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Lousberg flint

Material name: Lousberg Flint
Synonyms: Lousbergfeuerstein, Flint from the Vetschauer Kalk
Material (geologic): Upper Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) flint

Detail of Lousberg flint
Photo: Rengert Elburg, 2008

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General characteristics

(In part adapted from Weiner 1998 and Weiner & Weisgerber 1980

Geographical setting: The Lousberg is a lowish hill in the northern part of the city of Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) in western Germany (North Rhine-Westphalia). Its highest point is 264 m a.s.l., rising nearly 100 metres over the city-centre, and thus dominating the skyline of Aachen in the north. It is the easternmost remnant of chalks in the Dutch-Belgian-German Cretaceous region, lying isolated from the rest of the deposits. The hill thanks its very existence to this patch of chalk, which protected the underlying sandy and clayey layers of the Hergerather Schichten from erosion.

Regarding the precise stratigraphic position of the chalk opinions differ. The Dutch geological map of the region and the Dutch specialist Werner Felder (Felder 1998 and Felder & Bosch 2000) place it in the eastern facies of the Gulpen Formation, whereas in the most German literature includes it in the slightly later Maastricht Formation (Hiss 2006b). For a short introduction on the lithostratigraphy in the wider region, see the introduction to the ENCI-quarry in Dutch Southern Limburg.

If you look at the region between the Lousberg and the continuous chalk cover east of the Geul river in the Netherlands, the situation becomes even more confused. Here the two flint-bearing members of the eastern facies of the Gulpen en Maastricht Formation come near the surface: the Vetschau Member and the Orsbach Member (Hiss 2006a & 2006b). These chalks contain both flints, the Vetschau Flint and the Orsbach flint (links to be added), but their respective origins and exact lithostratigraphic position is far from clear-cut. So it is no surprise, that it is quite impossible to link the isolated erosional remnant of the Lousberg with the much more complete type-sections in the Netherlands.

Material and colour: Lousberg flint is mostly tabular in form, but does occur as flattish nodules too. The plates are mostly not very large (under 30 cm) and up to 8 cm thick and have a irregular, medium-thick (one to several millimetres) 'sandpapery' cortex. The flint itself is medium to fine-grained and has a matte to slightly silky appearance on fresh fractures. The most typical feature of the material, although not every piece does posses it, is the contrasting colour between the core and the material under the cortex and a slight 'lamination' in its fabric. The core is predominantly dark to very dark gray, but may look slightly blueish in contrast to the brown, sometimes even slightly purple, band under the cortex.
Medium-sized lighter spots are frequent in some pieces and parts, but completely absent in other fragments. With a low-magnification lens (8x) you can see frequent small fragments of fossils, reflecting the probable chalk-arenitic nature of the parent-rock, although they are to small and broken-up to identify. In some samples black, very small spots and 'dashes' oriented along the slight layering of the stone are frequent and especially visible if you moisten the stone.
For a more detailed description, see the sample below.

There is a serious problem distinguishing the different platy flints in the wider region, as some pieces of Vetschau Flint, Simpelveld Flint, and even the tablet-formed variety of Orsbach can look quite similar (links to be added). If you look only at the colour pattern, you could even classify the material from the Valkenburg chalk further to the west as a type of Lousberg Flint. No absolute criteria can be given to separate the different flints of the eastern facies of the Maastricht en Gulpen Formations, but we hope to give a more precise overview in the future, especially as Marjorie de Grooth is preparing a quite exhaustive publication on the matter.

Although the Lousberg is the only verified source of Lousberg Flint, there is one other site mentioned: the slopes of the Schneeberg (link to be added), a few kilometres to the west (Löhr et al. 1997: 157). Here the material is reputed to be found ABOVE outcropping Vetschau Flint, which would be quite difficult, as the Vetschau Member is the highest unit in the flint-bearing Cretaceous in the area. As we visited the area on several occasions, we didn't find any Lousberg-type flint, and all the tabular flints seem to be of the Orsbach-type (own observation and pers. comm. Marjorie de Grooth).
As there seems to be quite some confusion on the nomenclature of the flint in the region, we do fear that what is mostly classified as "Vetschau Flint" is really black, very fine grained flint with numerous white spots and a thick, irregular cortex that comes from the Orsbach Member and is very probably the eastern equivalent of Lixhe Flint. This would match the correlation put forward by Floss (1994, fig. 30), who sees the source of Schneeberg in a chronostratigraphical position equivalent to Lixhe in the western part of the region and the Orsbacher Feuersteinkreide from the local stratigraphy.

Other information: Prehistoric mining site
Photo: Rengert Elburg, 2007
  The Lousberg is one of the few prehistoric mining sites where you can actually see something at the surface, like in the picture above. And it's one of the only four extraction points in Germany where actually something like an excavation has taken place. On top of all this, we have quite a good idea of the distribution of the material and what was produced on the site, but for that, see the archaeological description.

