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Caves with the oldest Ice Age art

Date of Submission: 15/01/2015
Criteria: (i)(iii)(iv)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Germany to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Baden Württemberg
Ref.: 5985
Word File

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Ach Valley (centroid):                                                  32 U 556681 m E, 5359672 m N

Geißenklösterle (municipality Blaubeuren):                32 U 557090 m E, 5360831 m N

Sirgensteinhöhle (municipality Blaubeuren):               32 U 556347 m E, 5359596 m N

Hohle Fels (municipality Schelklingen):                       32 U 555831 m E, 5358710 m N

Lone Valley (centroid):                                                 32 U 586738 m E, 5378644 m N

Vogelherdhöhle (municipality Niederstotzingen):        32 U 588126 m E, 5379070 m N

Hohlenstein Stadel-Höhle (municipality Asselfingen): 32 U 586524 m E, 5378016 m N

Bocksteinhöhle /-törle (municipality Rammingen):      32 U 585207 m E, 5378524 m N

Situated within the valleys of the Ach and Lone rivers in Baden-Württemberg (southwest Germany) are six caves: Vogelherdhöhle, Hohlenstein Stadel-Höhle, Bockstein, Geißenklösterle, Sirgensteinhöhle and Hohle Fels. In these caves researchers have discovered, among others deposits, many layers from the early Upper Palaeolithic (Aurignacian) dating between 33,000 to 43,000 years ago. These sites have yielded hundreds of personal ornaments, at least eight musical instruments (flutes made from mammoth ivory and bird bones) and more than 40 small figurines carved from mammoth ivory. Among them are three depictions of therianthropic images, a female figurine and many animals from the Ice Age. Since the 19th century archaeological excavations have taken place in these caves. This long and highly productive research tradition has helped to form our understanding of the European Upper Palaeolithic.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The relevant parts of the valleys of the Lone and Ach rivers contain a concentration of archaeological sites unsurpassed in the world with their early examples of figurative art and musical instruments. The caves, which are located only a few kilometres away from each other in the separate valleys, form, together with the artifacts mentioned above and the surrounding landscape, a singularly unique early cultural ensemble that helps to illuminate the origins of human artistic development. Moreover, the “Caves with the oldest Ice Age art” fulfil many criteria for outstanding universal value according to the “HEADS-Programme”, most notably for the development of art, music and religion.

Criterion (i): The “Caves with the oldest Ice Age art” and their surrounding areas were part of the habitat of early modern Homo sapiens. They are therefore inseparably linked with the creators of this art. The sites represent the place of inspiration and origin of the oldest figurative art. Moreover, they document the specific locations where artists made, used and stored these

finds. These caves served as the homes, ateliers and concert halls for the earliest artists. The components ‘landscape’, ‘caves’ and ‘finds’ are all to be considered within this ensemble. The remarkable figurative art objects and musical instruments found in the caves belong to the earliest masterpieces of human creativity in the world.

Criterion (iii): In the archaeological layers of the “Caves with the oldest Ice Age art” the cultural remains of the Aurignacian are preserved in its entire complexity. Unique are the figurative artworks and musical instruments from which we can gain insights into the origins of art, music and religion. They were produced, used and ultimately deposited in the caves with the Ach and Lone valleys. Thus, the landscape, the caves and the finds as an ensemble represent a unique and exceptional example of an early cultural tradition and an extinct culture.

Criterion (iv): In the “Caves with the oldest Ice Age art” we not only have artefacts made of stone, bone, antler or ivory, but also non-functional objects. The animal, human and therianthopic figurines, as well as the musical instruments, discovered in the caves augment the rich assemblages of stone and organic tools from the Aurignacian. The caves and their surroundings are therefore an outstanding example of a technological ensemble and a landscape that symbolizes a significant stage in human history.

