For several centuries, the city of Vienna has been connected in a particular manner with relics of the Ice Age. Thus, in view of the lack of palaeo-ontological knowledge at the time, Gog and Magog, the biblical giants, were alluded to for the interpretation of the origin of the bone by E. Lazius in 1546. The mammoth bone, inscribed with AEIOU – the maxim of Emperor Friedrich III – and which was found during the construction of the north tower of the Cathedral of St. Stephen in 1443, is probably the most-well known evidence of a historical recognition of Ice Age bone material, although lacking awareness of its chronological profundity.
It is actually remarkable that a scientific study was first carried out only in 2002 by Norbert Vávra, the goal of which was the summarization of the finds of Ice Age ›giants‹ from the Viennese city area. Corresponding to the geological situation, namely, their incorporation into the youngest geological sediments, they originate from gravel beds or from loesses of the Ice Age. Above all, the areas of Nußdorf-Heiligenstadt, Bisamberg, Stammersdorf and Hietzing present a great number of finds. These sites appear to have been predestined for the home range of the hunters and gatherers who probably also visited the area around Vienna within the last 100,000 years. Isolated finds of stone tools provide evidence of their presence, yet these have not yet been systematically documented.
There are grounds to assume that the Vienna area was as significant a region for the Ice Age hunter-gatherer societies as was the Lower Austrian hinterland and the Danube area. It can be supposed that a geographically distinctive situation such as the Vienna Gate represented a typical »landmark« for the groups who passed through here, serving for large-scale orientation, and that it was preferentially used for larger settlements. Exceptional examples of this circumstance are Dolní Věstonice in Moravia as well as Krems-Wachtberg in Lower Austria.
In the framework of this project, a systematic compilation of the Ice Age landscape of finds from Vienna, on the basis of the publication by N. Vávras, will be carried out. In addition to the inspection of the old archaeological finds, attention was directed to the surveying of undeveloped or scarcely built-up areas. The goal was to discover outcrops with Ice Age sediments that enable a scientific taking of samples according to modern principles. After inspection of the terrain, deep core drilling in the Titlgasse (Hietzing) and on the Obere Jungenbergweg was carried out. In Senderstrasse at Bisamberg, two profiles were recorded. The analysis of the sample material should provide more detailed information about the reconstruction of climatic conditions and, in an ideal case, also enable a chronological classification.
The most spectacular result is the first indubitable evidence for human presence in the territory of today’s city of Vienna in the early Upper Palaeolithic period (EUP, early/later Aurignacian, C-14 dating margin 37.000–38.500 cal. BC). The C-14 dating of a metatarsus of Equus sp. with clearly anthropogenic cut marks from Nußdorf (Rachel Hopkins, Oxford) rendered a date of 34550 ± 600 BP (OxA-34405).
The majority of the older finds, with the exception of a small inventory from the Titlgasse, could be verified as not palaeolithic in date.
From the aspect of landscape- and settlement archaeology oriented towards the Palaeolithic era, many subareas could be identified as »potentially favourable for a Palaeolithic period settlement«. These must be taken into consideration in future studies. Today, broad areas of the regions that were advantageous for settlement in the Palaeolithic, above all in the loess cliffs found directly above the Danube plain, are predominantly built over. The project reveals the great potential that the loess-covered parts of Vienna represent for Palaeolithic find-sites.
The final publication should at least somewhat fill in a blank spot on the map of Ice Age research in Austria.