Neolithic Flint Mines of Spiennes

Spiennes, Belgium

The Neolithic flint mines of Spiennes are among the largest and earliest Neolithic flint mines of north-western Europe, located close to Walloon village of Spiennes. The mines were active during the mid and late Neolithic (4300–2200 BC).

The mines occupy two chalk plateaux located to the south-east of the city of Mons. They cover an area essentially devoted to agriculture. The site appears on the surface as a large area of meadows and fields strewn with millions of scraps of worked flint. Underground, the site is an immense network of galleries linked to the surface by vertical shafts dug by Neolithic populations.

The Spiennes flint Mines are the largest and earliest concentration of ancient mines of north-west Europe. The mines were in operation for many centuries and the remains vividly illustrate the development and adaptation of mining techniques employed by prehistoric populations in order to exploit large deposits of a material that was essential for the production of tools and cultural evolution generally. They are also remarkable by the diversity of technical mining solutions implemented and by the fact that they are directly linked to a habitat contemporary to them.

In the Neolithic period, (from the last third of the 5th millennium until the first half of the 3rd millennium), the site was the centre of intensive flint mining present underground. Different techniques were used, the most spectacular and characteristic of which was the digging out of shafts of 0.8 to 1.20m in diameter with a depth down to 16 metres. Neolithic populations could thus pass below levels made up of large blocks of flint (up to 2m in length) that they extracted using a particular technique called ‘striking’ (freeing from below with support of a central chalk wall, shoring up of the block, removal of the wall, removal of the props and lowering of the block). The density of the shafts is important, as many as 5,000 in the zone called Petit Spiennes (14 ha), leading to criss-crossing of pits and shafts in some sectors.

Stone-working workshops were associated with these mining shafts as is witnessed by numerous fragments of flint still present on the surface and which give its name to a part of the site, Camp à Cayaux (Stone Field). Essentially the production aimed at the manufacture of axes to fell trees and long blades to be transformed into tools. The standardisation of the production bears witness to the highly skilled craftsmanship of the stone-cutters of the flint of Spiennes. The vestiges of a fortified camp have also been discovered at the site comprising two irregular concentric pits at a distance of 5 to 10m. The archaeological artefacts discovered are characteristic of the Michelsberg culture discovered in the mining sector.

The site and its surroundings were added to the UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 2000.

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