Neolithic mammoth bones found in Austrian wine cellar

A winemaker in Gobelsburg, Lower Austria, renovating his wine cellar stumbled on some large bones that have proved to be 30,000-40,000-year-old mammoth remains. This is the most significant mammoth bone finding in Austria in more than a century, and the first to be excavated with modern methods.

The winemaker, Andreas Pernerstorfer, discovered the first bone in March, and he thought it was an old piece of wood left by his grandfather. After digging it up a little more, he began to suspect it wasn’t wood. He recalled his grandfather had told Andreas years ago that he had found teeth in the cellar, and that made him suspect his new discovery was a mammoth too.

He reported his discovery to the Federal Monuments Office and they called in a team of archaeologists from the Austrian Archaeological Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) to investigate the find. Since the excavation began in mid-May, they have unearthed several dense layers of mammoth bones containing the skeletal remains of at least three different mammoths. The team carefully recovered each bone, revealing multiple interlocking bones.

The last comparable discovery in Austria was made not far from the current excavation site: 150 years ago, in an adjacent wine cellar in Gobelsburg, “a mighty bone layer as well as cultural layers with flint artifacts, decorative fossils and charcoal” were also discovered in the ÖAW release: “ During the excavation there, the affected cellars were completely cleared out, and other comparable sites in Austria and neighboring countries were mostly dug at least 100 years ago and are largely lost to modern research.

Stone artifacts and charcoal remains also came to light in the area of ​​the new excavation. Based on this, the team dated the bone remains to be between 30,000 and 40,000 years old. This could have been a place where Stone Age people once rounded up the massive animals or drove them into a trap and killed them. It is hoped that the unusual discovery situation will provide new information about how people organized and carried out the hunt for the animals back then: “We know that people hunted mammoths, but we still know little about how they did it,” [excavation leader Hannah] Parow-Souchon said.

The ÖAW team is recording the site with 3D mapping technology. They hope it will shed light on how the animals died and, if they’re right about the case of death, on how human hunters were able to take down such massive prey.

Once the bones are fully excavated, they will be transferred to the Natural History Museum (NHM) Vienna for additional study and restoration.