Merkensteiner Höhle – a journey from the Middle Ages to the ice age

Historical sites


Underneath medieval kitchen waste, more than 15 cultural layers were found in the Merkensteiner Höhle cave – with objects dating back to the ice age.

The 72 m long Merkensteiner Höhle lies beneath the ruins of Merkenstein Castle in the village of Gainfarn near Bad Vöslau, at the foot of a rock face made of Triassic limestone. Franz Mühlhofer, a retired imperial and royal officer and an amateur archaeologist, carried out excavations in the cave in 1932 and in the area in front of it in 1933. In his report on the finds, he mentions that the middle part of the cave – he speaks of a “newly discovered hall” – contained a succession of cultural layers with finds from almost 12,000 years. These were under a layer of waste from the Late Middle Ages and the early modern era, which appears to have been brought in from the kitchen of Merkenstein Castle through a shaft.

Back in time, layer by layer
Under the medieval kitchen waste were pottery fragments from the La Tène culture of the Late Iron Age (450 to 15 BC); below these were finds from the Early Iron Age or Hallstatt culture (750 to 450 BC). Next came fragments from the Bronze Age, which in turn lay on top of finds from the Baden culture of the Copper Age (around 3500 to 2700 BC). There were a large number of finds from the Middle and Early Neolithic period, which were uncovered below the Copper Age layer. Finally, the lowest layer contained stone tools from the end of the Palaeolithic era, which are around 12,000 years old, as well as bones of ice age animals, such as the cave bear, cave lion and cave hyena.

From bears to rituals
The ice age animal bones almost certainly come from animals that lived here or were brought into the cave as prey. The Palaeolithic stone tools also indicate that the cave was used by hunters. Cave finds from the more recent eras are fairly unusual, however. Perhaps the Merkensteiner Höhle was visited for ritual purposes. Evidence of this has been found in other caves in the Eastern Alps, at least for the Early Iron Age.

Location and how to get there

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    Merkensteiner Höhle – eine Reise vom Mittelalter bis in die Eiszeit

    2540 Gainfarn

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