Woolly Mammoth Bones Unearthed in Austrian Wine Cellar

It wasn’t the first time that ancient artifacts were discovered in one of Kamptal’s wine cellars.
Andreas Pernerstorfer’s wine cellar renovations revealed a trove of at least three mammoth skeletons.
Andreas Pernerstorfer’s wine cellar renovations revealed a trove of at least three mammoth skeletons. / ÖAW-ÖAI/H. Parow-Souchon

An Austrian winemaker renovating his cellar unearthed a trove of woolly mammoth bones that could expand our understanding of the relationship between humans and the prehistoric beasts.

Andreas Pernerstorfer’s winery is in the notable winemaking and cultural region of Kamptal in northeastern Austria. After stumbling upon the huge bones in the dirt floor, he reported his discovery to Austria’s Federal Monuments Office. The Austrian Archaeological Institute has been excavating the site since March 2024 to a depth of 55 feet below ground and says it’s the first significant paleontology site found in Austria in a century. 

An archaeologist exposes the mammoth bones.
An archaeologist exposes the mammoth bones. / ÖAW-ÖAI/H. Parow-Souchon

The bones are believed to be between 30,000 and 40,000 years old and belonged to at least three woolly mammoths. According to Hannah Parow-Souchon, the paleontologist leading the excavation, the discovery is significant because mammoth bones are rarely found packed together. This could mean they were bunched there by humans, which could indicate they were hunted and slaughtered by humans; the site might be the remains of a Holocene Epoch cookout.

Most archaeologists agree that humans gathered in groups and used spears and other tools to take down woolly mammoths and other megafauna, which would have been immense sources of meat, hides, and bones to use as raw materials for tools. This activity could have contributed to the animals’ extinction

Scientists examine the mammoth bone site in the wine cellar.
Hannah Parow-Souchon explains the scene to Pernerstorfer (left) and others on the dig. / ÖAW-ÖAI/Th. Einwögerer

There is some debate whether preying on the massive beasts was a regular practice for Stone Age people, and science is foggy about how a band of simple humans could get the drop on an animal that stood 10 feet tall, weighed as much as six tons, and had fearsome protective tusks. The process would reveal a lot about coordination and planning among Paleolithic people.

Parow-Souchon said in a statement from the Austrian Academy of Sciences that it is possible that humans set a trap for mammoths there. She also said it was the most significant discovery of woolly mammoth remains in more than 100 years; most such sites in Europe have been dug up and hollowed out, with their archaeological value lost over time.

This is not the first such find in Kamptal. About 150 years ago, relics of early human life—including flint artifacts, jewelry fossils, and charcoal—were discovered there in a wine cellar next door.