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Vlára radiolarite

Material name: Vlára radiolarite
Synonyms: Váh radiolarite; West Slovak Radiolarite, Radiolarite from the Biele Karpaty (White Carpathians).
Material (geologic): Middle to Upper Jurassic (Callovian-Kimmeridgian) radiolarites

Detail of radiolarite from the Vlara region
Foto: Matthias Rummer, 2002

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General characteristics

(In part adapted from Cheben et al. 1995 and Cheben & Illášová 1997

Geographical setting: The Vlará-pass area lies in the Northern part of the White Carpathians (Biele Karpaty) on the border of the Czech and Slovak republics and takes its name from the Vlará river, a tributary of the Váh. The sites presented here lie in the Kobilináč range, about 20 kilometres North-Northeast of Trenčín in the district of Považská Bystrica.
Morphologically the sources are linked to the so called "Klippen Belt", a very narrow band, often not more than a few hundred metres wide, of isolated Mesozoic rocks that runs along the inner side of the Carpathians. It was formed as the Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous carbonate rocks were extremely folded and ultimately broken up into isolated lenses and blocks which were pushed trough the softer overlying sediments. Erosion uncovered them, giving them their unmistakable cliff like appearance as in the picture of Chmel'ová Mountain below. The sources of radiolarites in the Polish Pieniny Mountains and Northeastern Slovakia (links coming up) as well as the Neolithic mining site of Wien-Mauer all lie in the Klippen Belt.
Material and colour: Large nodule of multicoloured radiolarite
Foto: Rengert Elburg, 2001
  The material from the Vlára Pass/Kobilináč range are Middle (Callovian/Kelloway) and Upper (Oxfordian to Kimmeridgian) Jurassic radiolarites. Micropalaeontological research showed that most of the radiolarians with a restricted stratigraphic occurrence predominantly date to the Oxfordian. Especially for the better quality fine-grained reddish radiolarite it seems reasonably to assume a Early Upper Jurassic age. Due to strong lateral as well as vertical variation in chemical and micropalaeontological composition in the different outcrops, it is up to now impossible to determine the exact sources of prehistoric artefacts, a phenomenon already know from the Bakony Mountains in Hungary (Biró & Regenye 1991).
Even the distinction of the radiolarites from Western Slovakia from those from Southern Poland is fraught with difficulties as the article by Kozłowski et al. (1981) shows. Although the material from the Vlára region probably belongs to a shallower series within the Jurassic ocean, the criteria brought forward to differentiate the material from the two areas are not completely convincing.

The radiolarites occur in banks as well as lenses and nodules, but most of the material is badly fractured due to the extreme tectonic stress that brought the Klippen Belt into existence. A good example is the large nodule in the picture above we found at the surface of the prehistoric mining site of Tri kopce. The narrow bank of blackish siliceous material illustrated below shows very heavy breakage too, with frequent veins of secondarily deposited calcite.

  Bank of inferior black material
Foto: Rengert Elburg, 2001
  In their articles on the sources in the region, Cheben et al. (1995 and 1997) distinguish ten varieties of raw materials based on colour and lustre. As becomes clear in the picture of the nodule above, as well as in the photos of the samples we took, quite a lot of the varieties grade into each other, often over very short distances.

The material we consider most typical is the dusky red (10R to 2.5YR 3/4) to dark reddish brown (5YR 3/4) homogeneous material with a silky to greasy, occasionally slightly glassy, lustre. Greenish gray (5GY to 10GY 5/1-2) and dark greenish gray (10Y 4/1 and 5GY 4/1) varieties with silky, sometimes greasy, lustre but often with a matte surface are fairly common as well. Other colours that occur less frequent are: (dark) yellowish brown (10YR 4/4-5/4), very dark grayish brown (10YR 3/2), dark reddish gray (5YR 4/2), brownish yellow (10YR 6/7) and yellowish brown (10YR 5/6) to brown (7.5 YR 4/4) with mostly silky to greasy lustre. All varieties also can be found with a matte surface. From the photos of the samples from the region, you can get a fairly good idea of the different materials that occur here.
The black material to be found in the area (see photo above) is of such miserable quality, that it very probably wasn't used in prehistory.

The internal structure of all types is quite homogenous, apart from quartz and occasional calcite veins, some pieces show slight layering. The most important feature are small, slightly translucent spheres that can be seen at low magnification with a magnifying glass. These can very well be the rests of radiolarians, filled with purer chalcedony. We haven't got any thin sections of the material yet, but the picture will probably quite similar to those of Wien-Mauer/Antonshöhe, where these dots are very common too.
All radiolarites in the area are nearly completely opaque. Only in very thin edges the material becomes slightly translucent, the greenish material more so than the reddish.

