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Szeletian felsitic porphyry

Material name: Szeletian felsitic porphyry
Synonyms: Felsitic quartz porphyry; Glassy quartzporphyry; striped felsitic rhyolite tuff; "ash-grey chalcedony"
Material (geologic): Triassic (Ladinian) quartz porphyry or felsitic (meta)rhyolite

Detail of flake
Foto: Matthias Rummer, 2001

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General characteristics

(In part adapted from Simán 1986b and Vértes & Tóth 1963

Geographical setting: View of woods in Bükk Mountains
Foto: Rengert Elburg, 2001
  The Bükk Mountains are a smallish range east of Miskolc in Northeastern Hungary, rising to just under 1000 metres. In all it measures about 50 (East-West) by 30 kilometres and mostly consists of Mesozoic rocks, predominantly limestones. Although not very high, the terrain is quite mountainous because of the many, mostly quite narrow valleys cut deeply in the underground. Most of it is covered with beech woods, whence its name, as can be seen in the picture above.
The area of interest for the "felsitic quartz porphyry" is a very small patch three kilometres long and just one and a half kilometres wide between the villages of Bükkszentlászló and Bükkszentkereszt in the western part of the range, directly to the West of Miskolc. In this patch Triassic (Ladinian, according to Vértes & Tóth 1963) effusiva occur that are so amorphous they can be used as a raw material for knapped lithics.
Material and colour: There is hardly any other lithic that is know by as many names as this stuff. As the material was recognized as something typical, which was at the end of the 19th century, it was misidentified as "grey chalcedony" and its origin given as the Avas Hill near Miskolc. This was only to be the start of a long history of local names which include "Szeletian quartz porphyry", "glassy quartzporphyry", "felsitic quartzporphyry", "striped felsitic rhyolite tuff" and "ash-grey porphyry". To make the confusion complete, from the geological side it was established it should be called a "meta-rhyolite" or "felsitic (meta)rhyolite". In the most recent local archaeological literature (e.g. the LITHOTHECA catalogue) the name used is Szeletian felsitic porphyry, which we will use here too.

Analyses have shown the material to consist predominantly of quartz (over 80 %) with minor constituents being potash feldspar and plagioclase. The structure is described as "cryptocrystalline, containing crystalline grains, sometimes porphyric ones too" (Simán 1986b). A good example of the structure with a few larger quartz grains can be seen in the macro-photo at the top of this page. The material in our sample is predominantly gray (N5 to N6) with some darker stripes (dark gray, N4). One piece shows clear reddish yellow (7.5YR 6/6) to brownish yellow/yellow (10YR 6/6-7/6) stripes. One block we found was white (2.5Y 8/1) with white stripes (yes, according to the Munsell scale this really is possible, the denser/whiter white being N9) and some dark greenish grey (10Y-5GY 4/1) schliers. According to the literature (LITHOTHECA), most typical is light gray (N7) to greenish gray (5GY 6/1 and 5B 5/1). Further pictures of this material can be found on the page of the comparative raw material collection of the Hungarian National Museum, where the biface in the site logo is made of the porphyry.
All flakes are slightly translucent, up to a thickness of approx. 8 mm, and show a slightly laminated texture. Freshly broken or knapped surfaces have a faint greasy to dull lustre.

Other information: No active prehistoric mining for the felsitic porphyry is known, and will probably never have existed either. Even now the blocks, which seem quite impervious to weathering, can be found at the surface. Even if any active extraction has taken place, it will not have been more than simple diggings, as this is a typical Palaeolithic raw material.
Knapping notes: Due to its slightly laminar structure, the fracture is strongly directional. This makes the stuff an ideal raw material for foliates and other bifaces. Even a few blows with a geologist's hammer, if not extremely well directed perpendicular to the layering, will get you a rough biface. The denser parts can be used for flakes and shortish blades, but they are mostly a bit irregular because the somewhat uneven fracture.
Archaeological description: From an archaeological point of view, Szeletian felsitic porphyry is a nearly ideal material: it is easily recognized, it hardly can be confused with any other lithic, and the source area is extremely small. And if any doubt as to the attribution of a find exists, analysis can show unambiguously if it comes from the Bükkszentlászló source or not.
As the name already suggests, the most intense use of the material was during the Szeletian, the Early Upper Palaeolithic culture of Micoquian tradition in Eastern Central Europe. Not surprisingly, this culture is characterized by bifacial foliates (laurel-leaf points), and was named after the Szeleta Cave in the Bükk Mountains. During this time, the felsitic porphyry was the predominant material in the region and artefacts made of it are found at surprising distances from the source. Finds are known as far west as the Danube Bend (130 km) and from Central and Eastern Slovakia, approx. 100 kilometres to the Northeast. One specimen is reported from the site of Ondratice near Brno in Moravia, which lies about 300 kilometres as the crow flies from the Bükk Mountains, but the identification of the material is doubted (Simán 1986b).
In other times, like the Middle and Late Paleolithic, the spread is much more restricted, but with the Bábonyian culture (a local Micoquian Mousterian facies), it is the most important raw material for bifaces. In the Mesolithic and the Neolithic it looses its importance completely and only isolated finds of flakes of felsitic porphyry are known.

