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2018-02-26 16:45:59   •   ID: 1738

A Mining Pic from Spiennes

Fig. 1
This is a typical, 25 cm long neolithic "Pic de mineur" from Spiennes (Belgium). Spiennes is situated in the west of what is today Middle Belgium, on the southern edge of the Mons Basin, in the Hainaut Province.

The region was a privileged area for the procurement of good flint since the Acheulean and the early Middle Palaeolithic (EMP) and 10 km to the North, we find the famous open-air early middle upper Paleolithic site of Maisières-Canal  which has been dated to 28 k.a. BP (33 k.a. cal BP).

Several open-air Magdalenian sites are known from the Hainaut area which may have mainly occupied in the warm season. Again, such places would be repeatedly visited specifically for their abundant, high quality flint.

Some scientists already called these sites "quarry-workshops" (Straus and Otte 1998). During the Neolithic around one hundred hectares in the Spiennes-Area were to be exploited for good quality flint with thousands of deep shafts; some of them were dug down to a depth of 15-16 m.

They were narrow, at most 1-1.5 m wide. The area of underground exploitation of a shaft is estimated to have been around 40-50 m2.

The flint extracted by the Neolithic miners comes from the Spiennes Chalk Formation which belongs to the Late Cretaceous period. The Spiennes Formation is rich in large flint nodules of 10 to 60 cm thick, either black or black to grey-brown.

By the second half of the 5th millenium BCE, many flint mines, dedicated to the mass production of polished axeheads, appear in North-West Europe.

The Spiennes area was among them, at a time when those tools became common in settlement sites. The populations who exploited the mines in Spiennes belonged to the farming communities who settled the Mons Basin at the end of the 5th millennium BCE, namely the Michelsberg groups and their successors.

Faunal and  Palynological data indicate the presence of cultivated fields and cattle grazing areas in the immediate vicinity  of the flint mines. This was unique compared to most European mining sites, which are usually separated from the living sites.

The characteristics of the end products of the knapping workshops of Spiennes are very specific: they consist essentially in large axeheads (up to 28 cm long) and long and robust blades (15 to 20 cm long). They present a high degree of standardization.  Rough-outs were exchanged over a wide area, about 150 kilometers, and were often polished only at their destination.

Polishing strengthens the final product, making the axe- or adze-head last longer. The smooth surface also aids the cutting action by lowering friction with the wood.

During the Middle Neolithic an enclosed settlement was installed on the Petit-Spiennes plateau which suggests a close control of the mines during the Michelsberg period by the local population.

However, it remains open to discussion how flint mining influenced the lifestyle of the village inhabitants. What is certain is, that mining activities, as well as the production of the specific highly standardised tools linked to the mines, certainly necessitated a real know-how that would concentrated in the hands of the local population.

It is not very probable that mining activities led to an internal social stratification of the community, rather there is some evidence pointing to a seasonal organisation of mining, probable during the winter months.

Spiennes is not the only European mining site where seasonality is considered likely, as G. Roth came to the same conclusions for the Arnhofen mines in Germany (Roth 2008).