About microliths in the South -Limburg area (NL/B)

 The title of this article is a bit misleading as this article is not about  what we would normally call 'microliths'. Nevertheless, the artifacts discussed in this article are of such small dimensions, that a comparison between these very small tools and microlithis is not entirely inappropriate.
This article is a about very small prehistoric flint tools, only in size and retouch -type referring to the well known microliths. Microliths however were produced by a predetermined chaine operatoire, predicting their size and shape. Several small tools, discussed in this article most certainly are within this group, others don't .
Microliths are well defined (as being Mode 5 tool technology (1)):  they are either laminar truncated blades (referring to  the Early - Middle Mesolithic period) or geometric (referring to the Late Mesolithic and Neolithic period).
By the microburin technique a variety of tools could be produced, and for South- Limburg this technique marks the Mesolithic period. 
The finds of microliths however is very controversial, as microliths are possibly not indicating the Mesolithic period at all.In this article we first look at the traditional microliths from the adjacent sandy area, as an example, the Belgian Kempen area.

Microliths and Mesolithic flint implements from the adjacent Kempen area

Microliths from the Belgian Kempen area are generally made of  flint from the regional terrace gravels of the Maas river.( e.g. Luypaert,  De Bie and  Vermeersch,1994, Van Gils& De Bie, 2002).
Examples of some of such surface collected Mesolithic flint tools are presented below.

Microliths from the Belgian Kempen area, made in a microblade technique.


 Blade cores, secondary used as  tools ( scrapers)

 Rounded scraper

Tools made of Wommersom quartzite. The far right is a setup of a microburin.

 Mesolithic cores

 Various flint implements

"Large" tools from a Mesolithic site in the Kempen area

South Limburg: a complex situation.
Microliths as  functional tools  fit in a nomadic lifestyle.  Usually, microliths are found in Mesolithic contexts, where tool typology is the leading factor for determination. In the absence of such guide type artifacts, everything becomes unclear and uncertain. Especially in possible mixed contexts, it is hard or even impossible to divide the periods from each other. 
The complexity for South Limburg starts with the Late -Mesolithic transition, as the Linear Band Keramik  LBK suddenly appears in the record. The LBK has a possible overlay with Mesolithic cultures, visible e.g. in the ( evolution of) asymmetric triangle shaped points (Vanmontfort, 2007). For an overview of this problem I can simply refer to this paper ( see references at the bottom of this article).
The complexity is in my opinion also the long continuous period  for the Mesolithic, as with the rise of the Neolithic, the Mesolithic did not end, at least this is established  for the adjacent area (Kempen, Middle-  Limburg and possible in the sandy area of the German Selfkant). For South Limburg this is unclear. The absence of convenient comparable sites is not an indication for the absence of the Mesolithic, as it is possible new, pure Mesolithic sites exist in South Limburg. Time will tell.
The Linear Band Keramik (LBK ) period
Occupation during the LBK has been observed for the region of  Dutch Graetheide, at the German Aldenhover Platte and in  the Belgian Hesbaye.  The empty space in between is South Limburg. Single finds of  LBK presence in this part of the region are noticed (e.g. the find of a typical asymmetric LBK -point from De Kaap, near Rijckholt) see elsewhere at this blog.  The LBK used the flint mines  in that location ( partially  the ( surface)  flint mine of Ryckholt, but especially of Banholt has been exploited by the LBK)..The aim for the mining of this flint was the production of blades ( and blade tablets for the export). Vanmontfort mentions however, the "LBK settled in areas only marginally exploited by hunter - gatherers ", (Vanmontfort, 2007)  suggesting the 'empty' hillside of South- Limburg was inhabited by hunter -gatherers.This situation would be remarkable , as the flint mines in this area were used by the LBK. At ateliers  near such flint mines, the author found many small tools, that most likely must have been used  during the mining activities,  so in that case , the LBK would have operated all the time in hunter - gatherer- territory. The use of the flint mines also can be regarded as "excursions"of the LBK from their original occupation territory (Brounen/ Peeters, 2001).
The case is more complex, also because of the occurrence of microblades in the wider region.
The MK period

At  some Michelsberg culture (Michelsberg Kultur , MK) -sites in South - Limburg  the presence of microblades and tools made of  microblades is noticed. There are various explanations for this. Vermeersch   and Verhart  believe  the MK  has taken over this tradition , the artifacts would have been  obtained by simultaneous late Mesolithic groups (Scheurs, 2005). Or, they believe the microliths would have been picked up elsewhere and brought in their own lifestyle ( an option, but  I do not believe this at all).
The most likely option is, ( and also stated  by Scheurs, is  the same location where we find both microliths and Neolithic flint implements, has been reused during both periods , so the Mesolithic and Neolithic material is mixed, building up the palimpsest.

