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Neolithic Flint Mines at Spiennes

Neolithic Flint Mines at Spiennes
The Neolithic flint mines at Spiennes, covering more than 100 ha, are the largest and earliest concentration of ancient mines in Europe. They were actively used from 4400 - 2000 years B.C. The extraction was carried out in open quarries and in pits.

Flint is found in chalkland, there it forms layers within beds of chalk. It's an easy to shape material, with sharp edges. From the early beginnings, humans used flint tools for personal use. For example to make robust axes (to be used by hand or with a wooden grip).

Probably there are thousands of pits in this area. There is no horizontal network that joins them. When a new pit was hewn out, the older pit was used to dump the rocks. It all was done on quite a small scale: no residential area was found near the mines, the flintknappers came from kilometers away. The site was used for excavations by numerous generations.

Visit May 2004

Last months, I enjoyed the 'discussion' below among the visitors about how to get to the mines in Spiennes (and even more important - how to get in). But gradually the basic visitor information became clear: there are guided tours on the first Sunday every month, and you have to be very alert in the town of Spiennes to spot the site. To make it even easier: via the link 'Mining site of Spiennes' above there's access to a map.

Besides an extra round on the Mons Ring road (there's only a small sign to Beaumont), I had no trouble finding it. In Spiennes the 'minieres' are even signposted. From above the ground the site looks remarkable like any farming field. The archeological excavations are limited to two areas: one official site and one for volunteers.

One of the guides showed me around. First to some open excavations on the surface. After that we descended a steep iron ladder, to get 10 meter below the ground. Here we arrived in a well-lit cave network (the electrical lights only recently installed). The difference between the white chalk and the 2 flintlayers was clearly visible. The guide explained the techniques used by the neolithic people to get to the flint. It was a tough and patient job, carried out precisely. An amazing experience to stand here thousands of years later.