Other information: Mining, or at least extraction, sites in the area seem to have been know since shortly after the second world war (Skutil 1948 cited in Kozłowski et al. 1981). In the following years there appear to have been other discoveries of extraction sites, but it seems they never were published. Even the most recent publications Cheben et al. 1995 and Cheben & Illášová 1997, although the later one was published in the proceedings of VIIth Flint Symposium, failed to make the area better known abroad. Up till now, even the most prominent site in the region, Bolešov-Tri kopce, hasn't been given an international mining number, and isn't mentioned in the latest edition of the Bochum-catalogue (Weisgerber et al. (eds.) 1999)
  Prehistoric radiolarite quarry at Tri kopce
Foto: Andreas Kinne, 2001
  Like said above, the most exhaustively published mine is Tri kopce on Králov Vrch near Bolešov. The picture above doesn't do justice to the site which is, lying in the middle of beech woods, quite impossible to photograph without the help of a large chain-saw. Although no excavations have been carried out, the evidence for prehistoric mining is very strong with large amounts of knapping waste to be found in the area. The exploitation pit is quite large, some 50 × 25 metres, with a depth of up to twelve metres. As usual hardly any dating material is present, but a pyramidal core found here would nicely fit in industries of the Later Neolithic like Lengyel.
In the wider area there are other possible mining sites with large amounts of waste and some pit-like structures. We visited one of the more promising areas at Chmel'ová, where according to Cheben et al. 1995 could, basing on aerial photographs, exist another mining field, until then unverified on the ground. We found on one of the lesser peaks of the mountain very convincing evidence for mining with a large pit directly on top of a band of radiolarite-rich sediments (see photo below). A more intensive survey in the region could uncover quite a few new sites.
Knapping notes: It has been said before on other pages of this site, we are by no means enthusiastic about knapping radiolarite, especially not after our excursion in the spring of 2001 where we saw some of the worst raw materials presumably used in prehistory we ever set eyes on. Most of the bands and/or nodules are heavily fractured by the tectonic forces that drove the parent rock to the surface. If you give a piece of radiolarite a gentle tap you get the impression you've just tried to knap the windscreen of your car: all that is left is a heap of angular shatter. Finding a piece of material over ten centimetres in size not riddled with fractures is very hard work indeed. But the area of the Vlarára Pass does have some decent material, as far as radiolarites go, that is. The fine grained reddish and fine to medium greenish stones do have good knapping properties, only to be compared with the best materials from Wien-Mauer/Antonshöhe or Szentgál-Tüzköveshegy.
The smallness of the raw material seems to have been a problem in prehistory too: Kozłowski et al. 1981 mention a "flake of remarkable size" being 62 mm long. In the article by Cheben et al. (1995), the lengths of 156 complete blades from a workshop are given. None of these are longer than 9 cm, and only 9 (not even 6 %) exceed the 5 cm mark, the modal lying in the 31-35 mm class, which is fine for microliths, but of little use for anything else.
Archaeological description: Data on the archaeology of the West Slovak radiolarites are a bit scant. Add to that the problem of differentiation of the several sources in the Klippen Belt, and the picture you're left with is sketchy at the best. In the direct surroundings of the sources, i.e. at both the Czech and the Slovak sides of the White Carpathians, the situation is quite straightforward. As the radiolarites are the only knappable raw materials in a fairly wide area, they dominate the industries from the Palaeolithic to the Early Neolithic and account for up to 30% of the raw materials in a region of 100 to 150 kilometres around the primary occurrences. But even so, one settlement, Uherský Brod-Odjatá, only 30 kilometres to the west of the Vlára Pass, has an inventory that consists nearly completely of imported Jurassic Cracow chert from Southern Poland. Also further to the East the same phenomenon can be observed. It seems that all sites with this very anomalous composition of raw materials date to the Moravian Painted Ware culture, something very much in contradiction with the attribution of the exploitation fields to the Lengyel-complex.

