Krzemionki prehistoric striped flint mining region
The Krzemionki prehistoric striped flint mining region is a group of 4 mining sites dating back to from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age.
There are more than 4000 mine shafts known with depths of 9 meters deep with wells measuring from four to twelve metres in diameter. The striped flint was used mainly for axe-making: its products have been found as far as 660km away.
Map of Krzemionki prehistoric striped flint mining regionLoad map
Visit June 2019
The Krzemionki Prehistoric Striped Flint Mining Region has been included in the List this year. ICOMOS in its evaluation had asked for a Referral, mostly because of the need for adequate protection of all its components and the implementation of the management plan. Outstanding Universal Value has been proven though, also compared to the already inscribed Flint Mines of Spiennes. So an inscription was no surprise. On my recent Pentecost trip to Eastern Poland I made a small detour between Warsaw and Zamosc to check out what Krzemionki is all about.
"Krzemionki" is the name of a former village, but not the name of the current location. The main site lies between the villages of Sudół en Magonie, 8km northeast of Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski. I drove there in 2.5 hours from Warsaw airport. Nowadays it is a wooded area, with some administration buildings and a grand parking. This Saturday afternoon though there were only a few cars. When I bought my entrance ticket (18 zloty / 4.20 EUR), an English-speaking colleague was quickly called for help by the cashier lady. He told me that a tour had just started with a Polish and German speaking guide. After confirming that German is OK for me too, and I could join them immediately.
Together with 4 Polish tourists and guide Kinga I walked further into the forest. Thousands of flint mines lie beneath the ground here. They can be recognized by small ‘dents’ in the landscape, a bit similar to bomb craters. Next to these pits are ‘hills’, the slag heaps. Everything is now overgrown with grass and trees so it is not very visible up-and-close.
There were 4 types of mining executed here, but they all had in common that they had to reach up to 10 meters deep to reach the veins with flint. This location has 2 veins approximately 1 meter above each other. They were formed when there was a large lake here: trenches made by animals in the bottom of the lake were filled with deposits, which eventually solidified into the rock hard flint.
As visitors, we were allowed to go underground at the 3rd mine. We descended via an iron spiral staircase, after which we found ourselves in a cool corridor. Also in prehistoric times the miners connected the various smaller mines with corridors. However, the ones of today have been made with 20th century visitors in mind so they don't bump their head.
Flint is still abundantly present in these limestone walls. It was extracted here in an almost industrial way: the flint was brought to the surface and worked there into hammers and chisels. Flint tools that were made here have been found up to 600km away.
Once back at the site entrance there still was the permanent exhibition to visit. It is not immediately obvious where it is (it is in the building marked ‘Tourist Information’), so I asked the guide to show me the way. She subsequently gave me a private tour inside - all accompanying texts are in Polish and she was sorry that I could not read them. Different types of flint from all over the world are shown here. Most of it is characteristically black, whereas the flint of Krzemionki is of the striped variety which only occurs in this region. In polished form they make for nice souvenirs or even jewellery.
Back in Aug 2015, our visit to Spiennes had been enhanced by a talk from a Polish academic who was assisting with the ongoing excavations there and just happened to lecturing on “Flint mines in Poland” to a gathering of specialists that afternoon in the lecture hall at the Visitor Centre. We were invited to attend and began to realise just how much there was to know about this subject! Mention was made of the flint mine at Krzemionki and I mentally “pencilled in” an intention to visit it if I ever found myself in that part of Poland…… thus it was that we were there just over 2 years later in mid Sep 2017 at opening time!
The site is situated around 8kms from the industrial city of Ostrowiec Swietokrzyski. We were travelling by car in a reasonably straight line between Bialowieza (c300kms NE) towards Krakow (still another 170kms SW) - and currently there isn’t a single WHS in this part of Poland between the 2! Apart from Warsaw and Torun, Poland’s WHS are mainly scattered around its periphery and there seems little reason for non Polish tourists to visit the area other than to “pass through”. We were somewhat surprised to find a large modern visitor centre set in this nondescript countryside. It turned out that over half the visitors to the site are Polish school children. The site also includes a “Nature Park” and a reconstructed “Stone Age Village” and is linked with an Archaeo-geological trail in the region including tetrapod tracks at Zachelmie.
But on this morning, we were the only visitors and, having paid our reduced “old fogie” entrance fee of 12 zloty pp, we were allocated our personal English speaking guide for the tour – which, in our case, lasted about 90 minutes but is normally scheduled at c75! A very different situation from that which we were to find the next day at Tarnowskie, where non Polish language tours cost extra and any group of less than 20 has to cover the standard overall total cost via extra fees with a minimum of 4 PAX per group. We were asked to wait 30 minutes until 9.30 for the “tour” to start - possibly with the hope that more would join! In the mean time the museum provided quite a good exhibition which was unfortunately captioned only in Polish.
We quickly discovered that the T List site of Krzemionki is being actively pursued for “Feb 2019”! Our guide wasn’t “expert” in the timetabling of UNESCO nominations so we suggested that this must mean a submission by the closing date of Jan 31 2019 for consideration at the 2020 WHC. And indeed this seems to be the current plan, with around 16 months preparation work remaining. It appears that the same consultant who successfully shepherded Tarnowskie Gory to inscription this year has been engaged to produce the documentation for Krzemionki (not that the ICOMOS review of that Nomination provided a strong case for doing so – it was panned in almost every respect and must have got through more on “political aspects” than on quality of argument!)
