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Tracing humanity's first miners

Dotted with thousands of mine shafts, the Spiennes archaeological site – four miles from Mons – extends over 250 acres.

It provides evidence of the evolution of the first settled societies and its terrain offers exceptional research possibilities.

Discovered in 1867 while digging a trench for the Mons-Chimay railway line, the site has been in excavation ever since. The oldest mines or cutting workshops found at the site date back 6400 years.

The men who began digging the mines at the Spiennes site were among humanity's earliest miners. They had discovered a rich, high-quality deposit, which was subsequently exploited for over 1800 years. In total, 250 acres were exploited and thousands of shafts were dug.

Thanks to their success with agriculture, the populations of the late 5th millennium and 4th millennium BC experienced rapid growth. Villages multiplied in number and so the requirements for flint increased too. Tools also evolved, giving rise to new equipment such as the woodcutter's flint axe blade.

In Spiennes, the exploitation of flint occurred as a result of these new requirements. Miners not only extracted the raw material, but also worked it, in most cases on site. Production was geared towards the manufacture of axe blades in standardised shapes and sizes.

As production increased, the work became more specialised. Miners demonstrated an astounding knowledge of geology. They knew the quality of the different banks, as well as their location underground. They wouldn't hesitate to dig to a depth of 16 metres in search of large slabs of flint weighing several hundred kilos. They developed systems for underground exploitation and passed this knowledge down from generation to generation in what became a long tradition.

The tools produced at the Spiennes site can be found in Neolithic villages over 40 miles away. It is plausible that Spiennes became a specialised centre for extraction and manufacturing, serving a vast region.

Like the other monuments included on the World Heritage List, the Spiennes Neolithic flint mines reflect the inventiveness of human beings. Due to the site's archaeological potential, it constitutes a font of knowledge for future generations and, as such, deserves to be preserved.

Besides the incredible quantity of shards of flint scattered among the ground in Spiennes – evidence that after being brought up, the flint was worked on site – excavations have brought to light thousands of objects, including axes, flint blades, pottery, as well as animal remains and human skeletons. Nearby, a Neolithic village with outer walls has been identified.

 

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