If you like to get your adrenaline pumping, a trip down into this former flint mine will not disappoint. At Spiennes, there are thousands of mines hidden underground, dug by Neolithic man 6,000 years ago. Keen to find the raw materials to make tools, in particular polished axes, they extracted flint and turned it into what they need. The Iron Age had not begun yet, so everyone had to make do with what they could find!
Au patrimoine mondial de l'UNESCO
The size of the area mined (over 100 hectares), its archaeological potential, the period over which it was used… All of this resulted in its recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site in December 2000. The Neolithic flint mines in Spiennes are included on this spectacular list alongside the Great Wall of China, the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu in Peru, and the Taj Mahal in India. Quite illustrious company!It’s definitely worth a trip 10 metres underground.
Kitted outwith a safety harness attached to a “stop-fall” device, I step into the unknown and put my foot on the first rung of the ladder. The climb will take a few minutes and lead me right into the depths of the mine. Jonathan, the site caretaker, checks the safety points. Everything is ok. I start my descent with a mixture of curiosity and excitement. I lower myself down at my own pace as the natural light disappears, and I’m soon touching firm ground in an area of about twenty square metres, with white, chalky walls. A look round shows me rooms held up with pillars, linked up to each other by tunnels to other parts of the mine. At regular intervals through the chalk you can see banks of grey and black flint, a coveted commodity.
Une visite avec un guide archéologue
After a few moments of silence and wonder, our archaeologist guide tells us about this totally alien environment. What a treat to be able to share our questions with these researchers to understand life back then. Here, mankind demonstrated real genius by digging, organising and transforming this heavy raw material. We learn how it took about 2 months to mine one particular area before coming out and digging a bit further on. Our ancestors demonstrated real technical expertise in their mining methods, well before they could have had the benefit of electricity!The work was apparently done using natural light, as there is no way of saying with any certainty that fire was brought down here. It’s a very special moment when the lights are switched off and we experience the same conditions as those that they would have had to work in.
If you’re not keen on this experience, the centre has lots of other areas where you can see what the archaeologists have unearthed here and understand how the site was organised. Themural shows you all of humanity’s main discoveries, and the central space explains the different zones of archaeological research. If you’re pregnant or under 12, you can’t go down into the mine, but there’s a screening room where you can see what it would be like down there. After visiting this site, you will appreciate the qualities exhibited by our ancestors“Ingenuity, know-how, experience, and above all, real courage, in other words, the timeless qualities of real miners”, according to our archaeologist guide.