 Microblades  from St. -Geertruid - Rijckholt. Finds of large quantities of such blades could  refer to the production of such blades for Late Mesolithic groups from the region. It could also refer to a standardized mass- production of semi-finished products for the hunting weaponry of the Michelsberg Culture. These microblades come from the surface where a bleached loess/ loamy - loess layer was visible.

The only well  studied Mesolithic site in South -Limburg has been found in Sweikhuizen (Wouters, 1953, Willems 1971). The flint used  for the production of tools  at this site is of the fluvial type, as we find a lot in the adjacent Belgian Kempen /Campine  region.The microliths of this site however, were extremely patinated (white)  making it impossible to draw any conclusions about the origin of the material  in a macroscopic examination (Willems , 1971). The points  found here were surface retouched which would place them in the Middle  Mesolithic period. For an image of these microliths, see the PDF article from the magazine "Grondboor en Hamer". 
Eighty five flint cores were found at this location, of which twenty  were altered in a white color, and these cores were small, irregular and  did have  about the same dimensions. Only small flakes were taken off the cores. Many Neolithic finds from the same site illustrate the favorite location during the prehistoric period.

Mesolithic tools from South -Limburg

Microliths in the blade- technology are rare in my observations.  However microblades occur more frequently and are found in  the south west part of South -Limburg and the adjacent area (Belgium: Visé -Caster, Heyoule, Anixhe- Liers). The original context of these microblades remains unclear, not only by the fact these are surface finds. At Rijckholt and at Rullen and in the Hesbaye region, the author noticed large quantities of such microblades at flint tool- production sites, as if they were made in a standardized production method. Such production method in itself refers to the Early - Middle Neolithic period  (Michelsberg Culture) and the whole  production strategy (i.c. mass-production vs.  restricted use in the group )is only possible if large quantities of good quality flint are available.
This reflects either a sudden Late Mesolithic standardization (followed by a logic exploitation of the mines for the production of Neolithic tools)  or a contemporaneous production of microblades during the MK- phase.
The question is also, what the microblades were used for ( scrapers, cutting tools, or for the production of  more developed tools such as microliths?).
As for the micro -flint tools  in this article, they can be considered "microliths s.l. "or  "very small tools ", because they are flaked and ( very)  irregular in shape and in position of the retouch and do not fit in a geometric framework.
It also looks like such microliths have been made 'ad-hoc' from the available waste, but for me this is still uncertain (2).
 An example of such a microlith s.l. is given in the image below

Very small tool ( triangle shaped, 1 cm x 1 cm x 0, 7 cm , thick 2 mm), or because of its irregular shape, a microlith s.l. Hafting of a microlith like this is possible, but not likely because of its irregular form.

The found 'microliths s.l.' are variable in shape  but shaped in the form of very thin flakes/ blade forms , they often seem to have served as cutting tools.

Thick ( up to 1,5 cm thick) small tools, forming rounded scrapers, unifacial backed knives form a different group of tool types, found in South Limburg.

 Retouched flint implements with larger dimensions show the same hodgepodge in tool forms. Though the tools give a rather messy impression, the retouched cutting edge makes them an appropriate tool: such non -geometric and non -standardized tools were probably not used with hafts.

The retouch often has not been placed over the whole edge of the artifact, but only at the adequate place: i.c . the small straight part of the edge. This must have been sufficient and satisfactory.

