Prehistoric activity near Banholt (South Limburg)

Prehistoric activity near Banholt (South Limburg),[ a preliminary article ]
The flint mine monument at Banholt.

At Banholt ( Community of Margraten, province of Limburg), the oldest prehistoric flint mine of The Netherlands is located  at a location named "Banholtergrubbe", which has been exploited  during the Early Neolithic period (Brounen & Peeters 2001).This flint mine and its archaeological and chronological context  is described in detail  (Brounen & Peeters 2001, Van Wijk Van de Velde 2007).
The flint mine is located at a south orientated hill slope, where eluvium flint nodules outcrop together with gravels of variable size.
Eluvium flint is originally eroded out of its limestone bedrock, by dissolution over very long time time and below a thinning loess-cover ( Buurman et al 1985).

The flint nodules from different horizons are belonging to the Upper -cretaceous flint of Lanaye, just like e.g. Rijckholt flint (Felder, Rademakers & De Grooth 1998). This flint - type has different colors,  like grey and  black dotted, dark grey to black with white spots, and black flint often with a brown cortex 'liquefaction'. (Image left: a natural Banholt flint piece (left) and a part of a polished axe out of Banholt flint, found near the village of Eckelrade).

The mine recently has been  restored, refurbished official, a protected  geological and archaeological monument ( "Rijksmonument" described in Dutch in the list at number  45804.)
During the Early -Neolithic the flint mine was used  by the  LBK (Linear Band Keramik ), mainly for the production of blades, so the Monument is classified as a Neolithic Monument.The mining activities took place by digging holes in the slope, to reach the eluvium flint.( See for a picture of such a restored hole below). Part of the flint was locally processed in local ateliers.

The oldest flint mine of the Netherlands was a surface mining area, where relatively good  quality flint could be dug out of the flint eluvium ( = dissolved slopes) 

The Banholtergrubbe, a deeply carved road downhill, where the flint mine is located,  might be regarded as an old tributary of a small brook that flew downhill, more to the west, subsequently it  flew into the southwestern direction southwest, towards the hamlet of  Libeek and continuing westwards along the forest named Savelsbos where t it ended in the area named "Poelveld" to be merged into the  Maas river. One of the main sources at this Banholtergrubbe location would have been located right south of the village of  Banholt, another  spring location was located near Termaar , thus forming some of the many sources of the former brook. Despite the erosion over a very  long period, the old drain system is still visible in the landscape.
This particular combination, the availability of raw material source and water-supplies ( sources, running water)  made the area near Banholt attractive for prehistoric people to choose as a settlement- location ( temporary or  regularly).
As flint debris mainly has been defined at locations in an east -west orientation in a radius at about 200 - 300  meters around the flint mine this would be where  Neolithic  tool -production was focussed.
Not far from this area, a specific locus ( named BH-N with  an estimated surface of 15 x 10 m) reflects tool making activities, and supposed (temporary?) settlement.
A great view from the top of the mine location at Banholt. Prehistoric people would have benefit from this position in the landscape. At the background, the terril of ENCI near Maastricht
Tool production, tools to use
The Early Neolithic tool production was mainly targeted in the production of blades ( up to 10 cm long) , or, the production of transportable core tablets for the production of  blades elsewhere ( semi -finished products). Such core tablets were found in Linear Band Keramik ( LBK) settlements  in the Graetheide area ( Beek, Geleen)  and even at the Aldenhover Platte  in Germany (Brounen, 2001) .
The debitage process of ( pyramid- shaped) cores does not only produce the desired tools (i.c. blades) but in preparation of this it produces a lot of debris. This flint debris is spread over parts of the areas and is sometimes visible as large and smaller pieces of knapped flint.

Pyramidal LBK core for the production of long blades

Debris of flint- tool production
 Most of the small debris  flint particles have flown downhill, or it has been  covered with colluvial  loess- layers from the hill tops ( depending on the gradient), leaving in some areas only the more large artifacts / cores / debris  exposed at the loess surface.
At  BH-N (a code for a plowed field close to the mine area), both Neolithic production flint waste- material was found as well as small retouched flakes / blades / adapted blades, that probably have  been used as tools.
These tools mainly are distinguished from the debris  by the (semi-) regular retouched edges. After all, why place a carefully nice retouch at the blades/ flakes edges, when you are planning to distribute the products elsewhere? This gives a presumption these artifacts were used at the site during mining activities.
Not only the retouched edges were used as determinants for the tools, also the use wear of the artifacts, such as broken and damaged edges, which  were noticed often in the assemblage. In this case it is important to notice that the  same type of tool usually was made from the same type of raw material : light grey flint generally for ( small and large) blades, black flint especially for flakes and the typical translucent dark red-brown flint generally for the production of ( small sized ) trapezes.

Early Neolithic flint tool production for direct use,( left ) with retouched edges . The two items at the right are trapeze points.

The artifacts partially could be regarded as secondary used debitage waste, i.c. blades, with sometimes  a partially cortex cover with only one retouched edge. The other part of the artifacts could either be interpret as real tools on blades  ( trapeze points, scrapers, drills) or as  flakes with retouched edges / transformed edge - forms. Such artifacts are supposing to have served during daily activities such as cutting meals, cleaning bones, hunting, etc.

