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A Journey Back in Time

A simple walk instead of an elaborate time machine is enough to take a journey into the past. Anyone who steps onto the karst nature trail which leads from the deep Kaltbrunnen valley near Grellingen to the wooded Brislachallmet will arrive at the end of the stone age.

By Nicole J. Bettlé

The “Karstlehrpfad” (karst nature trail) is a 9.5km long signed hiking trail. It offers an interesting glimpse into the history of early mankind that inhabited in our region over more than twenty thousand years ago. The trail, in its entirety, goes from Zwingen via Brislachallmet to the Kaltbrunnen valley, then via Chessiloch to Grellingen. The hike takes about 1.5-3 hours.

Sometimes narrow and steep, the Kaltbrunnen valley

Stone age cooking
Along the nature trail you can find several fire places, allowing you to cook as people did during the stone age. Pre-historic people, however, looked for shelter in caves. These are created by subterranean water extraction and solution processes. This phenomenon is described by the term “karst”. It stands for all related limestone landscapes that had undergone similar processes. The area south-east of Zwingen offers a very good opportunity to actually explore and discover various karst phenomena close together.

The caves that had been formed here were important settlements during the last ice age. On various picture boards along the trail you can see when exactly they were inhabited and what was discovered in them. They also have interesting information about speleology (cave exploration), what different kinds of caves exist, what they are made of, how their geological formation came to be, but also about all the possible risks which are hidden in them.

To the caves
Three caves used during prehistoric times are particularly worth seeing, among them the so-called “Heidenküche” (heathen kitchen). John Benedikt Thiessing discovered them in 1883. Further excavations were carried out by Aimé Bienz (1885) and cousins Fritz and Paul Sarasin (1906). They all found objects our ancestors had left behind.

A real eye catcher is the “Kohlerhöhle” (Kohler cave). It was discovered by Heinz Kohler in 1934 and then excavated by Carl Lüdin and Emil Kräulinger. The Kohler cave is 18 metres deep and is situated in an easily visible long opening . It is the bottom one of three caves, one upon the other, that were all once inhabited.

The path to the Kohler cave is steeper than it looks ((© 2014 copyright paebi, picture unchanged, as per licence)

Another attraction is the “Kastelhöhle”, discovered by Walter Kellenberger in 1948. Together with Theodor Schweizer, he carried out several excavations until 1950. The objects they found prove that early humans had been hunting in this area about 15-16’000 years ago.

Gut hinschauen ist manchmal nötig, um die Höhlen – hier die Kastelhöhle – vom Pfad aus zu sehen.

Treasures of Switzerland
The “Heidenküche” is one of the oldest sites from the Palaeolithic Age that has ever been discovered in Switzerland. The oldest evidence of modern man (homo sapiens sapiens) were also discovered here in the Kaltbrunnen valley. They were found in the middle findlayer of the Kastel cave. In some of the findlayers of the Kohler and the Kastel cave even traces of Neanderthal man were discovered. They are around 30’000 years old.

Auch kleine Höhlen kommen im Kaltbrunnental vor, wie hier die Ibachhöhle

Among other objects, stone tools, processed furs and antlers have also been excavated from the Kohler cave, plus also parts of hunting weapons, sewing needles and jewellery made of animals’ teeth. They also discovered fossilised mussels and snails from the area of Mainz in Germany. Thus, it was possible to retrace the paths that early nomadic human beings had walked along. However, they could also be evidence that these people practised barter trade. Nowadays, all these objects that have been excavated in the Kaltbrunnen valley and nearby can be viewed at various museums in Switzerland.

Am Chessiloch, dem Eingang zum Kaltbrunnental, haben die Soldaten im 1. Weltkrieg ihre Spuren hinterlassen.

Anyone who fancies undertaking this journey into the past should board the S3 train from Basel SBB towards Laufen/Delémont. The journey to Zwingen takes a bit more than 20 minutes. Anyone bursting with eagerness to get to “the land of the caves” can get off at Grellingen station. Form there the path first goes past “Chessiloch” (worth a visit) with the memorial murals from Word War I. To anybody who would like to enter the caves: sturdy footwear and a torch are highly recommended. On 16 September 2018 the karst nature trail celebrates its fifth anniversary – information (German and French only) is available on the nature trail’s website.

Unless otherwise stated: all pictures © 2018 copyright Martin Pütter
Translated to English by Martin Pütter, proofread & edited by Andi “Theiyr’re” Curran

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