The Lousberg has been recognised as a possible mining site since the end of the 19th century, as a local geologist saw parallels between the numerous antlers of red deer found at the top of the hill and the tools from the mining sites in Belgium and Great Britain (see Weiner 1998 for an overview of the history of research and further literature). In 1956 a water tower was constructed right in the middle of the neolithic mining area, and geological investigations of the uncovered chalk with flint took place, but the enormous amounts of flint flakes and chalk rubble were interpreted as the rests of medieval quarrying for chalk.

So it took until 1978 before archaeological excavations were organised by the German Mining Museum in Bochum and the University of Cologne. It soon became clear, that the whole plateau on the top of the hill was covered with a layer of mining waste with a thickness of four metres. The whole covering of cretaceous flint bearing chalk had been quarried, only leaving a plate of a metre and a half thickness of flint-free chalk, which served as a working floor. Only a few remnants of the chalk-with-flints had been left, notably near the construction pit of the water tower.

  Neolitic flint mine with geologist for scale
Photo: Rengert Elburg, 2007
  Finds included mining tools that were predominantly of the Kerbschlägel type, notched hammer-heads that were hafted to crush the harder banks of chalk, as well as antler tools, like picks and levers, used for working the softer levels. The grooved and notched hammers (not unlike those used at the site of Kleinkems) come in two varieties: the heavy ones made out of river pebbles, and the lighter ones manufactured from discarded flint nodules.

Recently new, and more precise AMS dates have become available (UtC-14473 to 14479, Schyle 2006) for short-lived material like Corylus-charcoal and antler. The ages range from 4590 to 4410 uncalBP, with standard deviations of 50 to 60 years. They calibrate (IntCal 04, 95.4% confidence) all between roughly 3500 to 2900, mostly due to a platform in the calibration curve in this time span. And as the first mining will probably have taken place at the edge of the plateau where the spoil was just thrown down the hillside, these dates only apply to the later workings towards the centre of the site.

Knapping notes: Lousberg Flint is a high-quality material and very well knappable. It is slightly tenacious, so the fractures tend to be quite straight, not as rounded conchoidal as in more glassy flints. There seems to be a slight tendency in the material to produce ripples towards the distal end of flakes, although we don't have a clue what the cause of this phenomenon could be. We didn't do much experimenting with the flint as we didn't want to knap on the site (remember, the whole of the Lousberg is one big archaeological monument) and didn't want to loot to much material. On the other hand, every single piece of flint you find there was mined, end then, for some reason or other, discarded. So what you find today is certainly not the best material that has been present.
The flint can be used to produce blades, but is not very suitable for pressure-flaking because of its tough structure. In the later Neolithic is was mostly used in the production of axes, for which it is an ideal material because of its structure as well as the form of the plates and flattish nodules.
Archaeological description: The flint of the Lousberg-type has been used quite frequently since the Upper Paleolithic, but mostly on a local to regional scale. This quite restricted use doesn't change very much until the later Neolithic, although from the Early Neolithic Bandkeramik the distribution does get somewhat wider. Only in the later phases of the Michelsbergkultur the intensive use, and probably mining, sets in.
Thanks to the form of the plates and the structure of the flint it is very well suited for the production of axes, of which a very large number must have been made. Thanks to the careful refitting of an enormous amount of flakes (40 000 pieces), by the original excavator of the site, Jürgen Weiner, it could be established that 80% by weight of the flint ended up as knapping-waste. In a recent, very elaborate calculation of product/waste-ratio, volume of knapping-debris and success-rate of production, it was estimated that in all around 300 000 finished axes have been produced at the mining site (Schyle 2006).

The distribution of the axes from Lousberg Flint is one of the few instances where the maps of the known spread have been revised regularly. After an initial publication focused on the Netherlands and Belgium (Modderman 1980), the map was then extended, predominantly into Germany and updated (Gronenborn 1992 & 1997a), and again brought up to date with the most recent publication on the site (Schyle 2006). The distribution is concentrated in lowlands towards the west and north of the flint mine, with notable extensions into the Netherlands (where the material is known as Lousberg vuursteen) and to the east. The southernmost finds come from the border region between Germany and Luxemburg, some 125 km from the source, whereas the most northerly find comes from Odoorn in the Netherlands, a distance of approx. 230 kilometres from the Lousberg. The find furthest from the source is an axe from Neuenknick an der Weser, west of Hannover, nearly 280 kilometres away to the northwest, but this is an extremely isolated findspot.

