The Brillenhöhle (German: Brillenhöhle, literally spectacles cave) is a cave ruin, located 16 km (9.94 mi) west of Ulm on the Swabian Alb in south-western Germany, where archaeological excavations have documented human habitation since as early as 30,000 years ago.[1] Excavated by Gustav Riek from 1955 to 1963, the cave's Upper Paleolithic layers contain a sequence of Aurignacian, Gravettian and Magdalenian artifacts. In 1956 the first human fossils were discovered within a fireplace in the center of the cave, a discovery which made important contributions to the foundational understanding of the Magdalenian culture of central Europe.[2]

interior of Brillenhöhle
Location in Germany
Brillenhöhle (Germany)
Alternative name(formerly) Zwickerhöhle
Locationnear Blaubeuren
RegionAch Valley, Swabian Jura, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Coordinates48°24′20″N 9°46′40″E
TypeJurassic limestone
Length23 m (75.46 ft)
Materiallimestone Karst
PeriodsUpper Palaeolithic
CulturesAurignacian, Gravettian, Magdalenian
Site notes
Excavation dates1906, 1911, 1951, 1955, 1963
ArchaeologistsRobert Rudolf Schmidt, Peter Goessler, Albert Kley, Gustav Riek
Conditionadvanced decay, ruin


Brillenhöhle is located in the Ach Valley, lying about 80 m (262.47 ft) above the Ach River below.[3] The site derives its name from the two holes in the cave's ceiling, which together resemble a pair of spectacles. The cave is essentially a single room with a diameter of 17 m (55.77 ft), an average height of 4.50 m (14.76 ft) and a length of 23 m (75.46 ft). A small side cave of 2.50 m (8.20 ft) width and 6 m (19.69 ft) height, called Vespershöhle runs from the entrance around 5 m (16.40 ft) towards the east. As the site is in an advanced state of decay, it has been designated a cave ruin. However, the openings in the roof allow smoke to escape and sufficient light to enter, while still being small enough to keep the cave mostly dry during periods of rainfall. Recurrent prehistoric human occupation at the site indicates that conditions at the cave were tolerable enough to provide reasonable protection from the elements. In the north-western corner, a chimney-like shape tapers towards a 17 cm (6.69 in) wide gap in the ceiling, a gap which allowed a large quantity of reddish-brown clay to ooze into the cave's interior during the Pleistocene.[4]


Explorations by discoverer Robert Rudolf Schmidt and historians Peter Goessler and Albert Kley did not yield notable results. Tübingen historian Gustav Riek eventually took up systematic work in September 1955. Over the course of eleven excavation sessions that lasted until October 1963, he unearthed eleven sediment profiles. Riek recognized and determined a total of 22 distinct layers, of which only 3 were considered post-Pleistocene in origin. The work yielded numerous stone and bone tools, ivory jewelry, human skeletal remains and pottery shards.[5]

During the early 1990s, Tübingen archaeologist Anne Scheer succeeded in conclusively demonstrating that the occupations of Brillenhöhle, Hohle Fels and Geissenklösterle during the Gravettian were interrelated and contemporaneous in nature, by refitting stone artifacts found in the three site's Gravettian sediment horizons.[6]


It is assumed that the cave was not frequently inhabited by humans during the Aurignacian since only two broken bone tools were found in layer XIV.[7]

Gravettian finds originate in layer VII. In addition to 52 tools made of animal bones, reindeer antler and mammoth ivory, more than 1000 stone tools were unearthed, including blades, gouges and scrapers. More than 80 artifacts were identified as jewelry, including numerous ivory beads, beaded bones, perforated animal teeth and notched bone rods.[8]

Most discoveries were made in the Magdalenian strata, coming primarily from layers VI to IV. Stone tools, fireplaces, smashed bones and more than 1100 stone tools were found. Notable artifacts include harpoons of ivory or reindeer antler with barbed hooks on one or both sides. Animal bones include mammoth, wild horse, reindeer and cave bear. Smashed human skull fragments with traces of exposure to fire were repeatedly regarded as evidence of cannibalism, but according to Gustav Riek, the lack of powdered ochre is evidence that excludes head burials. Nevertheless, the theory of cannibalism has not entirely been repudiated. The skeletal remains of the central fireplace in the Magdalenian-layer IV had been arranged in deliberate burial fashion.[9][10]

