Ice Age Art in the Swabian Jura – in German Sign Language

Aerial view of the Vogelherd Cave (2011)Landesmuseum Württemberg

Unesco Wolrd Heritage

The Ice Age Art of the Swabian Jura is so significant, that six of the caves were designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2017.

Excavation in the Geißenklösterle (1978)Original Source: Eberhard Karls University Tübingen

Ice Age Art and Archaelogy

Join us on a journey through 30,000 years of Ice Age art history! The fascination with Ice Age art is nothing new. The first archaeological excavations in the Swabian Jura began 160 years ago. The artistic objects were found together with numerous everyday objects in the sediments at the entrance to the caves.

Ice age art in the Swabian Jura in German Sign Language: lion headLandesmuseum Württemberg

Ice Age Art - Introduction

Mammoth ivory artefacts from the Geißenklösterle (40,000 years before present)Landesmuseum Württemberg

Europe's oldest Works of Art!

The migration of modern humans from Africa coincides with the period of the oldest works of art found in Europe: small animal figures from mammouth ivory in the Swabian Jura in Germany.

Copy of Lion Panel in the Grotte Chauvet (original: 32,000 years before present)Original Source: Wikimedia Commons

Closely observed!

Another example is the cave paintings in the Grotte Chauvet in France. People in the Swabian Jura and in France observed nature and their works of art are detailed and realistic. They testify to close observation by Palaeolithic people.

Lion´s head from the Vogelherd Cave (40,000 years before present)Landesmuseum Württemberg

Lion's head

Cave lions are frequently represented in both figurines and cave paintings.

The lion's head: enlarged copy, original size and cave painting (2024)Landesmuseum Württemberg

Far away, yet similar

The two places are 550 kilometres apart, but the artworks are very similar:

...the erect ears,

...the overemphasised tear ducts below the eyes, and the highly detailed snout.

Ice age art in the Swabian Jura in German Sign Language: Art to goLandesmuseum Württemberg

Everyday Life and Art

Life during the Upper Palaeolithic Period (2012)Landesmuseum Württemberg

Life during the Upper Palaeolithic Period

In the Upper Palaeolithic Age, people also lived in the valleys of the Swabian Jura. Palaeolithic people set up their camps in the foothills of the caves.

Sandstone figure with eyelet from the Vogelherd CaveLandesmuseum Württemberg

Art to Go…

Their lives were characterised by high mobility. Accordingly, tools and other utensils were adapted to this way of life and were taken along on the migrations. This is also visible in their small figurines, some had eyelets and could be worn as pendants like the figure shown, others may have been carried in a pouch.

Bear figure from the Geißenklösterle Cave (40,000 years before present)Landesmuseum Württemberg

... and to Touch

People also liked to hold figurines in their hand. The snout of the bear from the Geißenklösterle, has been rounded by frequent touching.

Ice age art in the Swabian Jura in German Sign Language: Celebrating in the Ice AgeLandesmuseum Württemberg

Festivities and Art

Exhibition panel: Celebrating in the Ice Age (2023)Landesmuseum Württemberg

Celebrating in the Ice Age

Celebrations were just as important for the people of the Upper Palaeolithic as they are for us today. Celebrating and personal interaction strengthened cohesion and served as a means of communication between different groups. Feasts included music, dancing, and probably communal meals.

Dancing Women (15,000 years before present)Original Source: Baden State Museum Karlsruhe

Dancing Women

Accordingly, dancing people can also be found among the Ice Age figures. They are all women, depicted abstractly from the side and without head, in a slightly squatting position, which emphasises their buttocks.

Abstract depictions on a bone (15,000 years before present)Landesmuseum Württemberg

Abstract Depictions

Only a few women have arms or breasts. In addition to the sculptural figures, there are also representations of women carved on slates and animal bones.

Ice age art in the Swabian Jura in German Sign Language: Inspiration and MaterialLandesmuseum Württemberg

Mammoth ivory

Exhibition panel with Mammoth (2023)Landesmuseum Württemberg

Mammoth, an impresive Animal

The preferred material of Ice Age artists was mammoth ivory. With a shoulder height of 3.50 m and tusks over 4 m long, weighing more than 100 kg, mammoths were very impressive animals.

Structure of a mammoth tusk (2020)Landesmuseum Württemberg

Structure of a Mammoth Tusk

From the outside to the inside a mammoth tusk comprises enamel, dentin and the root cavity. Dentin served as the raw material used to carve figurines.

Mammoth figure from the Geißenklösterle Cave (40,000 years before present)Landesmuseum Württemberg

Inspiration for the Ice Age Art

The mammoth impressed the people of the Ice Age. They often depicted mammoths in works of art. Long storage in the ground causes the tooth bone to become brittle. This is why many works of art from the Ice Age are incomplete today.

Ice age art in the Swabian Jura in German Sign Language: half man, half lionLandesmuseum Württemberg

Half Man - half Lion

Lionman relief from the Geißenklösterle Cave Relief of a lionman (40,000 years before present)Landesmuseum Württemberg

Hybrid Creatures

Hybrid creatures, comprising human and lion, have been a motif since the beginning of Ice Age Art. One example of this is a figure that is half human and half animal, presumably a cave lion. The human part and the animal part are difficult to distinguish from each other.

The half-relief shows such a lion man: The strong neck, the stocky arms and legs and the barely discernible tail are all lion-like in design. Due to its upright posture, however, the creature looks like a human being and, with its arms stretched upwards, is reminiscent of an ancient worshipping figure (Latin: adorant).

Exhibition view “Legendary Master Pieces” (2024)Landesmuseum Württemberg

Back to the Future

From realistic depictions of animals to fascinating images of hybrid creatures and abstract female figures... this was our journey through 30,000 years of Ice Age art history. Thank you for joining us on this journey, we hope you enjoyed it.

Credits: Story

Concept/text: Dr. Fabian Haak, Niela Katsi
Editorial/realization: Anna Gnyp

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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