It feels at times that every spare inch of this planet, every corner of the Earth, has been mapped, catalogued, and settled by human beings. Some would say that all the mystery of our world is gone, replaced by a banal sense of cynicism.
Yet there are some settled corners of this Earth that, despite the presence of man, remain very much a mystery, especially when they’re rediscovered centuries later…
If one wanders their way through the forests and forgotten places in the hills of Bavaria, they will eventually uncover one of Europe’s most curious and unexplained manmade structures. Of course, they’re not exactly something that can be found on just any map.
The secret, whose true meaning and true purpose are both shrouded in centuries of speculation, is linked to many of an ancient German civilization. These ancient remnants of some long-forgotten civilization are called Erdstalls, and there are nearly 2,000 of them throughout Europe…
In the Thousands
Nearly 700 of the Erdstalls can be found in Bavaria, but an additional 500 can be found in nearby Austria as well. The underground tunnels make up an enormous series of networks that seem to wend their way through Central Europe, and many of them even lead to countries much further away.
All Through Europe
Erdwall tunnels have been found as far west as France and as far north as Great Britain, though those are have no direct connection to the tunnels on the continent. At first glance, the Erdwall tunnels appear like any other underground cavern: a deliberately carved yet wholly misunderstood piece of ancient history…
Unlike the Others
Of course, you’ll say, there are countless underground tunnels all over the world. So why are these anything special? The Erdstall tunnels, whose name means “earth stable”, contain a few features that distinguish themselves from other manmade underground places.
Many Narrow Tunnels
If we’re going for a mere description, an Erdstall system is a series of narrow carved tunnels of an ovular shape that are aligned either vertically or horizontally. Boring stuff, I know, but it isn’t the size or shape of the caverns that’s most fascinating: it’s their purpose…
Crude structures dot along the sides of many of the thousands of tunnels. Though fairly raw and not well-sculpted, most of these features would appear to be benches of some kind. They lend credence to the idea that the tunnels were built for the purpose of housing human beings.
Erdstall tunnels are most notable for having only one point of entry and exit. These entries and exits are generally in secluded rarely traveled place like in the wilderness or near old, completely ruined settlements. Because of this, air flow through the tunnels was almost non-existent, especially if they were occupied…
Yet, despite being a place obviously built for at least some manner of human habitation, the tunnels contain strange choke points. Known as “schlupfs” or “Slip outs, that would allow transition between the sometimes interconnected Erdstall tunnels from a lower or higher elevation.
Perhaps the most important trait amongst all the Erdstalls, those in mainland Europe and those in Great Britain is the sense of mystery they create amongst archeologists. Even the date that they were created is up for debate, some people believe they were built in the 12th century, while others believe they were made much, much earlier…
Who Built Them
Indeed, it is the complete lack of archaeological signifiers found in the barren underground passages which makes them difficult to date. In addition to that lingering mystery, it also makes the creators of the Erdstalls almost impossible to discern.
Thanks to the age of the internet, theories on what the tunnels represent have begun to pop up all over discussion forums everywhere. There is no limit to the amount of speculation as to what they were used for…
One theory is that the tunnels were once used for storage. Unfortunately, that theory was quickly quashed. Most of the Erdstalls are well below the waterline and will occasionally fill with water to this day. Thus, storing anything in them would have been highly impractical.
One of the other new and popular explanations is that the tunnels were used as hiding places for farmers who wanted to avoid attacks by marauding tribes. Yet the Erdstalls, being small and very difficult to get through, not alone breathe in, would have made very dangerous shelters: even temporarily…
The idea that they were used as hiding places was quickly dismissed, until researchers realized that the “slip outs” in each chamber also doubled as ways to move further into the earth when the oxygen in their current chamber depleted: and all while avoiding the violence of the marauding hordes above.
Problems with the Theory
Still, the passages would have only served as a VERY temporary solution. They were so claustrophobic that anyone living in there for an extended period of time would have gone mad or fled, panic stricken back out of the tunnel when air got too thin: ultimately leading the marauders right to their hiding spot…
There was also some debate that the tunnels were used as a place where secret spiritual ceremonies took place. The Erdstalls have been likened to birth canals and the implication is that they served as places of not only ceremonial rebirth but also temporary places where actual births took place.
Perhaps the most interesting theory about the tunnels is that they were used as a sort of way station for deceased spirits. Though, its not only the spirits of ancestors that dwelled there. Many believe that they were build the way they were to trap and confuse dark spirits and demons and prevent them from coming into nearby villages…
In Austria, local folklore suggests that the tunnels were built by goblins or kobolds, mysterious and mischievous underground-dwelling faerie creatures. Some were even named as such and include the likes of ‘Schrazelloch’ or “goblin hole” and ‘Alraunenhöhle’ the “mandrake cave”.
Today, we are no closer to finding the true purpose of the Erdstalls than we have been for the past several centuries. Whatever they were used for, its clear that they are an incredible and misunderstood pieces of history that continues to fascinate us, even in this day and age.