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Skršin-type Quartzite

Material name: Skršin-type Quartzite
Synonyms: Limnic quartzite, Süsswasserquarzit (freshwater quartzite), North-West Bohemian fine-grained quartzite
Material (geologic): Tertiary (Oligocene) cemented quartzite

Red veined quartzite from Skršin
Foto: Rengert Elburg, 1999

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General characteristics

(In part adapted from Malkovský & Vencl 1995 )

Material: Skršin-type quartzite is easily recognizable in its typical form. It consists of a very dense matrix with a irregular, mostly very loose, scatter of quartz grains the size of fine to coarse sand. The matrix itself is very inhomogeneous and shows very frequent veins, schliers, burrows and patches of a different structure. Fresh fractures are mostly matte but can have a slightly silky lustre on the finer parts. The quartz grains are mostly visible as glittering dots or patches and are easily recognizable using a magnifying glass. In some very fine varieties however, it can be necessary to use a magnification of 20 times or more to see them. Especially this fine material is easily confused with flint or chert (see also the heading on similarities and differences in the introduction to the region).

The Cortex is highly variable too, from very thick (over 5 cm like in the block in the former quarry in Skršin ) to virtually absent. Thicker crusts mostly consist of (very) loosely cemented sand but can also be made up of finer material with a very 'chalky' feel to it, again contributing to possible confusion with flint or chert. Most typical seems to be a cortex of a few millimeters consisting of quartzitic, fine-grained sandstone that grades into the quartzite. In archaeological samples, apart from those in the immediate surroundings of the deposits with workshop character, pieces with cortex are very rare.

For a better understanding of the microstructure we bring two video-stills of thin sections (with special thanks to Marlina Elburg of Adelaide University) of a typical sample. In plane polarized light, the picture on the left hand side, you can see a structure in the lower right hand side that is very probably an animal burrow and in the top left corner a very inhomogeneous patch with a concentration of quartz grains. The rest of the picture shows a more even distribution of grains and a slight vein. The darker roundish thing on the left margin is an artefact, an air-bubble in the mounting mass. The picture in cross polarized light is, due to the amorphous matrix, not very informative, but it gives a good idea of the (size)distribution of the crystalline quartz that shows as lighter points. The field of view in both stills is 4.4 mm.

For a full-blown picture of sample,
click here (99 KBytes).
Main varieties of Skršin-type quartzite
Foto: Rengert Elburg, 2000
Export quality material
Foto: Rengert Elburg, 2000
For a full-blown picture of sample,
click here (119 KBytes).
For a full-blown picture of thin section,
click here (122 KBytes).
Thin section in plane polarized light
Foto: Marlina Elburg, 1999
Thin section in cross polarized light
Foto: Marlina Elburg, 1999
For a full-blown picture of thin section,
click here (97 KBytes).
Color: The matrix is grey to light grey with a touch of yellow between 2.5 and 5.0Y 6/1 - 7/1 and 7/2 according to the Munsell Soil Colour Charts, but most typical is 2.5Y 7/1-2 with veins/schliers of 2.5-5Y 8/1 and 2 (white to very pale yellow). The reddish schliers/veins and stains like in the archaeological sample above and the sample from Skršin below range from 2.5YR 4/4 - 6/4 (dusky to weak red) to 6/6 and 10R 4/4 to 5/6 (weak red to red).

Until now we have not encountered material that was clearly patinated, but burning seems to darken the colour of the matrix without much effect to the lighter schliers.

Other information: Although the type-locality at Skršin has been destroyed by mining between 1945 and 1955, descriptions of its geology do exist ( Malkovský & Vencl 1995 ). It seems the quartzite here occurred in a bank of 0.3 to 2.5 thickness, overlain by a up to five meters thick cover mostly consisting of Tertiary volcanic material, mainly basalts with aragonite veins. Underneath the quartzite bank there were slightly cemented to loose kaolinic sands.

There are still several exposures in the region but the quality of the quartzite here is definitely inferior to the prehistorically used material. In one very small exposure between Lužice and Dobrčice (coordinates: 50 29' 11" N, 13 45' 38" E, WGS 84) we found material that looks a bit like the real Skršin quartzite still in situ and in a comparable geological setting. Under an enormous quantity (something like seven meters) of basalts there are two banks of quartzite interlinked with/underlain by whitish kaolinic sands. Apparently the same situation is to be found in a nearby quarry, but until now, we have not seen any signs of quartzite here. Revisiting the site with picks and shovels is planned for the near future.