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Locality: Bükkszentlászló, Kaán-Károly Spring, Bükk Mountains, Hungary
Synonyms: FlintSource sample 218.
Geographical description: The source of Szeletian felsitic porphyry is a small area in the Bükk Mountains between Bükkszentlászló and Bükkszentkereszt. In the literature (Vértes & Tóth 1963) the area is given as "..between the Tatárdomb near Diósgyör and the Kerekhegy (which is located between Újhuta and Lillafüred)..", with the richest deposits "..near the Kaán-Károly Spring at the northwestern end of the Óhuta Valley.."
Like most of the Bükk Mountains, the area in question in mostly densely wooded country dissected by steep, narrow valleys. The spring lies at an altitude around 560 m asl and can easily be reached on foot from Bükkszentlászló.
Geographical co-ordinates: Lat. 48° 05' 00" N
Long. 020° 38' 20" E
(Mapdatum WGS 84)
Co-ordinate precision: The coordinates given are those of the Kaán-Károly Spring and were taken with a hand held 12 channel GPS receiver. Notwithstanding the mountainous terrain and forest cover, they will be more than good enough to get you to the area where we did our sampling.
Other topographical information: To get to the site, you first have to find your way to Bükkszentlászló, something for which you will need a good road map of the region or the 1:25 000 town map (Várostérkép) of Miskolc, which can be found in bookshops all over Hungary. You have to find the road which leaves Miskolc at the western side and leads directly to Bükkszentlászló and from there on to Bükkszentkereszt, and from there on winds its way across the Bükk Mountains towards Eger. We visited the site twice and have taken the same road through Miskolc twice, although we don't know for sure how we reached it.
At reaching Bükkszentlászló, you drive into the (at some places extremely narrow) road into the village and keep on driving until you reach the further end where the road just ceases to exist. Do not be deterred by the cul-de-sac sign at the entrance of the village. Leave your car at the end of the tarred road and just follow the path that follows the larger stream. After about 2 kilometres (and an ascent of approx. 150 metres), you find yourself at the Kaán-Károly Spring, as shown in the picture below.
If you want to explore the wider area or hike to the site from Bükkszentkereszt, you better buy the 1:40 000 topographical map number 30 "A Bükk (déli rész)", which can be found at most bookshops in the wider area and cost us (spring 2001) about 1.75 €.
Additional information: View of eponymous spring
Foto: Rengert Elburg, 2001
  In the picture above you see the Kaán-Károly Spring, as it is the most prominent feature in the immediate area. The rest of the sampling site looks like the picture at the top of the page.
Visitors information: The last time we visited the site we drove on to from Bükkszentkereszt, a very attractive town in the middle of the Bükk Mountains, and just a few (very curving) kilometres up the road from Bükkszentlászló. There are at least two hotels here, of which we stayed in the one at the eastern end of the town. As it seems to be a popular place, especially in the winter, prices are relatively high for Hungary, but still very acceptable from a Western European point of view. We paid about 12 € per person for a comfortable three-bedded room (spring 2001). Unfortunately, the kitchen was kind of closed, as it was clearly out of season for the place, and we have to do with a improvised meal consisting of a stew of turkey with rice and some beers.
Sampling information: According to the literature, the felsitic porphyry should occur in the area as blocks weighing several hundreds of kilograms, of which we didn't find a trace. Most samples we found were not more than 20 centimetres, and were certainly not abundant. The best chances to find good material is walking the beds of the small streams in the area, as the ground is mostly thickly covered by leafs of the omnipresent beech trees.
  Flake of typical quartz porphyry
Foto: Matthias Rummer, 2001
Ventral view of a flake of typical quartz porphyry
size 67 mm
Flake with cortex
Foto: Matthias Rummer, 2001
Dorsal view of a flake with cortex
size 67 mm
  Piece of striped material
Foto: Matthias Rummer, 2001
Piece with conspicuous brownish stripes
length 74 mm
Flake of whitish material
Foto: Matthias Rummer, 2001
Flake of whitish material
width 46 mm
Sample description: The two photos in the top row are the dorsal and ventral view of the same flake. On the dorsal side there is still some of the slightly platy cortex present. The two pieces at the bottom row are examples of a variety with brownish stripes and a flake of whitish material. For further description of the material, see the general section above.
Although we are quite confident that the material depicted here is in structure quite typical for the Szeletian felsitic porphyry, it seems that we didn't find any material with the typical ash-grey colour. If any of our visitors has more information on the range of textures and colours in this type of material, we will be glad to hear it.


Last modified on:
August 1, 2002
Contents primarily by:
Rengert Elburg
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