Neolithic Flint Mines at Spiennes (Mons)
Neolithic Flint Mines At Spiennes (Mons)
Cultural Belgium Europe And North America Province Of Hainaut, Wallonia Region

The arrival of the Neolithic cultures marked a major milestone in human cultural and technological development, which is vividly illustrated by the vast complex of ancient flint mines at Spiennes. The mines at Spiennes provide exceptional testimony to early human inventiveness and application. The mining centres, like the higher settlements, show there were already major changes taking place in Europe in the 5th and 4th millennia BCE. They constitute a landmark between the first settled communities and the emergence, probably in the Bronze Age, of true 'clan centres'.

The process of change throughout Europe is represented in Spiennes by the Michelsberg Culture, which was present in the middle Neolithic over a vast territory, including a large part of Germany, Belgium and northern France. Spiennes is a remarkable example of this culture because it has two characteristic sites: a fortified settlement on high ground and a vast flint mine.

The flint mines at Spiennes are outstanding examples of the lithic mining of flint, which marked a seminal stage of human technological and cultural progress. Spiennes is one of the best known examples of prehistoric flint mining. Its shafts are among the deepest ever sunk to extract this raw material. The exceptional size of the blocks of flint that were extracted shows how skilled the Neolithic miners must have been. The technique of 'striking', which is characteristic of Spiennes, was developed to allow these blocks to be extracted. The quality of the worked artefacts is one of the most remarkable illustrations of the great skill of the craftsmen, who produced extremely regular blades and axes 25cm long.

The Spiennes mines, covering more than 100ha, are the largest and earliest concentration of ancient mines in Europe. The mining site, 6 km south-east of Mons, occupies two chalk plateaux separated by the Trouille valley, a tributary of the Haine. The mines were in operation for many centuries and the remains vividly illustrate the development and adaptation of technology by prehistoric man over time in order to exploit large deposits of a material that was essential for the production of tools and implements, and hence for cultural evolution generally.

Underground flint mining was taking place there from the second half of the 5th millennium BCE (between 4400 and 4200 BCE), making Spiennes one of the oldest mining sites in Europe. Several dates show that mining activity went on, apparently without interruption, from the beginning of the middle Neolithic until the late Neolithic period. The considerable number of artefacts discovered at Spiennes, and more particularly the pottery, give a fairly precise picture of which human groups were engaged in underground flint mining. Spiennes was also important during the Metal Ages. Remains probably linked to settlements can be attributed to the late Bronze Age (8th or 7th centuries BCE) and the second Iron Age.

The first archaeological discoveries of prehistoric mine shafts were made in the 1840s, but it was not until 1867, when the Mons-Chimay railway line cut part of the Petit-Spiennes plateau, that more systematic work took place. Ever since the reporting of these discoveries to the Royal Academy of Belgium the following year, the mines have been intensively studied, with major excavation programmes in 1912-14 and continuously since 1953.

Currently 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 man. The authenticity of the Neolithic flint mines of Spiennes is total. Many have never been excavated and those which are open to the public are in their original condition, with the exception of some modern shoring and props for security reasons.