Outside the 150 kilometre radius the contribution of the radiolarites to the prehistoric lithic industries drops off sharply, mostly due to competition by other local materials, mostly of better quality. Single pieces of radiolarite do occur quite a long way from the Klippen Belt, especially in assemblages of Early to Middle Neolithic age. As outlined above, the lack of discrimination between the sources makes it impossible to pinpoint the origin within the Alpine/Carpathian ranges.
Concluding it can be said, that the Vlára-radiolarites are important only on a local to regional scale with occasional pieces entering into the long-distance exchange networks.

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Králov Vrch-Tri kopce
Locality: Králov Vrch-Tri kopce, Bolešov, White Carpathians, Western Slovakia
Synonyms: Bolešov-Tri kopce, FlintSource samples 181, 182 and 183.
Geographical description: The Králov Mountain lies in the westernmost part of the Slovak Republic, not even two kilometres from the Czech border. It is a wooded peak, part of the Tri duby/Zelená massif in the Kobilináč range of the White Carpathians, rising to about 600 m asl. The mining site lies on the southeastern slope of the hill at an altitude of about 560 metres.
Geographical co-ordinates: Lat. 49° 01' 59" N
Long. 018° 05' 47" E
(Mapdatum WGS 84)

The coordinates given above are those of the eponymous three small knolls of Tri kopce, the mining site itself is located a bit to the North at:
Lat. 49° 02' 03" N
Long. 018° 05' 48" E

Co-ordinate precision: As usual we did localize the sampling sites using a hand-held GPS receiver, which gives coordinates down to a few metres. Due to the quite dense forest and the mountainous topography precision is not very high, but the deviation will be less than a second. A small stroll in the area will get you to the sites as depicted on this page.
Other topographical information: As we visited the site, we parked the car along road number 57 which leads from Dubnica nad Váhom to the Czech-Slovak border at Rybníky. We then hiked the two kilometres from the road to the mountain cross-country style, using a compass and the 1:50 000 topographical map 107 "Biele Karpaty-Trenčín". Orientation in the wooded and mountainous terrain is difficult, so make sure you bring this map which is readily available in bookshops in the larger towns. We bought the sheets we needed for all sampling points in the Slovak republic at the Academia bookshop in Bratislava for 89 crowns apiece, being approx 2.20 € (spring 2001). On our 1997 edition of the map, there is no UTM/GPS grid, but newer editions of other sheets there is, so it is possible that maps bought now are updated for use with a GPS.
On our way back to the car we found a newly constructed untarred road that leads from the mountain back to the road between Rybníky and Zábava, which made the going a lot easier.
Additional information: Eponymous locality of Tri kopce
Foto: Rengert Elburg, 2001
  In the picture above you are looking at the three small knolls "Tri kopce", that give the site its name. We haven't got a clue what those small heaps are, but the do look man made and quite a lot of worked radiolarites are lying on the surface here, making it a good sampling point. The mining site lies about 100 metres due North of this point.
Visitors information: We visited the area only for a day, driving up from Bratislava and afterwards went further North in the direction of Žilina and the Polish, so we didn't sample the infrastructure in the region. Looking for a place to stay at the end of the day showed the map of the area to be highly inaccurate in this aspect, a fact encountered also in the other regions we visited in Slovakia. Quite a lot of the hotels and guest houses indicated on the map are either closed, or impossible to locate. We stayed at a "motorest", being a kind of truckers place, on the main road 61 (E75/E50) near Žilina, which cost us about 10 € for a three-bedded room for the night, with prices for beer and food in the same category. If you want to stay in the area, your best bet is to go to Trenčin, where there are a few hotels and a camping ground.
Even if Slovakia possesses only a extremely limited number of kilometres of motorway, only around Bratislava and a very short stretch near Košice, you need a toll sticker to use them. They can be bought at all border crossings and are quite cheap if compared to Switzerland, Austria and even the Czech republic, costing about 2.50 € for 15 days (spring 2001).
Sampling information: We took three samples in the area: some scraps of knapping waste and unworked material at Tri Kopce, a variety of raw material from the mining site and black material from a primary outcrop a few hundred metres to the West. The latter sample was the first one we took but it isn't included in this page because it is quite unsuitable for knapping.
We can't repeat it enough: when sampling unexcavated mining sites like this one, do not take dating cultural material like typo-chronological relevant tools or cores. If you can't withstand the temptation, take a few flakes, like we did. Do not go knapping all over the place yourself, contaminating the archaeological evidence and do not dig.

As the site is decidedly mountainous in character, the best time for visiting is spring. As we were there in the middle of April, the undergrowth was still very sparse and the trees bare, giving reasonable visibility. Do not come much earlier, on the higher ground around Chmel'ová, there were still patches of snow.