Neolithic and Bronze Age: In the heavily mixed upper layers II and I, Neolithic as well as Early and Late Bronze Age ceramic vascular and wall shards were found.[8]

Some layers were permanently destroyed during the various excavations. Nonetheless, the cave still holds potential value for future archaeologists, since some areas formerly deemed "unproductive" have still remained untouched. In order to preserve these undocumented areas, the cave was protected by an armored, latticed gate, to prevent access but enable inspection.[8]

  • Carbon Dated fossils:
Lab numberMaterialNormalized AgeLocality
KIA-19551Collagen bone tip with massive base32470 ± 270local
KIA-19950Bone tip (cleaved base)32110 ± 480local
KIA-19550Collagen bone tip (cleaved base)30400 ± 240local
B-491charred bone29000 ± 0local
KIA-19549(Mammoth)/Rhino rib27030 ± 180local
KIA-19553(Mammoth)/rhino rib point25870 ± 230local
B-492charred bone25000 ± 0local
OxA-23414bone (Homo sapiens skull fragments)12535 ± 50local

Source: [11]


The remains of at least four distinct individuals, all associated with the Magdalenian, were discovered at Brillenhöhle. In 2016, researchers successfully extracted the DNA from the parietal bone of one of the individuals. The bone fragment was directly dated to around 15,120-14,440 BP. The individual in question was found to belong to mtDNA Haplogroup U8a. The Brillenhöhle individual was found to be genetically closest to other ancient samples from the Magdalenian, showing closest genetic affinity for other samples taken from the Swabian Jura, such as Hohle Fels, while also showing genetic affinity for another Magdalenian sample, taken from the Red Lady of El Mirón, as well as a sample from the Aurignacian, GoyetQ116-1, taken from Goyet Caves.[12][13]

