Useful Information

Location: Burggaillenreuth, südlich von Muggendorf.
Kat. Nr. D109.
(49.779183, 11.282761)
Open: closed.
Fee: closed.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave BiologyCave Bear TopicBears' Caves
Light: bring torch
Dimension: L=969 m, A=437 m asl.
Guided tours:
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: K.G. Poll (1972): Die Zoolithenhöhle bei Burggaillenreuth und ihre Beziehung zum fränkischen Höhlen- und Kluftsystem, Erlanger Forsch. (B), 5: 63-76; Erlangen. Deutsch - German
Brigitte Hilpert (2004): Der Beginn wissenschaftlichen Arbeitens in Höhlen, Die Befahrung der Zoolithenhöhle bei Burggaillen-reuth durch Joh. Fr. Esper (1774). Natur und Mensch, Nürnberg 2004 Deutsch - German
(1972): Die Zoolithenhöhle bei Burggaillenreuth/Ofr., 200 Jahre wissenschaftliche Forschung 1771-1971, 131pp, ISBN: 3922135072 Deutsch - German
Brigitte Hilpert, Brigitte Kaulich, Wilfried Rosendahl (2005): Die Zoolithenhöhle bei Burggaillenreuth (Fränkische Alb, Süddeutschland) Forschungsgeschichte, Geologie, Paläontologie und Archäologie, Abhandlung Band 45/2005, Seite 259-304. Neue Forschungen zum Höhlenbären in Europa, Naturhistorische Gesellschaft Nürnberg e.V., Marientorgraben 8, 90402 Nürnberg. ISSN 0077-6149. Deutsch - German pdf
Address: Forschungsgruppe Höhle und Karst Franken e.V., Schloss Almoshof, Almoshofer Hauptstr. 51, 90427 Nürnberg, Tel: +49-911-383213 (only Wed 20-22).
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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1602 first written mention.
1774 finds of wolverine, cave bear and human bones by Rosenmüller.
1971 previously known passages rediscovered as well as previously unknown parts discovered.


The Zoolithenhöhle near Burggaillenreuth is a historical cave. This means that it was visited and explored by people hundreds of years ago, so it has its own history and has also become part of science history. Because of this importance and in order to protect it, the cave is closed today and can only be visited for scientific reasons and in consultation with the cave association in charge. But although the cave is strongly protected, it is also well published, so we decided to introduce it briefly here. Its importance for cave bear research is immense, and it is frequently mentioned in cave bear related literature. It is one of the most important Quaternary palaeontological cave sites in the world. The Zoolithenhöhle was long known as Gaillenreuth Cave, named after nearby village. It was first mentioned in a document as early as 1602, by Magister Johannes Bonius as an annex in a city map of Bamberg.

The term Zoolith, a latinisation of "animal stone" or also "stone-like animal remains" was coined by Johann Friedrich Esper for the flowstone-covered, i.e. "stone-hard", bones he found. The priest Esper from Erlangen began exploring the cave in 1771. His results, published in a large folio volume in 1774, are regarded as the beginning of scientific exploration of cave contents in Germany. In the next 50 years, G.A. Goldfuss (1810, 1818, 1821, 1823), G Cuvier (1805, 1806, 1807), J. C. Rosenmüller (1794), William Buckland (1823), J. Heller (1829), and J. A. Wagner (1839, 1842, 1851) dealt with the cave and its finds. Various first descriptions of species are due to this cave, most notably the cave bear (Ursus spelaeus Rosenmüller 1794). Others were later revised, for example Canis spelaeus and Gulo spelaeus were later recognised as Canis lupus and Gulo gulo, just because they were found in a cave they were not a cave-dwelling subspecies. Other scientific errors are also closely linked to the cave, such as the so-called flood theory by Buckland, who assumed that the biblical flood led to the extinction of the species and that the flood washed the bones into the caves.

The entrance is located at the foot of a rock face not far from Burggaillenreuth. The cave is easily recognizable, especially by its "fortifications", which resemble the former German/German border. Contrary to the rumours there are no land mines. A massive door allows easy access to a spacious hall, even if you have to bend down a bit from time to time. At the end of the hall, an iron ladder leads down a few metres into a series of smaller halls, shafts and passages. The large part of the cave is accessed by wooden walkways and iron ladders and is quite easy to navigate. Nevertheless, it is an undeveloped cave with climbing sections, narrow passages and gullies. A highlight is the Lion's Den, a high hall containing two exceptionally tall, slender stalagmites and cave bear skulls covered by flowstone.