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Ice Age (geol.: Pleistocene): subdivision of the Quaternary, most recent geological period, probably extending 2.4 million years back from the present. In the Alps evidence of the Ice Age can be traced back 700,000 years; in Austria, the period is traditionally broken down into four sections: Guenz, Mindel, Riss and Wuerm, when the Alps were for the most part covered by extreme glaciation and a network of glacial flows in the aftermath of an extended cold period. The Ice Age was interrupted by a series of prolonged warm periods (interglacial periods, Hoetting Breccia ). It ended some 10,000 years ago after a number of phases of receding and advancing glaciation, which have been named after valleys in the Tirol (e.g. Gschnitz Valley). Since then, the climate has been similar to what it is at present (postglacial period, geological present, in geological terms: Holocene).

It was during the Ice Age that the Alpine landscape of Austria was given its present form. Typical glacial-period features are rounded heights, rock basins, trough valleys (with "stairways", cascades and gorges), lakes and moraine landscapes. The transition to the current status of glaciation of the Alps occurred, again in several stages, during the postglacial period. The first human settlements in the Austrian Alpine area date from the most recent interglacial period (Lower/Middle Paleolithic Age, approx. 180,000-20,000 B.C.). By the beginning of the latest Ice Age (onset about 50.000 years ago) human life on Austrian soil was already characterised by what has been called the blade and handaxe culture. Postglacial finds already suggest a highly developed civilisation (excavations in the Wachau loess areas - Venus von Willendorf - and on the edge of the Waldviertel).


A. Penck and E. Brueckner, Die Alpen im Eiszeitalter, 3 vols., 1901-1908; D. van Husen, Die Ostalpen in den Eiszeiten, 1987.