Clyde (Malta):
I finally visited this WHS in April 2015. I say finally because I had been wanting to visit and 'complete' Belgium's WHS since 2012 when the site was closed to build a visitor centre and make it more accessible. The site was planned to reopen as early as 2013 but a series of postponements meant that the new interpretation centre was only inaugurated on Easter Saturday, 4th April 2015. The easter weekend was advertised as Mons' celebration period as European Capital of Culture 2015 and Silex's interpretation centre was only 1 of 5 new museums inaugurated during that weekend with free entrance. Well, I seized the opportunity and visited Mons and Spiennes. By car, Silex's is best reached through Hyon as now there are several signposts indicating the way to the site and there's only a short 10 minute walk on a flat terrain making the site wheelchair accessible. Otherwise the site is reachable through Nouvelles where again there are a series of signposts indicating the way to a dead-end amidst the Belgian countryside and fields. Cars can be parked here and a 12 minute walk on a muddy terrain past a 1915 aqueduct and water management area and a fleet of stairs lead you to the new interpretation centre. I opted for the latter only because I had time to kill and enjoyed some birdwatching along the way. The Silex interpretation centre proper seems quite futuristic and out of place compared to its surroundings yet at least the WHS is much more accessible and the experience is more informative overall. Outside the centre there were several excavations still going on and many archaeologists willing to explain the importance and the OUV of the 6000 year old site in Spiennes. Inside the interpretation centre there are several flintstones and tools displayed, many information boards, a projection room to enjoy a virtual descent into the mine with panoramic photography. To be able to descend the now fully lit Neolithic mine is quite a tall order in bureaucratic terms. However, where there's a will there's a way and by booking ahead from the tourist information office at the Grand Place in Mons I managed to be one of the 12 lucky visitors who got to climb down the extremely safe wide ladder (it's not the black narrow iron one any longer!) with a harness, a helmet, headlamp and IMHO excessive safety gear. The extra ventilation, lighting and safety surely comes with a hefty price tag, now costing 18 euros instead of the cheap 2,50 euro ticket charged until 4 years ago. For WHS enthusiasts, I would say it's a must to visit to get the full unique experience. That said, it really is nothing special (aesthetically) when compared to other WHS mines I visited worldwide. The most interesting geoligical fact I learnt from visiting this site was that raw flintstone is white from the outside and blackish grey inside. However I could have safely learnt that without descending the mine itself. Only a maximum of 5500 people annually are supposed to visit the mine by descending the ladder but I don't think that there will actually be that much of a demand contrary to what is the case with other WHS such as the Lascaux cave, the Chauvet grotto or the Altamira cave. It's worth mentioning that it's not possible to descend on Mondays and it's always better to call the Mons tourist information office to get an English archaeologist/guide and ensure that there are enough visitors on a given day (12 people minimum). The full experience including the descent to the mine will last around 2.5 hours.
Date posted: April 2015
Nigel Ellam (UK):
Very poorly signposted and when we eventually found it all that was there were remains of excavations in a cleared site, no-one about. Probably v important site, obviously hearts of knapped flints everywhere. One to tick off if you are collecting sites, we were passing nearby to see the canal lifts too, and Tournai (also disappointed due to rebuilding until 2016!) 9th July 2011
Date posted: July 2011
Ian Cade (England):
After hearing about how tricky it can be to gain access to this site, I figured it should be my aim to get to them as I visit Belgium pretty regularly. Now that the official website has all the relevant information and an exceptionally useful map, mixed with the end of my studies meant that a visit was possible. With the map it was pretty easy to find the site and there are a few small signs to point you there from the village of Spiennes.
We turned up just as a group was going down, so after a brief introduction we followed them down. The mine we visited was 8-10 metres deep and to gain access to it you have a nice climb down a ladder. The main part of the mine was tall enough to stand in and had several different shafts. There were numerous different chambers, and you could see how they were sculpted and where the flint came from, in places there were even marks left by the Neolithic men who dug the flint out.
Our particularly friendly guide was very knowledgeable and described everything we needed to know for a good understanding of these 6,000 year old mines. He also described how tourism in the mines worked. They are open 10 days a year and on average get about 150-200 visitors a year. It was a decision of a local politician in Mons to put the site forward as a WHS. An inspired choice it is not just a run of the mill World Heritage site. He also described some long term aims to explore a few of the other 10,000 mines in the area and potentially to build visitor centres and showcase them in a more tourist friendly way, without making it to "Disney". At the moment the biggest move forward has been to put lights in the main mine.
At the end of the tour we were shown an on going excavation. Then we were shown, and allowed to handle, some of the tools used and produced in the mines. This was a great way to spend a morning and the staff were so friendly and informative. This is a place well of the tourist track, certainly a place I would have even heard of if it had not been for its listing but definitely worth making the effort to get to. A great choice as a World Heritage Site.
Date posted: October 2005
Katarina hernandez (USA):
I think that your site is very informational on the mines in sienna, but i also think that you should have more information of the makers of the mines- information on the neolithic man. if you have any info on neolithic man would you please find time to e-mail me today- please
Date posted: September 2005
Jean-Louis Dubois (Belgium):
I would like to say there is now a Web site about this wonderful place, with some explanations about Spiennes, flintsones, the mines, etc. and an access map, to avoid getting lost. Visits are possible every first sunday of teh month
Date posted: July 2005
Christer Sundberg (Sweden):
During a trip to Belgium in June 2004 and specifically to the Wallonian area I had decided to visit the Neolitic Mines of Spiennes as my 138th World Heritage Site. Having arrived in the city of Mons, I jumped into a taxi heading for the small village of Spiennes were I had made an appointment with archeologist Helen Collet who was going to show me the site. She was waiting for me and we drove off to the first of the two archeological sites while telling me that the whole area of Spiennes is scattered with over 1000 Neolithic mines, holes in the ground, around 4-12 meters deep, where the ancient Neolithic men dug for flint stone about 4000 years BC. “Tools made from Spiennes flint has been found as far as in eastern Germany”, Helen continued. “But unfortunately we have only been able to investigate two mines so far. But these two are very deep, something that is quite unusual from that period”.

