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"Krzemionki", prehistoric flint mines

Date of Submission: 12/01/2016
Criteria: (i)(iii)(iv)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Minister of Culture and National Heritage
State, Province or Region:
Swietokrzyskie province
Coordinates: N50 58 21.63 E21 29 47.45
Ref.: 6075
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Description

The Krzemionki complex of prehistoric banded flint mines, known also as Krzemionki Opatowskie, is located within the north-eastern Mesozoic buffer zone of the Holy Cross Mountains in central Poland. Banded flint, used as a raw material in tool production, was mined in Krzemionki in the Neolithic and the Early Bronze Ages, from the mid-4th millennium BC to the mid-2nd millennium BC. The mining field, 20-200 m wide and 4.5 km long, encompasses approx. 4,000 mines representing the majority of prehistoric techniques of flint mining. Four types of mining structures identified in Krzemionki: open-pit, niche-gallery, room-and-pillar and chamber mines, differed in their depth and the methods of flint extraction. The largest and most complex chamber mines reached the depth of 9 m, covering an area of up to a few hundred square metres; the excavations were 55-120 cm high. The unique character of the Krzemionki complex results not only from those well preserved Neolithic excavations, but also from the prehistoric industrial landscape: slag heaps of the output, depressions left after the mine shafts, as well as relics of flint workshops and miners' camps situated in the immediate vicinity of the pits.

Prehistoric flint was mined by specialised miners from the Funnel Beaker, the Globular Amphora or the Mierzanowice cultures, who used simple tools made of stone, flint, antler or wood to extract flint from calcareous rock. The methods of underground exploitation of siliceous rocks were an example of the most advanced mining technology and geology at that time, as evidenced by the miners' ability to adjust their mining techniques to the type of rock, the depth of the deposit and the climatic conditions, as well as by their skilful management of the output and the appropriate choice of protective measures. Each mine was staffed by several workers who drilled the raw material, transported it to the surface or processed it. Overground, the flint was delivered directly to workshops where tools were shaped.

The Krzemionki complex is the most representative instance of large-scale prehistoric mining in the Holy Cross Mountains area. The significance of the flint mines was far more than regional. Polished axes produced in Krzemionki from banded flint of a unique pattern were distributed within a radius of more than 650 km of the complex, in present-day Germany, the Czech Republic, Moravia, Slovakia, western Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania, where they were used both for functional and ritual purposes.

The Krzemionki mines were discovered by geologist Jan Samsonowicz in 1922. Soon after, research started on the complex and efforts were made to set up an archaeological reserve there. The whole prehistoric mining field is currently under legal protection.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Criterion (i): The Krzemionki prehistoric flint mines represent an outstanding example of advanced knowledge and human creative ability in prehistory. The method of exploiting natural resources is a testimony to prehistoric workers' technological expertise and familiarity with their environment, as proven by the way they adapted their mining techniques to the type of rock, the depth of the deposit and the climatic conditions, as well as by their skilful management of the output, their appropriate choice of protective measures and tools (made of stone, flint, antler or wood), their organisation of transport, the use of lighting and (probably) ventilation systems.

The Krzemionki complex can be considered as tangible evidence that the New Stone Age, which brought flint mining and industry, was a watershed period in the history of mankind. The ability to extract, process and distribute the raw material changed everyday life to a great extent and contributed to the development of civilisation.

Criterion (iii): The prehistoric flint mines bear unique testimony to the cultural tradition of flint mining and processing which continued there for approx. 2000 years. Three cultural units represented in Krzemionki at that time: the Funnel Beaker, the Globular Amphora and the Mierzanowice cultures, differed in their economic system, material culture and probably spiritual culture as well. Despite that, in the course of those 20 centuries, the methods of mining were improved to a remarkable degree and the professions of miner and knapper were developed. The skills were handed down from generation to generation, becoming an element of the cultural tradition.

The perfectly preserved industrial landscape with depressions left after the mine shafts surrounded by slag heaps of the output, flint workshops and relics of the Neolithic miners' temporary settlement, is an unparalleled example of economic activity in the Neolithic and the Early Bronze Ages. For nearly 20 centuries, the place attracted specialised groups of miners and knappers who extracted banded flint and processed it on site. The local workshops produced large numbers of flint axes and chisels, which were basic tools in human economy at that time and also a valuable element of trade exchange.

Criterion (iv): The prehistoric flint mines in Krzemionki are a unique example of a mining and raw material processing ensemble which surpasses other complexes from that period both in its size and its mining techniques. Approx. 4000 mines represent four types of underground structures: open-pit, niche-gallery, room-and-pillar or chamber mines, differing in their depth and the methods of flint extraction. The largest and most complex chamber mines reached the depth of 9 in and covered an area of even a few hundred square metres; the excavations were 55-120 cm high. Flint workshops, their remnants still visible close to the shafts, formed an integral part of each mine. Moreover, the walls of the excavations were marked by scrapped-off torches and covered with charcoal drawings, interpreted at present as coded information or an expression of a magical system and symbolism related with the beliefs of the Stone Age population.

Criterion (v): The prehistoric flint mines in Krzemionki rank among examples of skilful exploitation of natural resources combined with advances in human civilisation. The traces of flint mining and tool production have survived virtually unchanged to the present day, bearing testimony to prehistoric land development. The industrial landscape, gradually reclaimed by nature, has become a valuable instance of environment typical of prehistoric mining activity in that region, offering great research potential for humanities and natural sciences.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity

The prehistoric flint mines in Krzemionki are characterised by an exceptional level of authenticity. This concerns, above all, the perfectly preserved underground structures such as shafts, chambers, communication galleries, transport corridors, supporting pillars or slag heaps of the output, as well as the aboveground industrial landscape consisting of the post-shaft depressions, remnants of flint workshops, miners' camps and communication routes.

A small segment of the mining field has been excavated archaeologically and, after some conservation work, made available to visitors. The underground tourist route gives unparalleled access to the location which has remained almost unchanged for over 5000 years, providing a great educational opportunity to explore directly the perfectly preserved material traces of everyday life of prehistoric European communities.

Integrity

The prehistoric Krzemionki complex, a complete integral mining field with underground excavations and well-preserved relief, reflects the entire technological process, from the extraction of the material through its processing to ready-made products. Due to its size, the diversity of extraction techniques, advanced technology and the state of preservation, it is the most representative mining and processing area in Central Europe.

The prehistoric flint mines are legally protected in their entirety. There is no recognisable threat to preserving that valuable site for future generations.

Comparison with other similar properties

Comparison to the sites mentioned on the World Heritage List or to potential applicants for that list confirms that the Krzemionki complex is an example of the most advanced prehistoric mining technology.

The perfectly preserved underground excavations combined with the cultural landscape consisting of the slag heaps, post-shaft depressions and flint workshops make up a Neolithic and Early Bronze complex of mines and processing plants which has no parallel in the world.

Comparison of the Krzemionki mines to similar sites in the world, particularly to the Neolithic flint mines at Spiennes near Mons in Belgium, which have been inscribed on the World Heritage List, shows that the complex in Krzemionki is unsurpassed in the state of its preservation, the size of its mines, the kind and diversity of its mining techniques and the system of distributing the output.