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Potočka Zijalka Cave

Potočka Zijalka Cave
Resembling a gaping mouth or mysterious dark eye at the base of the south-facing rocky cliffs of Mount Olševa, the Potočka Zijalka Cave is arguably the most important archeological site in all of Slovenia.

Although it had long been known to locals thanks to its auspicious appearance, the 115m long cave was only first excavated in 1928 by Dr Srečko Brodar. Over a seven-year period Dr Brodar and his team discovered over 300 stone objects (80 of which were tools), 123 bone points and a mind-boggling amount of animal remains, including an estimated 1000 cave bears, as well as 39 other species of wolves, foxes, lynxes, deer, chamois, marmots and other small mammals.

The artefacts date from the Upper Palaeolithic period between 40,000-30,000 years ago, and judging from what was found it was first hypothesised that the cave served as a hunting outpost - and quite an advanced one by Cro-Magnon standards, given the presence of what are thought to be some of the earliest known arrowheads. However, a more recent theory posits that the site was actually a place where early animistic rituals were carried out. This is based largely on two of the most intriguing items that were discovered: a rudimentary flute that is considered to be one of the oldest musical instruments ever discovered (it's made from the lower jaw of a cave bear, with three holes bored into it) and a rare bone needle, which was threaded through the hollow of the bone rather than an eye as modern needles are.

The most extensive public display of findings from the cave can be found at the regional museum in Celje, although many of them were unfortunately destroyed (along with much of the rest of the museum's collection) during allied bombardment in the waning months of WWII. The Firšt Museum in Solčava also has a fine exhibition detailing the history of the cave and what was found during the excavations.

The cave itself is open for those interested in making the steep hike up the mountain from the settlement of Podolševa at the eastern end of the Panoramic Road - although it's not strictly required, hiring a qualified and knowledgable guide through the tourist office in Solčava is definitely recommended.

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