  Typical very fine radiolarite
Foto: Matthias Rummer, 2002
Typical very fine radiolarite from Tri kopce.
Length of flake: 43 mm.
Slightly veined radiolarite
Foto: Matthias Rummer, 2002
Slightly veined radiolarite with some cortex
Length of flake: 48 mm.
  Multicoloured radiolarite
Foto: Matthias Rummer, 2002
Multicoloured radiolarite from the mine at Tri kopce.
Length of piece: 25 mm.
Flake of greenish material
Foto: Matthias Rummer, 2002
Flake of predominantly greenish material
Length of flake: 31 mm.
Sample description: The two pieces in the top row are good examples of the reddish radiolarites in the area. The left hand specimen is a bit more yellowish and has stronger lustre. The flake on the right shows slight veining and still has some cortex attached. In the transitional zone between cortex and siliceous material, the small nodules mentioned in the general description above are clearly visible, even in the compressed digital photo.
The piece on the left side in the bottom row is given more as a curiosity, as it combines nearly all colours present on the site in one tiny flake. In the high-resolution photo the typical glassy spheres are especially well visible in the yellowish central part. The other photo shows a flake of predominantly greenish, matte and slightly translucent radiolarite. Click the high-res photo and marvel how the internal structure is visible, even in a 34 kB JPEG, thanks to our site photographer Matthias Rummer.

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Locality: Krivoklát-Diel Mountain, White Carpathians, Western Slovakia
Synonyms: FlintSource sample 184.
Geographical description: Diel is a 758 meters high summit of the Zelená massif in the Kobilináč range in the White Carpathians. It lies approximately 4 kilometres Northwest of Krivoklát and 3 kilometres West of Vršatské-Podhradie.
Geographical co-ordinates: Lat. 49° 03' 16" N
Long. 018° 08' 00" E
(Mapdatum WGS 84)
Co-ordinate precision: The coordinates given were taken at the roadside at the foot of the eastern slope of the hill were we found most material with a small GPS receiver. Precision is good enough to get you to the site.
Other topographical information: We found this site by coincidence as we were trying to localize the mining site near the stream of Krivoklátske potok, mentioned in Cheben et al. 1995. Unable to find these extraction pits, we surveyed the area looking for knappable radiolarites, which we found on the surface next to a narrow tarred road leading to the forester's house "Chrastková". To get here the fast way, take the road which leads from Bohunice near Pruské on the 507 to Krivoklát, drive through Krivoklát and keep on following it until it makes a narrow bend at the head of the valley, and after another kilometre you are where we took the site photo. Again, it is a good idea to bring the 1:50 000 topographical map 107 "Biele Karpaty-Trenčín" and a GPS.
Sampling information: Sampling site at foot of Diel
Foto: Rengert Elburg, 2001
  As usual with sites with lithics in secondary position, the place is not really spectacular. Basically it's just the wooded slope of the Diel hill where erosion uncovered weathered out radiolarites. We are not even sure if there are outcrops with siliceous material around here, but the amounts of the stuff strongly suggest so, even if most material is not suited for knapping.
  High-quality reddish brow radiolarite
Foto: Matthias Rummer, 2002
High-quality reddish brow radiolarite
length of flake 42 mm
Slightly coarser dark material
Foto: Matthias Rummer, 2001
Slightly coarser dark material
size 33 mm
Sample description: Apart from the usual heavily fractured and useless black stuff we found only two varieties of radiolarite here. The reddish material is the same as on the other sites we visited in the region. Here we found a piece of remarkable knapping properties, which we, alas, only noted after treating it with a geological hammer. In the high-res photo you can see some slight banding and again, the small spherical inclusions.
The other, dark greenish piece is of the more common type to be found here. It is coarser than most material we saw in the region and is a bit more translucent. As you can guess from the picture, its knapping properties are not as good, but it still makes a reasonable raw material.