The first of the two sites was housed inside a small building on top of the first “hole”, built by the archeologists who first discovered the mines in the late 19th century and now the office for the archeological investigations. After a coffee and some initial discussions about Neolithic mining with Helen and her husband Michel who now had joined the party, it was time to enter the underworld. My outfit of the day was completely discarded by Helen and Michel in favor of some more suitable clothes and a helmet. The min to be entered was about 16 meters deep and having been secured with an extra rope I descended down a slippery ladder into the world of the Neoliths. Helen climbed down after me and together we crawled round in the mine which was not more than 70 centimeters high and about 5 meters deep - indeed a claustrophobic experience. Crawling back up the ladder again also reminded me that I’m 41 years old and smoking too much and after surfacing and coughing for about 10 minutes, Helen told me that we now were going to the second hole....puh!

The second hole was located on the other side of the small village and actually much easier to access. Not only was it just 10 meters deep but also spacious enough allowing you to stand straight up once down. Here it was also easier to study the work of the Neolithic man and understand how they had dug the mine and the techniques used.

Visiting Spiennes was quite a unique experience and I would like to extend my big thanks to Helen and Michele for guiding me and learning me more both about modern archeology as well as Neolitic mining. The only downside is the fact that the City of Mons is not promoting the site what-so-ever. It is therefore hard to find and not possible to access unless you contact Helen in advance.
Mark Bracken (United States Of America):
This was a facinating experience! I am a "full-time" Flintknapper making my living by knapping flint. This site demonstrates the high prehistoric value of good quality knappable stone. The labor to extract this flint is staggering! Our visit was arranged by Pascal Chauvaux of Belgium. It was difficult to find, but find it we did!
Thanks for the incredible tour! Thanks Pascal!
Terry Keefer (U. S. Pennsylvania):
Visited the site a few weeks ago. We found the on site archeologists very informative.Helene Collet afterword followed us to the museum to share more information. This area is a great experience for anyone interested in pre- history and flint technology.
Terry Keefer
Lucien Franck (belgium):
You can visit the mines every first sunday of the month. It's a very interesting experience and the guides are very kind.
Björn Wahlin (Sweden):
Neolithic Mines at Spiennes.
I have 'visited' this place twice, in 2001 and 2002.
As you say, it does not seem to exist, at least it is impossible to find. When you reach the village Spiennes, the site is clearly marked with signs 'Sites prehistoire de Spiennes', but when you have gone through the village, all traces disappear. There is no way to find out where to go. I went to the tourist office in Mons, and they had a brochure saying that the site is closed until further notice, because of the dangerous condition of the site.
But why do they insist on having the signs along the streets???
Of my 230 sites, this has been the most disappointing.
I tried to visit the Flint Mines at Spiennes this 6th October 2002, but there was no possibility to visit, nor any indication whatsoever of Time when this was possible etc.

Needless to say I was very disappointed.....

The mines are probably very interesting but the visiting organisation is a disaster.....

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Site info

Neolithic Flint Mines at Spiennes (Mons)
Country: Belgium
Inscribed: 2000
Cultural Heritage
Criteria:  (1) (3) (4)
Category: Archaeological site, Prehistoric Secular structure, Mines

Site history:
2000 Inscribed
Reasons for inscription

Site links

Official website:
»Mines de Spiennes

In the news:
» New museum at Spiennes opens weekend of 4 and 5 april (24-03-2015).
» Flint mines closed until Q2 2014 (06-03-2013).
» The Flint Mines at Spiennes will be closed until 2013 (10-03-2011).

Related links:
» Website of the museum.

Getting there

This WHS has 1 location(s).


Neolithic age .
Human Activity
Stone Quarries .
Built in the 5th millennium BC .
Purpose Built Visitor Centre . Subterranean Cultural Sites .
WHS Hotspots
Brussels hotspot .
WHS on Other Lists
European Capital of Culture .

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