Polish Flint Mines

As a flintknapper, I am always on the lookout for new sources and types of material. In September of 1995 I participated in the VII International Flint Symposium in Poland. I was familiar with Western and Eastern European flints but I knew little about flaking rocks in Central Europe. I had heard rumors of a fine material known as chocolate flint, but had never actually seen any. This was one of the best organized and finest conferences I have ever attended. Along with the conference, at which archaeologists (professional and avocational) and geologists presented scholarly papers, we were taken on excursions into the countryside to see sites and flint sources. We visited such places as Wizna (Vizna) an Iron Age Hill fort in NE Poland, Rybniki a source of glacially deposited Scandinavian flint, and Bia owie a (Bia-wa-viet-sa) National Park, on the Bylorussian border, the site of the only remaining wild European bison (and the source of an amazing vodka made with a local sweet bison grass). We also went to several sources of flint and chert and saw numerous archaeological sites where they were used.

There were three highlights for me. The first was visiting a place called Krzemionki (She- mion-ki) flint mines. In Neolithic and Bronze Age times (about 4000-1500 B.C.) people dug some amazing mines to get at a beautiful banded flint, used mostly to make flint axes (chipped then ground), spotted flint for large core blades, and chocolate flint for axes and bifacial tools. There are hundreds of mines. Some are simply pits while others consist of a vertical shaft that penetrates the limestone to a level where there are large flat nodules of flint. Once this was reached (sometimes as much as 30' below the ground surface) drifts were dug in a radial pattern from the shaft.

Plan map of a shaft and drift mine

These followed the flint layer and expanded into low chambers.

Layer of banded flint in limestone.

Some of these have been scientifically excavated and were found to contain numerous antler picks, other digging tools, and ingenious methods of ventilation and lighting.

Model of Neolithic miner

The nodules were taken to nearby surface camps where they were knapped into axe blanks and the bits ground. It is believed that people would come to the mines to get the axes rather than tradesmen taking them out to trade

Neolithic axe of Polish banded flint.

Axes of this special banded flint have been found throughout Central Europe and those associated with graves are usually ground all over and highly polished.

Depth of mines depended on where flint was in relation to the surface of the ground.

If any of you are familiar with Grimes Graves flint mines in eastern England, these at Krzemionki are very similar. The amount of effort and skill that went into this mining was astounding. There is a very nice small interpretive museum at Krzemionki and one of the mines has been stabilized and visitors can tour it.

Neolithic cores, blades, and other products of mined flint

The second highlight was a visit to another flint mining area where there is a beautiful spotted flint. We didnít see any excavated mines, but were turned loose in a freshly plowed field to find and collect samples (mostly broken artifacts). What was amazing, but typical of all of my experiences in Poland, was the farmers (elderly husband and wife) came by in their horse-drawn wagon and were actually happy to have two bus loads of foreigners running around in their plowed field! They even shared a bushel of freshly picked wild plumbs. The elderly farmer also gave one of the archaeologists (a very attractive young Italian woman) his good luck charm (some sort of old coin).

The third highlight came when we visited an active limestone quarry at Wierzbica (Vi-ers- bisa) where there is an exposure of the famous chocolate flint. Out of the seventy or so participants in the conference there were only four of us who are flintknappers (Bo Madsen of Denmark, Witold Migal of Poland, Phil Harding of England, and of course me). We were scheduled to be at the quarry for only a short time. After seeing where the flint occurred and hearing a detailed (and to me boring) explanation of the geology, we were supposed to leave. But this was not to be; the four flintknappers staged a mini-mutiny. Bo, Witold, Phil and I were totally involved in finding and testing the fantastic nodules of the deep black silky flint (it is called chocolate because it weathers to a beautiful deep brown) and werenít about to be dragged off to another lecture. We were left behind in what turned into the equivalent of a feeding frenzy. Witold quickly made arrangements with the quarry manager for us to stay for about an hour, and even managed to scrounge a ride for us to a later stop on the excursion. I canít begin to describe the experience of discovering those huge beautiful nodules and the ringing that echoed through the quarry as we struck off large flakes to take away with us. At the end of our allotted time, the quarry manager took us up to a building (with all the flint we could carry) where we washed (it had been raining for days and the quarry was a slurry of chalk and limestone mud) and had a quick ceremonial mug of hot tea. They treated us like royalty. I would give almost anything to spend a week or more at that quarry. (Later, in Warsaw, I made a large bifacial knife for the quarry manager, and am assured that it was taken to him.)

Later in the excursion we visited another quarry, this time of banded flint. Most of the bigger pieces had been collected by locals for sale to a jewelry company that cuts the stone for bracelets, earrings, pendants, etc. The flint was locked up in a big metal dumpster. When the workers found out who we were they offered all of their flint for us to take samples, and I spent about an hour making direct percussion core blades for all of the participants.

Unfortunately, I was unable to participate in another excursion at the end of the conference. People were taken to a source of the most incredible jasper (they call it radiolarite). It comes in large spherical nodules (fractured into wedges by natural forces), is a deep red, quickly changing through lavender to a dark lime green outside. It looks and flakes like it has been heat treated (I flaked some in Warsaw at the museum lab).

All told, the trip to Poland was one of the best experiences I have had. The people are extremely friendly, be they farmers or academics, the countryside is beautiful, there is an incredibly rich history (most of it involving invading armies, death and destruction), and the flint is some of the best I have ever worked anywhere. I canít wait for an opportunity to return!

This article has been published in CHIPS go to Knapper's Corner

I just received a copy of a book of the proceedings of the VII International Symposium. It is very well-done and full of interesting articles (academic). The entire book is in English. If you are interested, I have linked to ordering information (I receive nothing for this)Man and Flint

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