Raw material exploitation strategies on the flint mining site of Spiennes (Hainaut, Belgium)
The flint mines of Spiennes (Hainaut Province, Belgium) are among the most important mining sites in Europe as evidenced by the huge extension of the site and its very long duration of occupation, probably covering a period between 4350 and 2300 BCE. What explains such a spectacular achievement? The paper first explores the geological constraints but also the social and material conditions that made possible such a continuity of mining activities. The site of Spiennes offers both extremely rich flint resources and a specific geographical configuration that made the discovery and the exploitation of the deposit relatively easy in the Neolithic. The paper next focuses on deducing the mining strategies implemented to extract good quality raw materials on basis of both stratigraphical evidence and the flint productions in direct relation with the mines. The mining strategies variability from a synchronic and a diachronic point of view as well as the knapping techniques implemented will be analysed. These are then put into perspective with what is known of the social context in which the mining activities took place. At the turn of the 5th and the 4th millennium BCE a permanent settlement was built near the mining site. As the Michelsberg populations who exploited the mines in Spiennes were first and foremost farmers, this leads us to propose a tentative hypothesis about the seasonality of the mining activities. Living close to a hugely rich flint deposit, these farmers were able to develop sometimes complex mining techniques to reach specific seams, deemed adequate for the production of standardised axeheads and blades. Century-old traditions, group specialisation in mining and knapping and close social control of flint resources allowed the mines to dominate the raw material supply of the Mons Basin for centuries.
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