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Radiolarian chert from Sümeg

Material name: Radiolarian flint from Sümeg
Synonyms: Sümeg flint, radiolarian chert
Material (geologic): Upper Jurassic/Lower Cretaceous chert or flint

Flake of material
Foto: Matthias Rummer, 2001

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General characteristics

(In part adapted from Bácskay 1995c and Trunkó 2000)

Geographical setting: Sümeg lies at the Southwestern margin of the Bakony Mountains, the most Southern part of the Transdanubian Central Mountains, about 20 kilometres North of Lake Balaton. Here the Little Hungarian Plain meets the Transdanubian Upland, and it is one of the few areas in Hungary (together with Tevel and Tata (link coming up)) where Cretaceous sediments surface. The gently rolling country is dominated by the castle of Sümeg, which stands on the top of a isolated limestone rock.
The geology of the area is not very straightforward, especially from a lithochronological point of view. South of Sümeg is the type-locality of the Mogyorósdomb-Formation, which is a well-stratified Biancone-type limestone that spans the transition of the Upper Jurassic into the lowermost Cretaceous, being of Tithonian to Valanginian age. Due to heavy faulting, parts of these layers stand in an almost vertical position. Flint (or chert) does occur in the Jurassic as well as the Cretaceous layers.
Material and colour: The trouble with Sümeg is that there are two types of flint, both of which have been mined in prehistory. The inferior type occurs in the Upper Jurassic (Tithonian) layers and is typically to be found in relatively thick banks. It is quite brittle, some authors call it spongy, and is mostly of a grayish colour. The better quality flint comes from the Upper Berriasian (Lower Cretaceous) limestones and occurs in the form of compact lenses and nodules, and is mostly gray too, but darker, even coffee-coloured, or pinkish varieties are reported too.
In our samples shades of gray dominate, they range from N6, 10YR 5/1-6/1 (gray) to 10YR and 2.5Y 7/2 (light gray) and 2.5Y 7/3 (pale yellow) with some pieces locally 5Y 5/2 (olive gray). The cortex is mostly thin and hard, but can be very irregular. There are few internal structures apart from locally some lighter spots.
Other information: Excavated flintmine at Sümeg
Foto: Rengert Elburg, 1999.
  Thanks to the work of Vertés 1964 and Fülöp 1976 as well as from Bácskay (1986 and 1995c), the flint mine at Sümeg is among the better published in Europe. The site was discovered during geological work on the Mogyorósdomb in 1960, as one of the workers digging a trench for a section found antler tools. It was quickly realized that this might be a prehistoric flint mine and a preliminary excavation was started immediately. The next year a full-scale excavation was started that exposed several pits and extraction trenches. Quite a lot of work has been done until 1986 with mostly narrow trenches cutting through the mining field to determine the mining method and the extension of the field, which is estimated at about three hectares.
The local geological situation with well developed layers, standing nearly vertical, was very favourable for the extraction. Instead of digging deep shafts, the prehistoric miners could just dig narrow trenches following the strike of the rock to get to the flint, as you can see in the picture above. This was mostly done with quartzite hammerstones and antler implements, both of which were found in large quantities in the abandoned mines. Experiments showed that the combination of a maul made from an antler beam and a tine as an expanding wedge used alternating gave best results. In this way about a m3 of material could be extracted in an hour. The output of the mines, basing on an average mine of 12.5 metres long, 3 metres deep and 1.5 metres wide, is estimated at 10 000 tonnes of usable flint.
Three radiocarbon dates are available for the mining site, two of those with uncalibrated ages of 4520 ± 160 and 4840 ± 110 BP indicate a Middle Copper Age use, the older one of 5960 ± 95 BP uncal. suggests that the mining could have started in the Earlier (in the local chronology Middle) Neolithic with the Transdanubian Linear Pottery Culture.
Knapping notes: As the mining site is a geologic as well as an archaeological preserve, we did only sample a few pieces that were lying on the surface outside of the immediate mining area. Although it seems we got some examples of both the Jurassic and the Cretaceous flint, neither is of such quality that we would bother to dig for it. The denser nodules are workable, but even these have a very imperfect conchoidal fracture. The brittle plates just shatter. If you see and feel the stuff you wonder why they did go to such lengths to get it.
Archaeological description: Like already mentioned in the introduction the archaeology and especially the distribution of this material is very enigmatic. Firstly there is its poor quality that seems inversely proportional to the intensity of the mining. Especially if you realize that the sources of high quality radiolarite at Szentgál or very good flint at Tevel are less than 40 kilometres away. Secondly, the distribution of the material is extremely restricted. Most of it is found in Neolithic and Copper Age sites to the southwest. The most astonishing point is how little material is found in archaeological context. In a systematical survey of Neolithic and Copper Age sites in Hungary with the specific aim of mapping the distribution of Sümeg flint the material was only found on 12 sites! (state of 1994, Bácskay 1995c).
It seems that the mines of Sümeg were only worked if no other material was available and because the favourable geological conditions made mining so easy.