Culturally most axes can be assigned to the Wartberg-Stein-Vlaardingen (WSV) complex, a late Middle Neolithic (Dutch chronology) to Late Neolithic (German chronology) cultural complex, wedged between the better known cultures of Funnelbeaker in the north and Seine-Oise-Marne in the southwest. The WSV can roughly be dated to the second half of the fourth millennium calBC, which correlates nearly perfectly with the dating of the full-scale mining activities on the Lousberg (see above). One of the main problems is that this archaeological culture is relatively well documented in the southern half of the Netherlands (Vlaardingen and Stein Group), and northern Hesse in Germany (Warberg Culture), but that the area in the vicinity of the Lousberg between these regions seems to be completely settlement-free during this period. As a matter of fact, the Neolithic flint mine of Lousberg is the only site in the Rhineland that can securely dated to this period.

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Locality: Lousberg, Aachen/Aix-en-Chapelles, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Synonyms: mining site D 3 according to the catalogue of flint mines from the German Mining Museum in Bochum, 3rd edition (Weisgerber et al. (eds.) 1999)
Geographical description: The Lousberg is an elongated hill in the northern part of the city of Aachen/Aix-en-Chapelles in western Germany, near the Dutch border. Once a lone erosional remnant of the continuous cretaceous cover in the region, it is now integrated into the city, and one of the oldest public parks (1807) in Europe.
Geographical co-ordinates: Lat. 50° 47' 15" N
Long. 006° 04' 44" E
(Mapdatum WGS 84)
Co-ordinate precision: The coordinates where taken with a handheld GPS-unit among the heaps prehistoric mining waste. As the site is several hectares in size, precision is not that important.
Other topographical information: If you are in or near the city of Aachen/Aix-en-Cahapelles, you really cant miss the Lousberg as it is the dominating topographical feature of the city. But as so often with things that can be seen from quite some distance in a city, actually getting there can be a lot harder. To be on the sure side, just follow the inner city ring, which circles the city-centre along the remnants of the old ramparts in either direction, depending where you come from. At the northernmost point of the former city wall, just at the foot of the Lousberg still stands the lower part of one of the bastions, the Marienburg. Here you take (a quite tricky) turn to the north-northwest entering the Kupferstrasse and go uphill until you come to the statue of the old woman and the Devil.
According to myth the Lousberg was created by the Devil as he wanted to cover up the cathedral of the city with an enormous sack of sand. Exhausted by the burden he asked an old women if it was still far to the city. Recognising the Evil One, the poor woman pointed at her completely worn shoes: "These were new shoes when I left the city, and look at them now" she said. Frustrated the Devil dumped his load at the spot, creating the hill.

You can drive further uphill, but for the genuine experience, you park your car here and follow the stairs that start here to the west. After a while you are rewarded with a good view of the city from the Belvedere of which remain only the two colonnades. You then pass the Obelisk, which forms part of the first, early 19th century, triangulation-network of the Rhineland, and come to the tower in the photo below. The main mining area lies just beyond.

Additional information: The tower on the flintmine
Photo: Rengert Elburg, 2007
  In the photo you see the 1956 water tower that was build in the middle of the flint quarrying district. It lost its function years ago, an was converted into an office building with a panoramic restaurant at the top. If you enter the small wood behind it, mostly consisting of yew trees, you will find the best preserved part of the mining field.
Visitors information: Apart from the Neolithic flint mine, Aix-en-Chapelle has quite a few landmarks that make it worth a visit. In Roman times the town was famous for its warm springs with a quite high sulphur content and was known as Aquisgranum, possibly after the Celtic deity Grannus, associated with health and springs. The heyday of the city was of course in the late 8th and early 9th century as it became primae sedes Franciae, the capital of Charlemagne's Frankish Empire. Rest of his palace are now incorporated in the City Hall and not really spectacular, but the Palatine Church (now Cathedral) is one of the most important Early Medieval buildings in Europe, and one of the first UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites, inscribed in 1978.
When visiting the Cathedral, don't miss the Domschatzkammer (Treasury) just around the corner, with a spectacular collection of Carolingian and Romanesque works of art. And it is worth to take a guided tour of the Cathedral, as you otherwise can't visit the throne of Charlemagne, on which for 500 years the German Emperors were crowned.

Aachen is very popular with tourist (for some reason the city was completely packed with Italians the last time we visited in 2007), and the infrastructure is according. The only thing that is lacking is a good camping ground. There is a smallish affair in southeastern part of the city (Aachen-Burtscheid, approx. 50° 45' 41 " N, 6° 6' 11" E), but it is more a parking lot for RVs and similar horrors, although there is a small field where you can put up your tent and a small bath-building with shower. We mostly visit the city on day trips from the Dutch side of the border, where accommodation can be found in every village.

