Bohemian quartzites

(In part adapted from Malkovský & Vencl 1995 )

Geographical setting: The knappable quartzites in the northern part of the Czech Republic come to or near the surface at the fringes of the North Bohemian Coal Basin. This northernmost part of the Bohemian Basin is flanked by the Doupovské hory massive in the west and by the České Středohoří (Czech Midmountains) in the east, both of tertiary volcanic origin. The basin is filled with tertiary sediments in which, like the name already suggests, coal is being found. The mining of this lignite or brown coal is being done in enormous strip mines that turned a once probably quite attractive region into one of the most depressing industrial wastes we ever set eyes on.
The quartzites that can be found here started their lives as Upper Cretaceous sediments that were cemented under influence of percolating water. Just when this happened is still very much open to discussion, but an Oligocene date seems quite probable. The main review of the material ( Malkovský & Vencl 1995 ) gives weathering as the most common cause for the cementing of the sediments but we suspect that the local volcanism is at least partly responsible for it. This idea is confirmed by a recent paper on the quartzite from Žitenice/Skalice in Eastern Bohemia (Malý et al. 2006).
In Western Bohemia there are two main areas where quartzites occur: around the city of Most in the east with type-localities at Bečov , Kamenná Voda and Skršin and near Kadaň in the west with Tušimiče. Other types of quartzite occur further to the east, like the material from Žitenice.
Extractability and use: The parent rock in which the quartzites are embedded is in the most localities sandstone or loose fine sediment and they occur in the form of large nodules or continuous banks. At several sites these banks appeared as outcrops on the surface, but most of these are destroyed by industrial activity in the past fifty years. Either the quartzite itself was extracted like in Skršin or the site was covered under a overburden dump (Kamenná Voda). Only at Bečov some of the original surface remains intact. This shows that most of the occurrences were near or at the surface and therefore quite easily worked in prehistory like in modern times. Only at Tušimiče there seems to have been no outcrop at the surface and the material has been mined in shafts ( Lech & Mateiciucová 1995a , Neustupny 1966 ). In Bečov too, there are traces of mining ( Lech & Mateiciucová 1995b ), but here open pits were enough to reach the quartzite.
All materials discussed here are of high to very high quality and widely used and exchanged from the paleolithic until the bronze age. No wonder, as quartzites represent the only material suitable for knapping (with the exception of porcellanite ) in the region. Hardly any internal fissures are present in the unweathered material, only patches of coarser or less well cemented material can cause problems. As most outcrops were easily accessible there was no need to use low quality eroded blocks.
Artefacts made of Bohemian quartzites have been found all over the Czech Republic (Bohemia and Moravia) as well as in the bordering regions of Germany (Saxony and the Oberpfalz), up to 280 kilometers from their sources. The scarcity of material reported outside Bohemia is almost certainly caused by the unfamiliarity with the material on the side of the archaeologists and not by the lack of finds.
Similarities and differences: There is no way these materials can be confused among each other, but confusion with other materials can sometimes easily arise. We give a broad outline here, for further differentiation (with known problems and misidentifications), see the individual pages.
Although we have no 100% verified sample of the Kamenná Voda-type material, its description as being "fine-grained, grey with small ochre-coloured schliers" ( Malkovský & Vencl 1995 , p. 26), fits material we saw in archaeological collections and with a few stary blocks in the region well enough to be quite sure of a positive identification. Although it differs enough from the rest of the Bohemian material (definitely finer than Bečov, less cement and a bit more translucent than Tušimiče), confusion with other quartzites is not to be ruled out completely as the schliers are very difficult to see in some pieces.
The Bečov material is highly distinct from the rest of the Bohemian varieties with its coarser, sugar-like appearance and lack of any visible cement in unpolarized light. The problem lies in the distinction from other, ubiquitous quartzites that can be very similar. One of the main characteristics are denser white spots, but those are not present on every piece. The chances are that if you don't have any other Bohemian imports on your site, the sugary quartzite is probably not Bečov, as its range is somewhat more restricted than that of the other materials from the region.
If you ever handled a piece of Tušimiče-quartzite, you will recognize the material anywhere. Medium to fine grains set in a very dense, yellowish or white cement with occasional schliers of the same colour as the cement and a very nice, silky to greasy lustre. Occasional rusty spots. Take a look at the pictures on the page, especially those of the thin sections, to get an impression of the quite unique structure.
False positive identification of typical Skršin-type quartzite is impossible with its very dense matrix with only occasional visible quartz-grains and very distinct white and often red veins. Up till now we haven't found or seen anything like it. False negative identification, on the other hand, is probably extremely common. We had a piece of Skršin-type quartzite (before we knew what is was) variously identified as baltic flint, Bavarian hornstone (Jurassic chert), 'probably something from the (south German) Suevian Alb' or 'possibly Muschelkalk-hornstone', depending on where the lithic specialist was coming from.
Thanks and acknowledgements: Special thanks are in order for Jan Blažek and his team from the Institute for research and preservation of archaeological monuments of Northwest-Bohemia in Most for their hospitality during a stay at the guest-rooms at the institute during our main excursion in the region

Last modified on:
July 11, 2007
Contents primarily by:
Rengert Elburg
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