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Locality: Sümeg-Mogyorósdomb, Veszprém county, Hungary
Synonyms: Mining site H2, according to the catalogue of the museum in Bochum (Weisgerber et al. (eds.) 1980)
Geographical description: The Mogyorósdomb is a low, rather barren hill about two kilometres south of the small town of Sümeg. It is wedged between the southbound road towards Lake Balaton and the railway. To the East the country rises towards the Bakony Mountains and in the West is the shallow valley of the river Marcal.
Geographical co-ordinates: Lat. 46 57' 49" N
Long. 017 17' 25" E
(Mapdatum WGS 84)
Co-ordinate precision: The coordinates given above were taken with a basic GPS-receiver at the fenced-off excavation site, and could differ from the actual location up to an arc-second. The material can be found in a wider area, for example at the unpaved road around 46 57' 48" N 017 17' 31" E.
Other topographical information: Getting to the site is, compared with most other sampling sites, the proverbial piece of cake. Take the southbound road out of Sümeg, until after about two kilometres you see a large sign at the Western side of the road proclaiming Sümeg-Mogyorósdomb, Neolit Tüzköbánya - Flintgrube - prehistoric site. Like you can guess, this is where you want to go.
Additional information: Geological section at Sümeg
Foto: Rengert Elburg, 1999
  The site at Sümeg-Mogyorósdomb is a geological and archaeological monument and some of the excavations are roofed over and part of the area is fenced off. Apart from the archaeological part, which was more than somewhat run down as we visited in 1999, there is a branch office of the Geological Survey. Apparently they have some kind of lodgings here too. If you don't see anybody at the gate of the mining site, go to the geologists next door and try to convey that you're some nutcase who is interested in the lack of geology in the form of holes in the ground. They can show you where there is a short cut through the fence. The sign at the gate says the site is only to be visited between the 1st of May and September 30, but when near there at any other time it is certainly worth a try to get in there. The place is a bit shabby, but there aren't that many prehistoric flint mines that are open for visitors.
In the picture above, you are looking from the South along the geological section towards the excavation, which can just be made out in the background, marked by the corrugated plates that were put up as roofing.
Visitors information: We don't know how the lodgings with the Geological Survey are, but staying in the town itself is quite pleasant. There are two hotels (one of which, the Vár Hotel, was full as we were there, we didn't try the other one), and at least one pension. We stayed at the Király Pension which is a family run affair in a partly medieval building. Most of the space in our room was taken up by a grand piano (which none of us knows how to play, we're more familiar with the keyboards of our computers), which only left space for two beds and an armchair somewhere tucked away in the corner. You can get a hearty meal here too, and they do scrambled eggs for breakfast in such quantities and with so much bacon that it will last for the better part of the day. Not as cheap as other places where we stayed in Hungary, but very reasonably priced.
A good place to do some serious drinking is the Kisfaludy Bar and restaurant, which also houses the Tourist Information. It is in the middle of the town on the main street with, weather permitting, some tables outside. It was at one of these tables after working out our route for the next day and the necessary beers, that the idea of the pages you are now looking at arose. We might return sometime to put up a brass plaque to commemorate the occasion.
Sampling information: As this is an important archaeological site that is protected by law, it is a very bad idea to visit the site with a mattock and start digging a large hole in the hope to get a fresh sample. The fenced-off area is of course completely out of bounds for sampling, but in the wider area you can find enough pieces lying on the surface to get you a small but sufficient sample. The Eastern part of the site is where the inferior flint in thick banks is surfacing, so you will be wanting to concentrate on the Western part where the flint occurs as denser nodules. Have a good look around at the small track to the West and the South of the reserve. We can't repeat it enough: when you have to take a sample for a reference collection, pick some good and typical pieces, but don't take everything you see. There might be other flint-fanatics out there who want to come to the site and would be quite disappointed to find it completely cleaned-out.
For a full-blown picture of this sample, click here (49 KBytes). Example
Foto: Matthias Rummer, 2001
Foto: Matthias Rummer, 2001
For a full-blown version of this picture, click here (50 KBytes).

For a full-blown picture of this sample, click here (51 KBytes). Example
Foto: Matthias Rummer, 2001
Foto: Matthias Rummer, 2001
For a full-blown version of this picture, click here (71 KBytes).

Sample description: See Material and colour above.

Last modified on:
January 27, 2006
Contents primarily by:
Rengert Elburg
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