Bank of quartzite in situ
Foto: Rengert Elburg, 1999

Knapping notes: The properties of the material depend very much on the amount of coarser inclusions and less well cemented patches. The finest quality is very easily worked and has a nearly perfect conchoidal fracture, as can be seen in the picture of a large block from Lužice below. In all Skršin quartzite shows a slight tendency towards straight (shatter) fractures and is slightly brittle. This can be advantageous in the production of blades, but mostly causes unwanted snap fractures resulting in steps on the face of the core and occasional shattering. For this reason it is not the ideal material for pressure flaking although we have seen bifacially retouched arrowheads from the Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age. The best way to work it is with a soft (antler) hammer but hard percussion can give very good results too.
Archaeological description: The oldest recorded use of quartzites of the Skršin-type comes from the Upper and Late Paleolithic in Bohemia. Identification of the material at the Magdalenian site of Hostim (ca. 25 km southwest of Prague) is uncertain but very probable ( Vencl 1995 ). In the Late Paleolithic Arched Backed Piece Complex ( Federmesser ) in Northern Bohemia it seems to be very common but, until now, no occurrences outside the region have been reported.
This changes in the Early Mesolithic as on the site of Leupoldsdorf, a known source of raw material, the Feuerbergjaspis, about half of the typical artefacts are made of Skršin-quartzite ( Schönweiss 1993 , with the only clear pictures of this type of raw material in print). Although no absolute dating for this site is available, the artefacts still show strong affinities with Late Paleolithic types. The presence of this type of quartzite, nearly 140 (not 80 like mentioned in Malkovský & Vencl 1995 ) kilometers to the West of its source, is remarkable for two reasons: firstly it is the only published occurrence of Skršin-type quartzite outside former Czechoslovakia, secondly this material is only very occasionally found in the mesolithic industries of Bohemia ( Vencl 1990 ).
The lack of use in the Mesolithic is strange as this type of quartzite is pre-eminently suitable for the production of blades and microliths, like Wommersom quartzite, the favorite material of the Mesolithic of Belgium and the surrounding regions.

The most intensive use of quartzite from Skršin clearly dates to the Neolithic. During the Early Neolithic Linear-pottery culture ( Linearbandkeramik or LBK for short), it is the preferred material in Northern Bohemia and has a widespread distribution in the larger region. In the famous site of Bylany, ca. 120 km to the South-East, it makes up 20% of the lithic industry in the middle and late phases of the settlement ( Popelka 1987a ), and has been found up to 250 kilometers from its source in the region of Znojmo.

Until very recently, no Skršin-type quartzite has been recorded from LBK-sites north of the Ore Mountains ( Krušné hory/Erzgebirge ), but new analyses from Saxony (South-East Germany) show widespread use in the region around Dresden, ca. 60 km to the North of the source-area (unpublished work by the author, fleetingly mentioned in Brestrich & Elburg 1996 ). Here it seems characteristic for the earlier and middle phases of the LBK, with a sharp decline in use towards the end of the LBK as it is being replaced by imports of Tušimice-type quartzite. It is to be expected that Skršin-quartzite will be found in the large Early Neolithic settlements south of Leipzig (ca. 120 kilometres from the source) as two Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age arrowheads made of this material as well as one made from Tušimice-quartzite from Zauschwitz, Borna district (51 10' 49"N, 12 15' 34"E), indicate.

In the Eneolithic the significance of all Bohemian quartzites is being reduced to a somewhat more local level, but the finds from Zauschwitz mentioned above prove that more finds in a wider region, probably also in Bavaria and possibly even Austria and Poland, are to be expected.
No traces of mining have been found, but the amount of material found in archaeological context makes some sort of mining seem quite probable. As even today there are still more or less intact outcrops, it will probably have been more a kind of quarrying than real underground mining.

Thanks and acknowledgements: We would like to thank Miroslav Popelka of the Institute of prehistory and early history, Charles University, Prague, for sharing his wide knowledge on this type of raw material and showing us the sites in the region.

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Skršin, Most district

Locality: Vrbka hill, Skršin, Most District, Czech Republic (Bohemia)
Synonyms: N/A
Geographic description: Vrbka is a not very conspicuous hill among many on the western fringes of the České Středohoří (Czech Midmountains) directly to the North of the village of Skršin in North-West Bohemia.
Geographical co-ordinates: Lat. 50 28' 25" N
Long. 013 45' 09" E
(Mapdatum WGS 84)
Co-ordinate precision: The coordinates given are somewhere in the middle of the extensive former mining/quarrying area and taken with a handheld GPS. Around here we found some blocks of reasonable quality quartzite but material can be found anywhere in the abandoned and not recultivated open cast mine, depending on the overgrowth and season.
Other topographical information: No matter where you are coming from, you will be wanting to take route 15, connecting Most in the west with Lovosice in the east. The new road runs directly south of Skršin and not through it like most maps still show. As soon as you have left route 15 you don't follow the road into Skršin which curves to the right, but take a left hand turn into the old, disused part of the throughroad. Drive the few hundred meters that are left of the tarmac and park your car here. Follow one of the unpaved tracks uphill, any of them will take you to the abandoned mining site. Don't be put off by rubbish dumps and the like, the quarry itself is reasonably clean and lies there just as it was left about 50 years ago.
Additional information: Quartzite in former quarry
Foto: Rengert Elburg, 1998
  Do not expect too much of this site as the original deposit has been completely destroyed by mining in the first decade after the second world war but occasional blocks, like the one in the picture above, can be found on the surface (see also under sampling information below). Vrbka hill is mostly of Tertiary volcanic origin and consists of basalts overlying Upper Cretaceous sediments, so don't be irritated by finding quite a lot of basalts in and around the site.
Visitors information: Although we visited the site several times, we can't tell you much about the touristic infrastructure in de surroundings. The next place to get a coffee and/or a beer is the village of Skršin, which also has a kind of truck-stop type of lodgings we didn't try until now. There are several larger towns in the region that you can check out, like Louny ca. 15 km to the South.

