All across Central Europe, especially in Southern Germany, Austria and parts of the Czech Republic, about 1300 mysterious underground tunnels have been found underneath houses, churches, cemeteries and streets.
There are some more sporadic such tunnels found in France, Great Britain, Spain and Slovakia, raising the number to about 2000 found so far. These underground passageways are quite small, measuring about 3 or 4 feet high and 24 inches wide, with some places being even smaller.
Their origins remain a mystery for archaeologists as well does their purpose. Some say that these tunnels were made for religious purposes, as graves for the souls of the dead, as ritual spaces or as hideaways from marauding bandits. Others, more romantic in nature, say that these passageways were built by the mythic gnomes from the Germanic folklore.
What most agree on however is their age. They say that these tunnels were built during the Middle Ages, around 1000 AD. But historian Heinrich Kusch, of Graz, Austria, argues that some or all erdstall tunnels date back to the Neolithic period some 5,000 years ago.
The lack of an unanimous agreement is due to the fact that very few artifacts or organic materials have been found inside these narrow shafts. But the ones that have been found, like a piece of wood here and another there, date to that period. These are not solid pieces of evidence, but are the only thing archaeologists have to work with.
Many of these Erdstall are a network burrows that sometimes start from a person’s kitchen and go towards the church, the cemetery or even the forest. Some believe that they were used as storage space or for housing animals. The lack of any organic materials like feces or food residue seem to suggest that this wasn’t their purpose and have never been used as such.
The best answer so far is that these tunnels were used as escape shafts in case of surprise attacks Europe was encountering during that period, but by the number of pieces of evidence gathered so far and the fact that they aren’t mentioned anywhere in written record, this theory is just a bit more likely than the one about gnomes.