The youngest period of Earth history, the Quaternary, is divided into two epochs: the Pleistocene (2.6-0.012 Million years ago) and the post-glacial period or Holocene (12 000 years ago to present). The Pleistocene is characterised by severe climatic fluctuations. During glacial periods, the mean annual temperature was 5° to 13° C lower than present. In contrast, during the interglacial periods a warm and temperate climate prevailed. Mean annual temperatures were at times several degrees higher than today.

Baden-Württemberg has experienced at least four ice ages. The recurrent alternation of glacial and interglacial periods implied major changes in both flora and fauna.

The ice-free and nutrient-rich loess-steppe environments of the glacial periods provided plentiful nourishment for large herds of reindeer and horses with their herbaceous vegetation. Woolly rhinoceroses, mammoths and musk-oxen also lived here. During the interglacial periods, plants like hackberries, water elm and firethorn thrived. Lush forest with oak and hornbeam offered the ideal habitat for fallow deer and straight-tusked elephants. Even hippopotamuses and water buffalo lived along the rivers. Carnivores like wolves and cave bears had a wider climatic tolerance. They inhabited southern Germany during both glacial and interglacial periods.

Human evolution and global dispersal are key events that occurred during the Quaternary. In Baden-Württemberg, four important human fossils were recovered. Two of them, the lower jaw Mauer 1 and the Steinheim skull, are exhibited at the museum.

The first inhabitant from Stuttgart

Climate witness rock: Stuttgart travertin on the edge of the Neckar valley

Steinheim man (Homo steinheimensis)

Workshop for children

Steinheim steppe elephant (Mammuthus primigenius fraasi)

Giant of the glacial period - mammouth

In the Cave of the bear

Skeleton of the cave bear

Movies about the life of prehistoric man in the southern part of germany

Camp of prehistoric man (15.000 years bevore present)

Cooking without cooking pot

Workshop for children: Life in the neolithic period