Criterion (v): During the early Upper Palaeolithic, the Ach and Lone valleys provided for the needs of early modern Homo sapiens. The landscape yielded resources required by early modern humans, while the “Caves with the oldest Ice Age art” often served as living places, campsites and workshops. The nominated caves, as well as the immediate surroundings, represent an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement form that is typical for specific cultures and for the interaction between human beings and their environment.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Geological deposits protected the prehistoric remains at the cave-sites until the first palaeontological and archaeological excavations. Through this favourable geological setting areas within the nominated property maintained their authenticity. Excavations and scientific research have verified the integrity of the caves, the landscape and the archaeological layers. An important element here is the existing and ongoing documentation of the sites, finds and features, demonstrating the reliability and outstanding quality of the information.

The serial property of the “Caves with the oldest Ice Age art” represents components of the same historico-cultural group (Aurignacian) and the same geographical region (Swabian Jura). It is of central importance for our knowledge concerning Palaeolithic settlement systems as well as the origins of figurative art, music and religious concepts of early modern humans. The nominated areas encompass all components of the property: from the objects themselves to the archaeological layers and the settlement structures of the cave-sites to the immediate surrounding landscape. In addition to the internationally renowned sites, the property includes lesser known sites and as yet unstudied sites. As such we are able to maintain the integrity of the designated property with the help of existing protective measures and safeguarding provisions.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Aurignacian layers in the „ Caves with the oldest Ice Age art“ have produced statuettes and flutes which belong to the oldest artwork worldwide with an age of 35,000 to 43,000 years.

Sites with evidence of symbolic communication such as decorative ochre pieces or decorative ostrich eggshells have been discovered in Blombos Cave and Diepkloof Rockshelter in South Africa. With an estimated age between 60,000 and 80,000 years these finds are older than the art objects and musical instruments from the “Caves with the oldest Ice Age art”; however, they are not figurative representations.

The oldest well documented examples of cave paintings originate from Grotte Chauvet in France. They are dated to between 34,000 and 36,000 years ago and are slightly younger than the ivory figurines from the “Caves with the oldest Ice Age art.”

Many of the other world-renowned examples of cave paintings in the caves of southwest France or northern Spain, such as Lascaux, Font de Gaume, Niaux or Altamira, with an age from 15,000 to 20,000 years ago, are much younger than the art objects from the “Caves with the oldest Ice Age art”.

Several stones bearing signs or schematic representations in red paint, one possibly depicting a therianthrope, have been discovered in the Grotta di Fumane of northern Italy. These finds are dated between 36,000 and 41,000 years ago.

The red stippled disc painted on the cave-wall of the site Cuevo de El Castillo in Spain is approximately of the same age. Another object that is important in this context was discovered in Stratzing, Austria. It depicts a human figure carved from green schist with an age of 34,000 to 36,000 years.

Human hand stencils and two figurative animal depictions have been discovered in cave-sites of the Maros karsts of Sulawesi, Indonesia. They are dated to at least 39,900 and 35,400 years, respectively.

Excavations in the early 20th century at Isturitz Cave in France yielded fragments of over a dozen flutes. One bird bone flute may date to the Aurignacian, but the majority of the finds dates to the later phases of the Upper Palaeolithic. Other Ice Age flutes postdating those from the Swabian Jura include La Roque and Les Roches in France, Grubgraben in Austria and Kamenka and Khotyk in Russia.

The “Caves of the Vézère Valley” and “Grotte Chauvet” in France, the “Côa Valley” in Portugal as well as “Siega Verde” and “Altamira” in Spain represent examples of landscapes or sites documenting palaeolithic artistry, which – due to their special creative and scientific value – have been included in the list of World Cultural Heritage. The “Caves with the oldest Ice Age art” are deserving of the same status due to the scientific and artistic importance. The Outstanding Universal Value of the nominated serial property is based on the interaction of the caves, the unique finds and the surrounding landscape, as well as on the importance of the research-history. The “Caves with the oldest Ice Age art” with their exceptionally rich archaeological layers and outstanding preservation represent a uniquely well documented record of early figurative art and music dating between 35,000 and 43,000 years ago.