Long-distance quartzite distribution in the Mesolithic (2011-2014)

Long distance distribution of Wommersom and Tienen quartzites in the Mesolithic of the southern North Sea basin

A theoretical cornerstone of hunter-gatherer anthropological archaeology is the role of long-distance exchange of ‘exotic’ raw materials in the establishment and maintenance of inter-regional social networks that facilitate adaptations during periods of environmental change and uncertainty. The transition to the postglacial conditions of the Early Holocene was one of the most significant periods of environmental change in human history. The role of flint as the predominant raw material on Mesolithic sites in the southern North Sea basin hinders our ability to investigate the role of exchange during the Mesolithic period in this region due to the difficulties with ‘sourcing’ it as a result of its formation over wide geographical regions and its high amount of internal variability. However, since the early 20th century two particular types of quartzite (‘Wommersom and Tienen quartzite’) have been recovered from Mesolithic sites in Belgium, the Netherlands, northern France, and northwest Germany. These quartzite varieties have been sourced macroscopically to the area of Tienen in central Belgium. Research by Gendel in the 1980s  identified the geographical extent of this material in archaeological sites to be 40,000 km2 and identified diachronic changes that indicated the increasing importance of this “exotic” material through the course the Mesolithic period.

The first part of this proposal comprised the construction of a new integrative geological and geo-chemical framework for the sourcing of both quartzites recovered from archaeological sites and known outcrops. This part of the research resulted in the development of an integrative methodology comprised of petrography, cathodoluminescence (CL), computerised tomography (CT), scanning electron microscopic (SEM), and both acid-dissolution (AD-) and laser ablation (LA-) inductively coupled mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). A second aim of the project focused on the relationships between knapping skill and raw material quality, by means of experimental knapping and refitting.


  • Cnudde V., Boone M., De Kock T., Baele J.-M., Dewanckele J., Crombé Ph. & Robinson, E. (2013). Preliminary structural and chemical study of two quartzite varieties from the same geological formation: a first step in the sourcing of quartzites utilized in the Mesolithic in northwest Europe. Geologica Belgica 16(1-2): 27-34.
  • Robinson E., Van Strydonck M., Gelorini V. & Crombé Ph. (2013). Radiocarbon chronology and the correlation of hunter-gatherer sociocultural change with abrupt palaeoclimate change: the Middle Mesolithic in the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt area of northwest Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science 40: 755-763.
  • Robinson E., Crombé Ph., Perdaen Y., Meylemans E. & Sergant J. (in press). Long-distance raw material exchange networks during the Mesolithic along the southern fringe of the North Sea basin: recent analyses of Tienen and Wommersom Quartzite. In P. Arias (ed.) Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on the Mesolithic in Europe, Santander, 2010. Oxford: Oxbow


Prof Dr Philippe Crombé