The culinary specialty of Aachen are the Aachener Printen, a kind of gingerbread, covered by the European laws on Protected designation of Origin, and which can be bought in an enormous variation at all confectioners' in the city. The Printen, unlike other Lebkuchen, like those from Nürnberg, are not only available during autumn and the festive season, but can (and should) be sampled throughout the year. Traditionally the Printen are used in Aachen to bind the sauce of the other specialty of the region, the Sauerbraten, which should be eaten with potato dumplings. The city used to have a typical beer, not unlike the Kölsch from Cologne, but now the local beers are nothing noteworthy.

Sampling information: There are no in-situ outcrops of the Lousberg Flint accessible (and if there were, they would probably show signs of Neolithic mining and be completely out of bounds), so the only way of getting a sample is picking up material from the surface. As (nearly) every piece you pick up will show some kind of human intervention, and should basically classified as a prehistoric find, this poses a bit of a problem too. But as there are an estimated 82 370 cubic metres of mining- and knapping debris present on the site (Schyle 2006: 42) it will be very hard to deplete the site of flint.
So the old rules for behaving on an archaeological site apply: NO knapping, NO digging, NO collecting of tools and other special artifacts and only take the amount you need for a reference-collection. NO looting by the sackful for experimental knapping, and absolutely no collecting for commercial purposes. If you need more guidance on what can be considered permissible, have a look at our sample below.
  Nodule of Lousbergfeuerstein
Photo: Rengert Elburg, 2008
Typical flattish nodule of Lousberg flint
length: 116 mm
Thin plate
Photo: Rengert Elburg, 2008
Thin plate with slight layering
thickness: 19 mm
Photo: Rengert Elburg, 2008
Typical piece with thick brown band under cortex
size: 52 mm
Typical structure
Photo: Rengert Elburg, 2008
Small piece showing characteristic coloration and structure
size: 34 mm
Sample description: In the top row you see two varieties of nodules: a part of a flattish nodule (Fladen) and a fragment of a thin plate. The nodule shows very fine banding (see also the patinated back of the same piece in the photos below), typical rough cortex with a larger cavity and the classical colouring, although the brown band of infiltration under the cortex is on the thin side. In the tablet the same banding is visible and due to its thinness, the brown colour has penetrated nearly the whole plate. The two pieces underneath give a good idea of the structure of the material with less pronounced layering and the real classic colour-scheme.
The colour of the core ranges from N3 to N4 (very dark to dark gray) with some of the very light bands up to N6 (at the lighter side of plain gray), the slightly bluish impression is only caused by the contrast with the strongly coloured infiltration zone under the cortex. The brown zone is mostly 7.5YR 3/3 to 4/3 (dark brown to brown) locally with a slightly higher chroma up to 7.5YR 4/4 (brown on the verge of strong brown) or somewhat more yellowish with 10YR 4/3 (again plain brown).

The first two pieces below show some more white spots within the core. Do click on the macro photo of the right-hand piece as here you get the best impression of all aspects of the material: irregular cortex (the chalky part was completely weathered away), the colours, the banded structure, spots and inclusions. Though hard to distinguish in a dry state, you can just see some of the black sub-milimetric spots in the centre of the picture. Even the slight tendency to ripple and hinge at the distal part is visible, although this is most pronounced in the very first piece of the gallery.

The last three pictures give you an impression of what patination does to the flint, and therefore what you can expect to find on archaeological sites. Clearly there are very different forms of patination possible; even though all pieces were collected on the surface of the Lousberg itself the alteration of the surface are of three different types. The first piece has a very bleached appearance and has become opaque. The colour of the core lies around N6 (gray according to the Munsell soil colour charts, medium light gray in the rock-colour chart), with the iron infiltration around 2.5Y 4/3 (olive brown).
The photo next to it is the ventral view of the topmost left piece in the gallery. Here the patination is of the more normal whitish type and brings out the banding very strongly, just like with the material from Simpelveld (link to be added). In the last picture the patination has just dulled the surface of the prehistoric flake, which now more or less looks like a piece of elephant skin. The colour of the core is N4 (dark gray), the brown parts 10YR 4/3 to 4/4 (brown to dark yellowish brown).

  Spotted material
Photo: Rengert Elburg, 2008
Flake with white spots in the gray core
length: 77 mm
Small flake
Photo: Rengert Elburg, 2008
Macro photo of a small flake with typical structure
length: 34 mm
  Light patina
Photo: Rengert Elburg, 2008
Prehistoric flake with very light-coloured patina
size: 52 mm
Patinated nodule
Photo: Rengert Elburg, 2008
Patina emphasizing the layered structure of the flint
length: 116 mm
  Dark patina
Photo: Rengert Elburg, 2008
Larger prehistoric flake with dark patina
length: 70 mm


Last modified on:
January 23, 2008
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Rengert Elburg
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