I asked how Krzemionki hoped to differentiate itself from Spiennes. The picture which emerged was that it was currently intended to present it as a “Relict Cultural Landscape” consisting of 3 flint mine areas (one of which was to be Krzemionki) together with a related Neolithic settlement. I was given the names of the extra locations as “Korycizna”, “Borownia” and “Gawroniec” (this latter being the “settlement”). I have been unable to discover much about these on the Web, though all 3 are mentioned in this (very!) academic downloadable article from 1995.
It is perhaps worth mentioning that it is thought that Neolithic peoples didn’t actually live at Krzemionki – mainly because of the lack of water. Instead their settlements were 15kms + away and the workers at the mines required a degree of “support” to keep them fed and watered in their work!
Whether this will be enough to enable Krzemionki to establish a unique “value proposition” is another matter. Spiennes includes 3 zones of mines, albeit within the same boundary, and in its “comparative analysis” the AB review refers to it being “The only mining site directly associated with a settlement characteristic of the period”. The 2 sites would then be “trading” claimed superlatives – “most ancient”, “widest range of mining techniques”, “size” etc. But Spiennes got in first and has already claimed many of these – we will see. Perhaps there should be room for multiple Flint mines as per Silver mines, Wooden Churches etc etc!
The tour at Krzemionki consists of a trail through the 4 types of mining techniques. The simplest - “Open Pit”, is only visible in the form of depressions in the ground which can be seen from the walkway, but the other 3 (“Niche Gallery”, “Room and Pillar” and “Chamber”) are displayed in more detail. An example of the first is protected by a building and consists of a large wide pit around 5m deep, viewable solely from above, from which side galleries can be seen leading off. It is, we were told, a genuine mine, albeit with sides and edges “stabilised”. Some resin prehistoric figures were beavering away down below! The second, protected by another building, consists of a narrow vertical shaft covered by a replica wooden “tent” which archaeologists believe provided cover for those working there both underground and knapping on site at the surface - only the entrance to the shaft is visible but the guide explains the relevant factors such as the problems in supplying air underground when firebrands were used to provide some light. The third is the “speciality” of Krzemionki, and is reached by descending around 10 metres down a spiral staircase and following a tunnel of some 500 metres. At first this is totally modern, but it then breaks in to an original mine chamber. At this point the side galleries around 1m high can be seen, but a “walkway” through them has been created by deepening the original chamber to “standing height” to create a “path” leaving the original roof and galleries on either side intact. This was done when the mine was originally opened to large scale tourism in the 1980s. One wonders if it would be done today. But there appears to be no shortage of mines so I guess that partially “destroying” the integrity and authenticity of one in order to provide “education” is justified? In any case it has been done and it will be interesting to see if ICOMOS makes any comment.
The flint in the Krzemionki layers (3 of them each around 1m apart) is known as “Striped” or “Banded” because of its alternating dark/light bands and is different both from that at Spiennes and in some other flint mining areas in Poland. The underground chamber walls still contain many partially exposed, rounded whole and shattered nodules. The flint possesses a fine pattern when split/polished but was actually less good for tool making than some other types – particularly for larger axes. Today it makes fine shaped and polished jewellery but was of no use for this purpose by Neolithic man as it couldn’t be drilled. There is even a suggestion that it was prized more for use as grave goods than for working tools. We were told that burials of the period almost always included flint grave goods and examples of traded Krzemionki striped flint have been found several hundred kms away.
At one point in the walk, a “bell chamber” is entered with a narrow neck up to ground level (now securely "capped") which, in the earliest days of tourism at Krzemionki (from late 50s until the creation of the underground route), was used as the entrance to the chamber via a vertical ladder in much the same way as Spiennes is entered currently. Finally, a “unique” aspect of the Krzemionki tour is reached – a charcoal “drawing” on a pillar of what appears to be a human figure (photo). This is similar (but not the same?) to that used as the “logo” for Krzemionki but I haven’t been able to discover photos of other drawings in the mines of the area which are supposed to exist. The existence of this artefact explains the site’s concern about the potential for growth of algae etc underground and the installation of LED lights - however, unlike at Spiennes, underground photography is allowed, albeit without flash. The much larger numbers of visitors at Krzemionki must also create moisture problems - the avoidance of which is used at Spiennes as a reason for restricting the number of underground visitors.
Finally one climbs another spiral stair case to enter the last building which concentrates on the final years of mining at the site in the early Bronze Age. The site was then abandoned and “disappeared” until it was rediscovered in 1922.
So - how to compare the “visit experience” as between Krzemionki and Spiennes? At the time it was nice to walk underground, but perhaps, on reflection, the vertical ladder descent at Spiennes into the chamber which has not been developed/enlarged for viewing by tourists actually provides a better impression of what the mines were really like! Krzemionki has the pictogram to see and perhaps a better museum exhibition. The ease of getting on a tour favours Krzemionki also. Whatever - we don’t regret our visit and didn’t feel that it simply duplicated what we had heard/seen at Spiennes. We were lucky of course to get a personal tour in English and, with the background knowledge about Flint Mining already obtained at Spiennes and in follow up studies, felt that we were able to develop/consolidate our understanding of Neolithic Flint mining.
2019 Advisory Body overruled
ICOMOS advised Referral, overturned after amendment of Hungary
Successor to former TWHS Krzemionki Opatowskie. Neolithic flint mine (2002-2006)
The site has 4 locations
The site has 2 connections