Microliths s.s. and  very small retouched flakes /blades from South Limburg

 Microliths from a site at Banholt. Small microblades , truncated blades, small backed knives as well as small retouched microflakes occur, proving  the presence of Mesolithic hunter- gatherers  in the area


Information from numerous excavations in the adjacent areas prove hunter -gatherer groups in the sandy areas, adjacent to South Limburg,  used fluvial flint for the production of their tools during the Mesolithic. This can easily be explained, as such groups were dwelling in the river valleys of their territory using the visible raw materials available visible outside the heavy vegetation all around.
The Rijckholt -flint type ( which could originally come from the wider region around Ryckholt)  was also found in in the French Lorraine region near Thionville, in the form of micro-blades, in a pure Mesolithic context. 
The question is, why Mesolithic hunter -gatherers, used fluvial flint from the terrace gravels  for the production of microliths and did not use the well known flint mines of e.g. Rijckholt, nearly 30 km further.
At first, during the Middle- Late Mesolithic period this is explainable, though the vegetation during the Mesolithic and Neolithic was not very different, so there was a dense vegetation, with bad conditions to find flint at the surface.
The  hunter gatherers dispersed more inland during the Late -Mesolithic, in declining territories and possibly in a more semi-sedentary lifestyle, based on seasonal activities.
The flint mines of Rijckholt / Banholt must have been well known by the native population, that used the valuable eluvium flint mines for their tools. Hence the microblades, made of Ryckholt flint and found in in a pure Mesolithic context in Lorraine, can fully underline this statement. Moreover, finds of many flint tools that fit into a nomadic lifestyle near the flint mines is also an indication the flint mines possibly could have been used by a regional  population with nomadic lifestyle.
The Belgian Kempen and the Dutch Middle -Limburg  area might have served as a 'reserve' for people with a nomadic lifestyle during the MKI/ MKII period (3) ( Vermeersch, Verhart), as those that changed to a full Neolithic lifestyle needed more land for agricultural activities and keeping their cattle.This would be visible in the spatial distribution of microliths.
Vanmontfort mentions the fact archaeologically the native population is almost invisible due to their undiagnostic toolkit (Vanmontfort, 2007).  The use of microliths s.l. or the use of a large hodgepodge of very small ( unhafted)  tools ( 1-2 cm)  by native people not far from  local flint-mines or right in the flint mine territory,  could fit in this picture and explain the invisibility of the local hunter- gatherer population.
This is underlined by Rozoy, stating that at the end of the Mesolithic retouched flakes appear without any determined shape( Rozoy, 1995).
 It is also remarkable, the disappearance of people with a nomadic lifestyle in the Belgian Kempen area  at ca 4000 BC would have been coincident with the start of underground mining activities of Rijckholt. 

- to be continued/ updated....

(1) In this article, microliths of the Palaeolithic period are not discussed.
(2) During a field prospection, it is not possible to collect such microliths  by its predicted  shape, meaning you have to pick up every small piece of flint to see if it has any remarks for being used as a tool. For this reason, the author makes prospections of many days at a single  field.
(3) MK I  ca. 4.200 - 4.075  BC. MK II ca. 4.075 - 3 950 BC


Brounen, F.T.S., & H. Peeters ( 2000 -2001) Vroeg-neolithische vuursteenwinning en -bewerking in de Banholtergrubbe (Banholt, gem. Margraten), Archeologie 10, 133-150.
Luypaert, I.; De Bie, M.; Vermeersch, P.M. ( 1994)  Dilsen-Dilserheide III (prov. Limburg).Midden-Neolithisch aardewerk op een Laat Mesolithisch site  PDF
Rozoy,  J.G. (1995) Le mode de vie au mésolithique  PDF,
L'Europe des derniers chasseurs 5ème Colloque international UISPP 18-23 septembre 1995 p. 39-50.
Scheurs, J.    ( 2005)  Het midden Neolithicum in Zuid-Nederland  Archeologie 11/12  pp 306 
Van Gils , M & De Bie, M (2002)  Uitgestrekte mesolithische site-complexen inde Kempen. Ravels Witgoor en Opglabbeek Ruiterskuilen-Turfven (boorcampagne 2002)
Vanmontfort , B (2007) Bridging the gap, Mesolithic- Neolithic transition in a frontierzone PDF ; Documenta Praehistorica XXXIV, 4-15
Willems, J.H. ( 1971) Opmerkingen over de herkomst van het lithische materiaal

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