Neanderthals have gotten a bad rap in the popular press. Portrayed as a primitive man clad in pelts lugging a club and grunting is an image that many still conjure up. But Neanderthals are only beginning to get the respect that they deserve. I am a big fan and unabashedly fascinated by them. And that is why on an unusually cold day I cajoled my husband to drive many hours to Stetten, Germany to visit the Archaeopark Vogelherd that is one of the latest additions to the UNESCO World Heritage Listing in the Swabian Alb in Baden-Wurttemberg. These six newly inscribed cave sites have been inhabited for 100,000 years and approximately 43,000 years ago during the last ice age Neanderthal man was carving exquisite “animal figurines, musical instruments, and items of personal adornment.” These objects are of such intricate beauty that they alone would dispel the myths of the “primitive cave man.” It was in these caves were found the oldest pieces of figurative art in the world recovered thus far dating from the Aurignacian period. The artwork was carved out of mammoth ivory including a leaping cave lion, a cave bear, and an intriguing man beast.
The Archaeopark Vogelherd site is not only a museum but an interactive outdoor Stone Age hands on exhibition where the visitors can go back in time and experience what life was like during this early period of man’s evolution. We happened to visit late in the season and the park had already closed but it had opened for a special family day and we were the only group in the park. We were treated to an informative tour with a knowledgeable guide who lead us through the entire park where we were able to throw spears, dress in ice age pelt clothing, and build a fire in a tented dwelling. Franz even played a tune on a swan flute from the long ago era. And of course the highlight of what we came to see was the exhibition on the premises of the cave lion and the cave bear sculptures. What a blast into the ice age past.