Elisabeth Schmid
Excavations 1958/1959

“Full of excitement, we searched for traces of Ice Age hunters. We found them quickly in stone tools and small fragments of the corresponding silex materials in various places. But an individual horizon was nowhere to be seen. No hearths were unearthed either."

Elisabeth Schmid

Elisabeth Friedeburg Schmid (*1912 in Freiburg im Breisgau, †1994 in Basel) studied geology, paleontology, and prehistory in Freiburg from 1933 to 1937.

Upon the recommendation of her superiors, who described her as a “non-starter in biology,” she was drafted into the Volkssturm (national militia) in winter 1944/45 to retrieve the archaeological findings brought to light by the installation of anti-tank ditches.

In 1949, Elisabeth Schmid qualified as a professor in Freiburg and was forced to experience many times over how, in a male-dominated profession, men were preferred for filling positions and receiving promotions.

As a result, she moved to Basel in the liberal and more female-friendly Switzerland and, in 1953, established a laboratory there for the purpose of sediment analysis. She stayed in Basel for the rest of her life and even took on Swiss citizenship. In 1972 at the University of Basel, she was the first woman in Switzerland to be appointed the Chair of Pre- and Early History.

From 1954, Elisabeth Schmid developed sediment analysis further. With this refined scientific method, in October 1958 and March 1959 she carried out excavations in the Wildkirchli caves.

Elisabeth Schmid fundamentally verified Emil Baechler’s research. However, thanks to the modern methods, she was able to see that the bones and traces of human activity lay in differing layers. From this it was clear that humans and bears seldom encountered one another. Since then, the theory of the bear cult has been considered disproved.

Save for a slim publication, Schmid’s excavation did not result in any detailed scientific findings concerning the Wildkirchli. The Appenzell bones lay for fifty years in a Basel warehouse, before they returned to the Museum Appenzell in 2008.

Excavation work in the altar cave. The excavations were exclusively carried out in the altar cave. The altar is in the upper-mid part of the picture; to the left, the lateral supports of the benches can be made out.

Boarding. Since Baechler was forced to dig sloping trench walls for safety reasons, whereas Schmid was able to reinforce hers with planks, she encountered undisturbed sediment in the lower layers.

Excavations as an attraction. The excavations attracted significant interest in the Wildkirchli, from experts and laypeople alike.