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Hohle Fels (Germany)


Horse Head Sculpture, Hohle Fels, Germany

Horse Head Sculpture, Hohle Fels, Germany

Hilde Jensen, University of Tübingen

Hohle Fels is a large cave site with Middle and Upper Paleolithic occupations, located in the Swabian Jura of southwestern Germany, some 20 kilometers southwest of the town of Ulm.

The cave deposits include a low density Middle Paleolithic site and a long Upper Paleolithic sequence with separate Aurignacian, Gravettian and Magdalenian occupations. Radiocarbon dates for the UP components range between 29,000 and 36,000 years bp.

Hohle Fels is best known for the recent recovery of three pieces of carved ivory from the Aurignacian period, which make up some of the earliest portable art in the world.

The three figurines are of a horse's head (or possibly a bear), a water bird of some sort possibly in flight, and a "Lowenmensch", a half lion/half human figurine. Previously, a similar lion/human sculpture (although much larger) was found at the Hohlenstein-Stadel site, an Aurignacian period site in the Lone Valley of Germany. The horse's head at Hohle Fels came from a level dated about 30,000 years old; the other two are from an older occupation in the cave, ca. 31-33,000 years ago.

Hohle Fels was discovered in the 1870s and first excavated in the late 1950s, when undisturbed Paleolithic sediments were found. Excavations have been ongoing since the 1970s, led first by Joachim Hahn and beginning in the 1990s by Nicholas Conard.

Read about the newly discovered Venus Figurine from Hohle Fels


Conard, Nicholas J. 2003 Palaeolithic ivory sculptures from southwestern Germany and the origins of figurative art. Nature 426:830-832.

Hardy, Bruce L., Michael Bolus, and Nicholas J. Conard 2008 Hammer or crescent wrench? Stone-tool form and function in the Aurignacian of southwest Germany. Journal of Human Evolution 54(5):648-662

This glossary entry is part of the Guide to the Middle Paleolithic.

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