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Locality: Vršatské-Podhradie, Chmel'ová, White Carpathians, Western Slovakia
Synonyms: FlintSource sample 185.
Geographical description: View towards Chmel'ova mountain
Foto: Rengert Elburg, 2001
  The picture above gives a good impression what the area looks like. The peak in the middle of the photo shows one of the typical cliffs in the Klippen Belt. Chmel'ova is the much more rounded summit in the background to the left, with 925 metres one of the highest points in the area. The newly discovered, or better to say verified, extraction pit, lies on the smaller peak, directly in front of Chmel'ova and isn't named on our topographical map, so we took the nearest toponym.
Geographical co-ordinates: Lat. 49° 04' 12.2" N
Long. 018° 08' 45.3" E
(Mapdatum WGS 84)
Co-ordinate precision: Although the site is wooded, it is high enough to get a reasonably precise reading from the GPS. Accuracy is within a few metres and to make sure the site can be relocated we give decimals for the arc-seconds.
Other topographical information: This is not a site you can drive to: the last few hundred metres are quite a climb, typically something for our mountain expert Andreas Kinne. As the others of the team where still struggling to get up, Andreas sent out a SMS with his mobile telephone with the coordinates of his position, the sign for the others to get directly to that spot. Sweating and out of breath we then were awarded the sight you see below.
To get to the site, you first have to get to Pruské, which lies on the right bank of the Váh, just across from Ilava, 5 kilometres northeast of Trenčín on the main road 61. From Pruské you take the, locally very steep and narrow, road to Vršatské-Podhradie. Inside the village you take a left towards the steep cliffs that tower over the place. After going through the gap in the rocks, you leave the car in a convenient spot near the ski lift and proceed on foot. It is strongly recommended you bring with you the 1:50 000 topographical map 107 "Biele Karpaty-Trenčín", where the peak you are looking for lies directly north of the road between the word "chaty" and the second ski lift (at least, on our 1997 edition). Bringing a GPS solves most problems. At the path there is an outcrop of very weathered red material with some radiolarites, this is the seam the mine exploited. If you go from here in a straight line towards the summit, you will easily find the site.
Additional information: Newly discovered mining site
Foto: Andreas Kinne, 2001
  The pit seen above is a somewhat elongated with the longest axis a bit over 15 metres long. The present depth is well over three metres, but could be a lot more, depending on where the cut really begins and how much of it has been filled. It seems to have been dug directly into a seam of softer reddish material containing red radiolarites. The surrounding rock is white limestone with the layering in a nearly vertical position. These two details make it all the more likely this could be a prehistoric mine. Firstly, it is very reminiscent of the situation in Wien-Mauer/Antonshöhe, where also the red layers within the white limestone were exploited. Secondly, the vertically standing banks, greatly facilitating the excavation, are very similar to the geology of Sümeg. If the site were a bit better accessible, this object would be an ideal candidate for an excavation, but even so a test-trench would probably be extremely rewarding.
  Extraction pit
Foto: Rengert Elburg, 2001
  Another view of the pit. Note the vertical layering of the limestones in the foreground and the reddish material the mine was dug in. Andreas, just under two metres, is serving as a scale to the size of the feature.
Sampling information: As we treated the mining site with the utmost respect, we didn't sample in its immediate surroundings, but took some material from other points near the summit. We therefore don't know how representative the sample is for the material extracted here, but we guess the material mined here was of the reddish variety, already shown for the other sampling sites.
If you want to visit the site, make sure the snow has gone. As we were there in the middle of April, there were still some patches of snow lying around, but thanks to the lack of undergrowth at this time of the year, visibility was near perfect.

This might be an important archaeological monument, do not tamper with it in any way that could lessen its scientific value!

  Flake of red, slightly veined material
Foto: Matthias Rummer, 2002
Flake of red, slightly veined material
size 23 mm
Fine grained brown radiolarite
Foto: Matthias Rummer, 2002
Very fine grained brown Jurassic radiolarite from Chmel'ová Mountain
size 25 mm
  Two-toned radiolarite with inclusions and veins
Foto: Matthias Rummer, 2002
Two-toned radiolarite with inclusions and veins
length of flake: 30 mm
Lump of fractured material with yellow band
Foto: Matthias Rummer, 2002
Lump of somewhat fractured material with conspicuous yellow band
size 55 mm
Sample description: The piece in the right top photo is again a small flake of the red radiolarite in the region, though it is a bit coarser than the finest specimens we found at the other sites. Next to it is a variety we didn't find on one of the other sites in the region. The structure is identical with the fine reddish radiolarites, but its brown colour clearly different from the rest of the material in our samples.
In the lower row there is a flake with a beautiful network of green veins, which we include more for its aesthetic value than as a real sample. The small block shows the typical reddish material in its natural state, badly fractured with heavy quartz/calcite veins further reducing knapability. Note the yellow band, which shows that all colour combinations are possible.


Last modified on:
July 22, 2002
Contents primarily by:
Rengert Elburg
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