Useful Information

Location: Tiefenellern. In a forest called Hofbauernholz, between Tiefenellern, Herzogenreuth and Laibarös.
(49.9199383, 11.0869647)
Open: no restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst Cave
Light: bring torch
Dimension: L=7 m, W=9 m, H=3 m.
Guided tours: n/a
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: O. Kunkel (1955): Die Jungfernhöhle bei Tiefenellern. Eine neolithische Kultstätte auf dem Fränkischen Jura bei Bamberg. Münchner Beiträge zur Vor- und Frühgeschichte 5 1955. Deutsch - German
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1951 discovered by Georg Engert searching for treasures.
1951 to 1954 excavations by Otto Kunkel.


The Jungfernhöhle (Virgins Cave) is a really small cave, with a 3.50  m wide and 1.25 m high entrance portal, followed by a steep shaft. The only chamber is irregular-shaped and has a few short branch-offs. The cave is reached by foot from Tiefenellern, a small village at the end of the Ellernbachtal (Ellern brook valley), east of Bamberg. At the end of the village a trail leads in serpentines up to the so-called castle rock. The Alte Steine (old rocks), also called Eulensteine (owls rocks), offer a great view across the valley and to Bamberg. Behind the outlook on the plateau lies the Hofbauernholz, a forest with a seldom used road leading to a strange rock formation. Running from northeast to southwest, the rock is about 30 m long, 10 m wide and 4m high. The cave is located at its foot.

This cave was obviously known during the Neolithic, but later it was forgotten. But there are many legends in the area, telling about the cave. The most important is the legend of the three virgins (Jungfer is the German word for virgin), which explains the name. The three virgins once lived in this cave. According to the legend, they had no heads and were killed in the cave. Georg Engert, who was called Zimmergörch, interpreted the legends and thought there was a treasure hidden in the cave. He interpreted a legend as if it was a historic truth, similar to the famous German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann. Although he did not discover any economic treasure, he did discover a scientific one in the form of pottery and bones.

Two men from Bamberg were walking through the wood, Dr. Oskar Kühn and engineer Hermann Hundt. By accident, they discovered the archaeological content of the excavated earth. They stopped the illegal treasure hunt and reported the discovery. An excavation by the Bayerisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege, under the direction of Professor Dr. Otto Kunkel followed. The results were 110 decorated pots of the Neolithic age locally called Bandkeramik. Beneath numerous animal bones, the remains of humans were found too. All together between 38 and 40 individuals, most of them children. The most extraordinary discoveries were strange thin bone sticks. They have a pointy side and a spatula on the other end.

The discoveries were rich, well-preserved, and - above all - really strange. Why are all the bones crushed, especially the skulls? The ceramic pots were destroyed too, obviously very long ago. The jaws did not contain any of the teeth with one root, which are the front teeth. It seems those people were killed. The bodies were slaughtered like game or sacrificial animals. The long bones of the bodies were crushed, obviously to extract the marrow. And to make it complete, the legend of the headless virgins fits well to the discoveries.

The interpretation of such discoveries is difficult and often controversial. But the following interpretation is rather obvious. About 4000 to 5000 years ago, this place was used to offer human sacrifice to an unknown god. Especially children and teens, "virgins", were killed ritually. The heads were cut off and opened on the left side of the skull, the brain was removed. Then the bodies were slaughtered, and most likely parts of the bodies consumed ritually. The strange bone sticks were most likely used as chopsticks. Finally, the remains of the bodies and the used pottery and other tools were thrown into the cave.