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Okay, this is a weird one

Erdstall. “Earth stall.” Very old tunnels. At least 700 of them in Bavaria, 500 in Austria. Some in Germany, France, Scotland and Ireland, right across Europe. Nobody has a fucking clue what they were for. Probably 90% haven’t been discovered yet.

Here’s what they do know. Though some believe they were made in the Stone Age, the few bits of wood and charcoal found inside consistently date from early Medieval times. They were dug by people who knew what they were doing, people who kneeled and dug with two-handed wedges. Every few yards, there’s a little cavity in the wall for an oil lamp. They’re mostly 20-50 yards long (the longest one in Germany is 125 yards long).

Long portions of the tunnels snake back and forth to reduce pressure from the soil overhead, so that planking wasn’t needed. Dead end tunnels branch off at times. The smallest passages are only about 16″ wide. Most are too small to walk comfortably. They don’t widen out into chambers. There aren’t multiple entrance/exits. Explorers often run low on oxygen while exploring them. Some fill with water.

They sometimes start near churches or cemeteries, or the kitchens of old farmhouses, or out in the woods, but they don’t end anywhere. There’s seldom anything at all in them. There’s not a single written record of an erdstall being built. Around 1200, they were blocked up with rubble (including easily datable bits of porcelain).

There’s been very little archeological interest in them, so study has largely been left to amateurs. With theories.

Practical: escape tunnels. Hiding places. Storage tunnels. Prisons.

Religious: late Druid places of worship. Early Christian places of worship.

Out there: Elves. Goblins. Some stupid hippie shit about healing and vaginas and souls or something.

“Erdstall” is a highly Googlable word that doesn’t appear to have other meanings, so I highly recommend you do that thing. Google it, I mean. The pictures alone are worth it.


Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: August 25, 2011, 10:58 pm


Comment from JeffS
Time: August 25, 2011, 11:47 pm

No, Uncle Badger. Weasels!

Comment from Allen
Time: August 26, 2011, 12:02 am

Ergot in the Rye.

Hey man, let’s dig some tunnels…

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 26, 2011, 12:13 am

Oh, man, Allen — if you’ve never read The Day of St. Anthony’s Fire, I can’t recommend it enough.

Creepy true story an ergot poisoning in France in 1951. Well, the first half is excellent. The second half is a boring account of the efforts to screw reparations out of the French bureaucracy.

Comment from Allen
Time: August 26, 2011, 1:02 am

I’ll check it out. Sisyphus had it easy over trying to get a sou from a French bureaucrat.

Comment from Nina from GCP
Time: August 26, 2011, 1:35 am

I have never heard of these!

Comment from Skandia Recluse
Time: August 26, 2011, 2:19 am

Hiding places, to hid stuff from the tax collectors, ya know?

Comment from USCitizen
Time: August 26, 2011, 2:23 am

Probably just safekeeping for vaginas.

You cannot be too careful these days; and they could not have been too careful in them days.

Vaginas are, and probably were then, very popular.

Comment from Uncle Al
Time: August 26, 2011, 3:40 am

I think these are early precursors to modern-day fallout shelters, and were built by a populace certain that MADA would fail.

(Mutually Assured Destruction by Arbalest)

Comment from Oceania
Time: August 26, 2011, 4:38 am

I dug truck loads of those free form style tunnels in the old days looking for gold in alluvial deposits. Could easily average 10 meters a day even in harder packed materials.

There are huge tunnel complexes in Turkey that are well documented. Nothing new here – probably kids playing around … after all, kids dig tunnels at the beach and kill themselves regularly.

And if you think that Jean-Peirre Houdins pyramid cracking research is a Boner – wait till you see Puma Punku. That will blow your mind. Totally.
Built at an altitude of 10,000 feet 17,500 years ago using high unrepeatable today precision.

Comment from SCOTTtheBADGER
Time: August 26, 2011, 5:26 am

Looks like a primitive missle silo. Probably dug by Badgers to protect Salamandastron from vermin.

Comment from MIke C.
Time: August 26, 2011, 7:26 am

Frustrated paleo-spelunkers in areas with no natural caves? Either that or some sort of proto-WPA government employment program.

Comment from surly ermine
Time: August 26, 2011, 12:52 pm

Always something interesting Stoaty. Never seen these before. Will Google.

SCOTTtheBADGER, my wife loves those books. We met Brian Jacques several times at book shops here in the states. Nice man, great storyteller. I hope he’s got a stockpile of unpublished work.

Comment from Bob Mulroy
Time: August 26, 2011, 7:38 pm

I come from a loooong line of ‘shiners and rum-runners. I could put those tunnels to very good use!

Comment from Oldcat
Time: August 29, 2011, 6:00 pm

The only problem with the ‘hide from tax collector’ theory is why they stopped using them after 1200 AD. I’d think there would be a more or less constant need.

Now, hide things from raiders – The Maygars were riding all over Germany in the 900 AD timeframe, but this seemed to stop after 955. I’m not sure what would have changed in 1200 to end the practice

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