Only a person could have brought them here!

"It was on February 21, 1904, as we were sitting in a three-and-a-half-meter deep 'hole' lifting out at cave bear skull , that we were overcome with great excitement and joy: With a single jerk of the excavation tool, out of the clay surrounding the cave bear skull suddenly came three very curious rock fragments, in a much different condition than that of the limestone fragments in the cave. Only a person could have brought them here!"

Emil Baechler and Otto Koeberle discover tools from the Stone Age

It was quartz from the Weissbach valley, entirely foreign to the rock in the Wildkirchli and located 300 meters below, that Emil Baechler and his assistant Otto Koeberle found. Thanks to their sharp eyes and expertise, the Wildkirchli was thus proven to be a place of living and shelter for Paleolithic humans. It was the sensational first proof that, over 30,000 years ago, people lived at this altitude in the northern Alpine foothills. A realization that had a lasting influence on the scientific community.

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Stone hammer
Stone hammers could be used to chip silex nodules into sharp edged stones.

Spear point
Chipped stone with a sharp point. Serrations have been worked into the edges. These objects were used to reinforce spears or lances; larger blades were used for scraping furs.

Chipped stone
Flint nodule chipped with a stone hammer. The edges are sharp and could have been used for disassembling the corpses of prey, for example.

Scrapers were used to clean raw hide, but also for smoothing wood.

Raw material: Radiolarite.
The original stone tools were primarily manufactured from oil quartzite and radiolarite.

Where had been dug?

Emil Baechler’s excavation plan. Traces of human activity were confined to the front part of the caves, more so in the altar cave than in the guesthouse cave. The markings on the “prehistoric work benches” in the altar cave should be noted here.

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Bear cult in the Wildkirchli?

Humans as cave bear hunters. Emil Baechler found bones that he believed to have been worked into tools by human hands. This, and that the fact that traces of human activity and cave bears lay in the same layers of earth, led him to the assumption that humans must have hunted and killed cave bears. An image of Stone Age humans that was widely disseminated throughout the scientific community of the time.

But Emil Baechler went even further: Between 1917 and 1923 in Vaettis’ Drachenloch cave, he found piles of bones and intact bear skulls. Some of these were carefully placed in recesses in the stone or between stoneslabs – Baechler called these Schädelsteinkisten (stone skull ossuaries) –and arranged in a uniform manner. He interpreted these findings as the remnants of human cult-like activity, a homage to the cave bears or a sacrifice. Going beyond the archeological evidence, he formulated his theory of the bear cult using ethnographic comparisons and religious and philosophical considerations.

The theory brought about a years-long dispute in the scientific community, extending to personal animosity towards Baechler. Nonetheless, Emil Baechler stood by his interpretation for the rest of his life.

Schmid’s refutation of the bear cult. During the excavations in 1958/59, Elisabeth Schmid fundamentally confirmed Baechler’s findings. However, on the basis of more developed research methods and newscientific insights, she came to the conclusion that humans and bears seldom encountered one another. The bears used the caves to hibernate in the winter, the humans in the summer as rest areas. In addition, the weapons of the Stone Age humans were poorly suited for hunting the large cave bears. Elisabeth Schmid also identified the traces of handworking on the supposed bone tools as natural weathering.
With that, the theory of the bear cult was finally refuted.

Impression of a Stone Age idyll.
In 1908, the Stone Age human was still depicted in a sheet commemorating the Wildkirchli excursion of the Swiss Society for Prehistory as a bear hunter. (Composition by the Appenzell painter Carl August Liner)

“Prehistoric workbench”, sacrificial altar, or just a stone? Baechler interpreted the stone block in the altar cave as a Neanderthal workbench, but he also considered the possibility of a sacrificial table within the scope of his bear cult theory.

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