Transitional phase?
The context of the locus is a loess -surface, disturbed by agricultural activities.  Artifacts are found in the loess, whereby   some locations show a mix of very small gravels (indicating a temporary flush at exposed surfaces during or after the Neolithic). Several artifacts ( retouched blades, micro-drills) have dimensions indicate the Mesolithic period, or at least attribute them to people with a nomadic lifestyle.Small trapeze points (ca 5 mm) and retouched bladelets (wide & lt; 1 cm) are suggesting a Mesolithic date for these artifacts, especially because  the of the non local / fluvial raw flint type, used for some of these tools.Very small flint cores point in the same direction.
It is at least interesting to investigate the use of the Banholt- type flint by possible Late -Mesolithic hunter- gatherers. The question is also, if these tools belong to Mesolithic (semi-) hunter gatherer groups of the Late Mesolithic and if this would imply a possible settlement- location for this group. So far, only 20- 30 bladelets drills,  small trapezes and two possible microliths have been found, .

Some preliminary conclusions 
Large scale tool production was an aim of the exploitation of the flint mine of Banholt during the Early and Middle -Neolithic.( find of a part of a polished Neolithic axe made of Banholt flint, is an argument  for the use of the mine during the Middle Neolithic MK -period)   Possibly, the surface was dwelled already by Mesolithic hunter -gatherers to obtain high quality flint ( better than the fluvial type, though this was used as well). The absence of the loess layers and  limestone bedrock, made the top of the hill sensible for erosion during the Mesolithic, so trees and bush did not grow high and were easy to clear. An easy- to- clear area probably was preferred for settlement during the Late- Mesolithic in the region,  as other find- locations of Mesolithic tools in the region always were at locations with a calcareous soil ( Aachen-Seffent -Wilkinsberg (D), Montagne St. Pierre -Caster(B), Maastricht Neercanne (NL). This soil type was preferred for other reasons : it was warming up quickly, flint nodules could be expected at tree falls, the soil type has a good drain and dries quickly.  During  tool production, the tool makers had to stay at the site for some time to carry out the tasks.  For this reason, tools for daily use were necessary.
So the finds of a broad scale of  functional tools, like scrapers, backed knives and drills are suggesting a ( (semi-)  permanent stay nearby the flint mine site, maybe during the mining and tool producing activities. The same situation was found at flint sources of  Rullen (B) and at Rijckholt (NL). At Banholtergrubbe, at least three different locations were noticed where flint was knapped ( ateliers).
There is a possibility, the location was not only visited for mining and the production of tools, but also because it was "a very  good inland -place to stay  ", near many water sources and a flint source. The fact, the village of Banholt lies at the top of a hill with a splendid view over the whole south- western to north - western region would have played another important role, to settle here, at least for some period of time.

Possible Neolithic or Mesolithic tools from Banholt -BH-N (1) Burins occur frequently.

Possible Mesolithic tools from Banholt -BH-N (2)

Neolithic blade fragments, often used for trapeze points

Orange- slice type flake made by the people of the Late Linear Band Keramik, ca 5000 BC. Partially retouched and used as a  concave side -scraper. Such tools  mainly were reported from Belgium (Cahen et al. 1986; Hauzeur ed. 2011  98: fig 75)

Typical flint core tablets  and blades from the later Liner Bandkeramik ( 5000 BC) found at Locus BH-N

Retouched Neolithic artifacts: top = backed knife, bottom = retouched flake

Retouched microliths and small flint implements  from the area of Banholt/  Bruisterbosch, reflecting use in a nomadic lifestyle, possible during the Late Mesolithic( trapeze points)

What looks like a carved piece of bone material, found among the artifacts. It is unknown if there is any relation between this objects and the tools
A fossilized molar of a ruminant from a prehistoric brook valley near Banholt.
It is not easy to find small implements, but yes, all these implements are retouched, some of them with an alternate retouch, other with simple plate retouch or an inverse plate retouch

Microliths and microblades from a Mesolithic site near Banholt.


Amkreutz L (2010)  "All quiet on the northwestern front?"An overview and preliminary analysis of the past decade of LBK-research in the Netherlands more; Verlag des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums Mainz
Buurman, P.; Jongmans, A.G.; Broekhuizen, J.; Miedema, R. (1985)    Genesis of the flint eluvium and related beds in South Limburg, The Netherlands ; Geol. Mijnbouw 64 (1985) 89-102            [Laboratorium voor Bodemkunde en geologie (Laboratory of Soil Science and Geology]

Brounen, F.T.S., & H. Peeters (2000/2001) Vroeg-neolithische vuursteenwinning en -bewerking in de Banholtergrubbe (Banholt, gem. Margraten), Archeologie 10, 133-150.
Felder, P.J., P.C.M. Rademakers & M. E. Th. de Grooth  (1998) Excavations of prehistoric flint mines at Rijckholt-St.Geertruid (Limburg, The Netherlands). (= Archäologische Berichte 12).

Hauzeur, I. Jadin et C. Jungels.(Ed.) (2011)   5000 ans avant J.-C., la grande migration ? : le Néolithique ancien dans la collection Louis Éloy / sous la direction de A- Bruxelles : Ministère de la Communauté française. Direction de la culture. Service du patrimoine culturel, 
Vanmontfort, B. 2007: Bridging the gap. The Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in a frontierzone, PDF  Documenta Praehistorica XXXIV, 105-118.

Van Wijk, I &  Van de Velde, P (2007) Terug naar de Bandkeramiek, in: 10 jaar Archol: van contract tot wetenschap, Leiden, pp. 131-150;
An article in Dutch  by Jan.Frans Kloosterman at his weblog, De jonge steentijd van Banholt

SCARF 5.2.1 Small knapped  tools  such as scrapers and blades

see also at this blog  ARbannig Regional Litograph Library : Banholt flint