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Ice Age paintings from the Swabian Jura, Southwestern Germany document the earliest painting tradition in Central Europe

08 November 2011 Universitaet Tübingen

Recent excavations conducted by the University of Tübingen at Hohle Fels Cave in the Swabian Jura of southwestern Germany have produced new evidence for the earliest painting tradition in Central Europe about 15,000 years ago. This period is referred to as the Magdalenian and is named after the site of La Madeleine in France. Three of the new painting show double rows of red dots on limestone cobbles, while one painted fragment may originate from the wall of the cave. These are the first examples of painted rocks recovered in Germany since 1998 when Prof. Nicholas Conard’s team working at Hohle Fels discovered a single painted rock. In addition to the painted rocks, finds of ochre and hematite that were used to make pigments have also been recovered.

Although Ice Age cave paintings are well documented in western Europe, particularly in France and Spain, wall paintings are unknown in central Europe. The lack of wall paintings at Hohle Fels in particular as well as in Central Europe as a whole may in part be a reflection of the harsh climate of the region that continually led to the erosion and damage to the walls of the caves. The paintings from Hohle Fels Cave in the Ach Valley near Schelklingen document the oldest tradition of painting in central Europe. The painted limestone cobbles from Hohle Fels all show very similar motifs, and these rows of painted red dots certainly must have had a particular meaning to the inhabitants of the region. This being said, unlike the many examples of painting of animals in the Paleolithic art, these abstract depictions remain difficult to interpret.

The new finds from Hohle Fels form the centerpiece of a special exhibit in the Museum of Schloss Hohentübigen entitled: Bemalte Steine – das Ende der Eiszeitkunst auf der Schwäbischen Alb (Painted rocks: The end of the Ice Age art of the Swabian Jura). The exhibit runs from November 10, 2011 – January 29, 2011.  The exhibit presents the new finds from Hohle Fels as well as important comparative finds from Hohle Fels and other excavations of the University of Tübingen.

Attached files

  • Hohle Fels 2010. Two painted limestone cobbles with parallel lines of red dots. Photo: Marina Malina, University of Tübingen

  • Hohle Fels 2009. a) a painted fragment of limestone, perhaps originating from the wall of the cave. b) a limestone cobble with parallel lines of red dots. Photo: Marina Malina, University of Tübingen

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