remains to flints. The most significant is the Lion Man carving, a human body with the limbs and head of a lion.

Vogelherdhöhle :
The two small Vogelherd caves are known for the artworks of 11 carved bone figures and a tiny 40,000 year old ivory horse. These caves are near Niederstotzingen and open from Tuesday to Sunday. There is a small entry fee.

In the Ach Valley, west of Ulm –

Geisenklösterle :
Proof that music has long been important to human beings are the flutes that were found in this cave. Carved from the bones of birds and mammoths 30,000 – 43,000 years ago. This cave is found near  Blaubeuren but closed to the public.

Hohle Fels :
Excavations are still going on in these caves, where the Venus of Hohle Fels was discovered in 2008. Some 35,000 to 40,000 years old, this is one of the world’s oldest figurative representations of the human body. This cave is situated near Blaubeuren. It opens up when weather is fine mainly on Sundays from 2 to 5 pm during the months of May to October.

Sirgenstein Cave :
High above the River Ach, you can walk 40 meters into this cave. Stone tools and other artefacts – even fireplaces – have been discovered here. Experts think this cave was used as a shelter by reindeer hunters. Located near Blaubeuren, the cave is open and free to enter for tourists. 




Immersed in primitive creativity, if your inquisitive mind runs riot to know more about how the people of the Stone Age lived, take a journey through time to human prehistory at the Archäopark Vogelherd archaeology park in Niederstotzingen. The Vogelherd Cave can be accessed via this park. The park features a multi-sensory experience trail relating to the Stone Age, and a modern visitor centre which explains the region’s geological and prehistoric eminence. The famous mammoth figurine of the Lion-man produced in the Vogelherd Cave some 40,000 years ago is a particular highlight of the exhibition held at the museum in Ulm.

In fact, the plateau of Swabian Jura was home to more than just the Ice Age hunters. Much later the Celts, Romans, and Alemanni also left signs of their inhabitance. The famed Schloss Lichtenstein (Lichtenstein Castle), dubbed “Württemberg’s fairytale castle,” was inspired in part by the romantic novel Lichtenstein, by Wilhelm Hauff, the famed German writer of fairy tales.

Besides its prehistoric culture, Swabian Jura has also been enriched with history of not so distant a past. Albert Einstein born in the nearby town of Ulm, in the March of 1879, not long after Swabia joined the new German Reich, would refer to himself as “the valiant Swabian,” quoting the poem by Ludwig Uhland: “But the valiant Swabian is not afraid.” 

A traditional festival marks the life of the Swabian Jura community. The ‘Swabian–Alemannic’ carnival is an important tradition in many of the Swabian Jura villages, called variously as ‘Fastnacht’, ‘Fasnacht’, ‘Fasnet’, or ‘Fasching’. Having existed since the 13th Century, this festival is celebrated every year between the last Thursday of February and first Friday of March. While the local people revel in parades and street parties, there is an air of tradition and history. During the festival people dress up as demons, witches, spirits and scary animals to symbolically signify the reign of the bad spirits that bring darkness and cold which are hunted down and expelled from the area.


While in Swabian Jura, not just delve deep into prehistory, you can also resurface to the finer things of life. Spoil yourself to the variety of tasty fruits that you get at the meadow orchard landscape at the base of the mountains, containing about two million fruit trees. It is the largest contiguous orchard area in Europe. You can also go on biking or skiing based on the weather (Generally climate is moderate but winters are often windy and a bit colder than the rest of Germany) during the time of your visit in the spectacular highlands of the Swabian Jura.