See also


  1. "Brillenhöhle Cave or Rock Shelter : The Megalithic Portal and Megalith Map". Megalithic. Retrieved January 8, 2017.
  2. "Secondary burial in the Magdalenian: The Brillenhöhle (Blaubeuren, Southwest Germany)". paleo revues. Retrieved January 8, 2017.
  3. Bolus, Michael (2015). "History of Research and the Aurignacian of the Sites in the Swabian Jura". Human origin sites and the World Heritage Convention in Eurasia. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. ISBN 978-92-3-100109-3.
  4. "Höhlen in Deutschland: Brillenhöhle". Showcaves com. Retrieved January 8, 2017.
  5. "ANALECTA PRAEHISTORICA LEIDENSIA" (PDF). University Leiden. Retrieved January 8, 2017.
  6. "The Danube Corridor after 29,000 BP – New results on raw material procurement patterns in the Gravettian of southwestern Germa" (PDF). Webcache googleusercontent. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 4, 2016. Retrieved January 8, 2017.
  7. Conard, N.J., Bolus, M., 2003. Radiocarbon dating the appearance of modern humans and timing of culutural innovations in Europe: new results and new challenges. J. Hum. Evol. 44, Fig. 7
  8. Gustav Riek: Das Paläolithikum der Brillenhöhle bei Blaubeuren (Schwäbische Alb), Teil I. Verlag Müller & Gräff, Stuttgart 1973. ISBN 3-87532-055-7.
  9. "Geißenklösterle The Swabian Gravettian in its European context" (PDF). Quartaer eu. Retrieved January 8, 2017.
  10. "The Importance of Fish, Fowl and Small Mammals in the Paleolithic Diet of the Swabian Jura, Southwestern Germany" (PDF). Wahre-staerke. Retrieved January 8, 2017.
  11. "CARD Germany / SUNK-3220 (Brillenhohle)". Canadianarchaeology ca. Retrieved January 8, 2017.
  12. Posth, Cosimo; Renaud, Gabriel; Mittnik, Alissa; Drucker, Dorothée G.; Rougier, Hélène; Cupillard, Christophe; Valentin, Frédérique; Thevenet, Corinne; Furtwängler, Anja; Wißing, Christoph; Francken, Michael; Malina, Maria; Bolus, Michael; Lari, Martina; Gigli, Elena; Capecchi, Giulia; Crevecoeur, Isabelle; Beauval, Cédric; Flas, Damien; Germonpré, Mietje; van der Plicht, Johannes; Cottiaux, Richard; Gély, Bernard; Ronchitelli, Annamaria; Wehrberger, Kurt; Grigorescu, Dan; Svoboda, Jiří; Semal, Patrick; Caramelli, David; Bocherens, Hervé; Harvati, Katerina; Conard, Nicholas J.; Haak, Wolfgang; Powell, Adam; Krause, Johannes (2016). "Pleistocene Mitochondrial Genomes Suggest a Single Major Dispersal of Non-Africans and a Late Glacial Population Turnover in Europe". Current Biology. 26 (6): 827–833. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2016.01.037. ISSN 0960-9822. PMID 26853362.
  13. Fu, Qiaomei; Posth, Cosimo; Hajdinjak, Mateja; Petr, Martin; Mallick, Swapan; Fernandes, Daniel; Furtwängler, Anja; Haak, Wolfgang; Meyer, Matthias; Mittnik, Alissa; Nickel, Birgit; Peltzer, Alexander; Rohland, Nadin; Slon, Viviane; Talamo, Sahra; Lazaridis, Iosif; Lipson, Mark; Mathieson, Iain; Schiffels, Stephan; Skoglund, Pontus; Derevianko, Anatoly P.; Drozdov, Nikolai; Slavinsky, Vyacheslav; Tsybankov, Alexander; Cremonesi, Renata Grifoni; Mallegni, Francesco; Gély, Bernard; Vacca, Eligio; Morales, Manuel R. González; Straus, Lawrence G.; Neugebauer-Maresch, Christine; Teschler-Nicola, Maria; Constantin, Silviu; Moldovan, Oana Teodora; Benazzi, Stefano; Peresani, Marco; Coppola, Donato; Lari, Martina; Ricci, Stefano; Ronchitelli, Annamaria; Valentin, Frédérique; Thevenet, Corinne; Wehrberger, Kurt; Grigorescu, Dan; Rougier, Hélène; Crevecoeur, Isabelle; Flas, Damien; Semal, Patrick; Mannino, Marcello A.; Cupillard, Christophe; Bocherens, Hervé; Conard, Nicholas J.; Harvati, Katerina; Moiseyev, Vyacheslav; Drucker, Dorothée G.; Svoboda, Jiří; Richards, Michael P.; Caramelli, David; Pinhasi, Ron; Kelso, Janet; Patterson, Nick; Krause, Johannes; Pääbo, Svante; Reich, David (2016). "The genetic history of Ice Age Europe". Nature. 534 (7606): 200–205. doi:10.1038/nature17993. hdl:10211.3/198594. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 27135931.


  • Nicholas J. Conard, Michael Bolus, Ewa Dutkiewicz, Sibylle Wolf: Eiszeitarchäologie auf der Schwäbischen Alb Kerns Verlag, Tübingen 2015, ISBN 978-3-935751-24-7, S. 153–156.
  • Luc Moreau: Geißenklösterle. Das Gravettien der Schwäbischen Alb im europäischen Kontext. Kerns Verlag, Tübingen 2009, ISBN 978-3-935751-11-7, Kapitel 3: Das Gravettien der Brillenhöhle S. 135-176.
  • Hans Binder, Herbert Jantschke: Höhlenführer Schwäbische Alb. DRW-Verlag, Leinfelden-Echterdingen 2003, ISBN 3-87181-485-7, S. 143.
  • Gustav Riek: Das Paläolithikum der Brillenhöhle bei Blaubeuren (Schwäbische Alb), Teil I. Verlag Müller & Gräff, Stuttgart 1973. ISBN 3-87532-055-7.
  • Gustav Riek: Das Paläolithikum der Brillenhöhle bei Blaubeuren (Schwäbische Alb), Teil II, Die jungpleistozänen Tierknochenfunde aus der Brillenhöhle Verlag Müller & Gräff, Stuttgart 1973. ISBN 3-87532-056-5.
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