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Lithic surplus production in the early Neolithic (LBK): the case of the flint knappers of Verlaine (Belgium)

Author(s): Pierre ALLARD | Laurence BURNEZ

Journal: The Arkeotek Journal
ISSN 1961-9863

Volume: 2;
Issue: 1;
Date: 2008;
Original page

Keywords: lithic technology | early Neolithic | specialization | blade knapping

The early Neolithic in temperate Europe corresponds to a period in which the so-called Linear Pottery Culture or LBK (second half of the 6th millennium BC) spread from the Ukraine to Normandy. This culture - particularly in western and central Europe - is characterised by similar material features giving it a certain homogeneity in various fields, such as architecture, pottery (forms and decoration techniques), knapping, and agricultural practices (e.g. Lichardus & Lichardus-Itten 1985).Blade and object circulation is well known for the Linear Pottery Culture or LBK (e.g. Lech 1987, 1990; Gronenborn 1997; Zimermann 1995). Researches to identify the materials have shown that numerous objects circulated (flints, adze blades, and shells for personal ornamentation, for example) and sometimes over very long distances (up to 500 km for flint in central Europe, Lech 1987). On the other hand, how these goods put into circulation were produced and what characterised the settlements which produced them are still very poorly known, as is the scale of production at which these veritable circulation networks were established.Within this framework, our research concerns a lithic material corpus brought to light at the site of Verlaine, an LBK settlement located in Belgian Hesbaye, in the heart of a region rich in remains: nearly 220 sites, all dating from this same period (Jadin 2003). Verlaine is not different from the other sites of this period, except for its recent and exhaustive excavation (Burnez-Lanotte & Allard 2004). It was a village having houses with characteristic architecture, notably including pits of various kinds in which archaeological detritus material has been found. What, however, makes it special becomes apparent from the presence in the infill of certain pits of masses of knapping waste material. These are very dense and compact concentrations of flint blade debitage waste: the largest of these concentrations ranging between 10,000 and 25,000 items (Allard & Burnez-Lanotte 2006). Such concentrations are known elsewhere, at other Belgian LBK sites (Darion for instance, Cahen 1985), but they are less numerous than at Verlaine and the quantities of flint smaller (Allard & Burnez-Lanotte 2006). At Verlaine 22 concentrations are known and they are found all over the occupation site.While waiting for the C14 dating results - in progress – the decorated ware found in the pits has enabled the occupation to be attributed to early Belgian LBK.Confronted with this corpus of lithic material we enquired – by means of a technological study – into how the flint blade cores discovered in a series of pits were produced. The results presented here come from a concentration, found at the bottom of a pit, in perfect preservation - a state enabling quite exhaustive refitting. Refitting of this kind is still rather rare for the LBK Neolithic, as the sites are found in eroded environments and the structures poorly preserved. These refittings demonstrate, at Verlaine, an original purpose for flint blade knapping – the pursuit of optimised production for calibrated blade. This objective associated with the quantity of knapped flint - more than a thousand blocks from the 13 pits studied – and the quality of the debitage, makes us think this settlement witnesses to blade production surplus to local population needs. Placed in a broader context these blades are produced with a view to distribution on an extra-regional scale (recognised over 300 km). Going by the discoveries made in this commune, in which other LBK sites with masses of flint have been found, this phenomenon of blade over-production and extra-regional distribution may well have been set up not on the scale of a single site but of a micro-region – i.e. with several contemporary producing settlements. This perspective, which will be the subject of further research, brings a new social dimension to the mechanisms of flint blade circulation in the early Neolithic.

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