Beware of Most, as this is one of the most depressing places known to man: the old town has vanished into one of the large lignite-mines, leaving only one Gothic church. The newly built Most is gray, ugly, consists mostly of large blocks of concrete and has all the charm of a petrochemical plant. The only older part of town, mostly turn-of-the-century buildings, lies directly below the 'castle' and it is here you can find a small museum and the Institute for research and preservation of archaeological monuments of Northwest-Bohemia.

Sampling information: Finding material of interesting quality can take some time and depends very much on the visibility and therefore on the season. The best time of the year is, like for most sampling, early spring before the botany takes over again.
Besides the quarry itself, it can be worthwhile to check the fields on the slopes of the hill as some nice material is occasionally ploughed up. Be sure to bring a good hammer as some of the blocks are very large and the quality can vary widely within one piece.
For a full-blown picture of sample,
click here (99 KBytes).
Grey veined quartzite
Foto: Rengert Elburg, 1999
Reddish quartzite from type-locality
Foto: Rengert Elburg, 1999
For a full-blown picture of sample,
click here (104 KBytes).
Sample description: Most is already been said in the general description above. The samples depicted here show a typical, but somewhat coarser piece without any cortex. The right hand side foto is of a ca. 6 cm long, freshly struck flake with reddish staining and schliers and a very dense cortex of about 5 mm.

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Lužice, Most district

Locality: Lužice, Most district, Czech Republic (Bohemia)
Synonyms: Dobrčice
Geographic description: The site and disused quarry nearby lie on the north facing hillside between the villages of Lužice and Dobrčice. Neither this hill(side) nor the two tiny streams cutting into it that drain into the Lužický potok are named on the 1:50 000 topographical map we use, so the co-ordinates are the only designation we can give.
Geographical co-ordinates: Lat. 50 29' 11" N
Long. 013 45' 30" E
(Mapdatum WGS 84)

Co-ordinate precision: The co-ordinates are more to give you a rough guidance, as the area where quartzites are to be found stretch the ca. 300 meters between the disused quarry at 50 29' 13"N/013 45' 25"E and the point were the foto on top of the page , showing a quartzite bank in situ, was taken at 50 29' 11"N/013 45' 37"E.
Other topographical information: We take it that you already have been able to make it to the village of Skršin (see above). From there you follow the road that bends sharply uphill, and as soon as you leave the steepest part, there is an easily overlooked narrow road at the left. This leads to Dobrčice, after passing through the village, there is a very steep descend, just after passing under a power-line. At the foot the road is a bit wider where a track leaves to the east, leave your vehicle here. After this, proceed on foot, cross the, again steep, hill and follow the power-line until you come to the small stream. The sampling-area starts here in the woods.

As you probably will guess after this description, a good map is quite necessary and a GPS receiver quite practical. Good hiking maps are sold in bookshops in all larger towns in the Czech republic. Most widespread are the 1:50 000 maps of the Czech Tourist Club, of which you will need sheet 10. Even after visiting the area a few times, we still find it quite difficult to get our bearings around here.

Additional information: Sampling location
Foto: Rengert Elburg, 1999
  Despite being quite densely wooded, there is enough material still lying at the surface, as you can seen in the picture above. As it is volcanic country, not every stone is what you are looking for and quite a lot of boring basalts are around. Every now and then, you find a nodule of astonishing quality, like the nodule depicted below. A very gentle tap with a hammer was enough to crack the block, showing some of the finest quartzite we have found in the region.
  Block of high-quality quartzite
Foto: Rengert Elburg, 1999
Visitors information: See above
Sampling information: The pictures and sample were taken during a week-long excursion into the region in the spring of 1999. The site was kindly shown to us by Dr. Popelka of the Charles University of Prague, after we missed it by a few hundred meters during a previous trip. The co-ordinates and picture of the bank in situ are the results of another short visit in the autumn of the same year.
For a full-blown picture of sample,
click here (102 KBytes).
Very fine quartzite from Lužice
Foto: Rengert Elburg, 1999
Sample description: The material we sampled in Lužice/Dobrčice is extremely fine and very pale, the best quality of Skršin-type quartzite we saw apart from a few archaeological specimens. Until we got there, the deposit at Lužice was reputed to be distinct of that from Skršin in lacking the 'typical' red veins. As you can see in the foto taken in the field, the block from which this sample was taken also has some reddish spots. Other material we sampled was still stronger coloured, and several samples from Skršin itself were as light as most material from Lužice, so macroscopically there is no possibility to distinguish between the two.

Last modified
July 18, 2006
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