Veldwezelt-Hezerwater is a Palaeolithic archaeological site in the municipality of Lanaken in the province of Limburg, Belgium.


The successive archaeological excavation campaigns at Veldwezelt-Hezerwater, Belgium, provide important remains of at least five separate Middle Palaeolithic valley settlements, showing that Middle Palaeolithic humans were living and producing their tools at different times during the Late Saalian (late MIS 6), the late Last Interglacial s.l. (MIS 5a) and the Middle Weichselian (MIS 3).

Oldest phases

The oldest occupation phases present at Veldwezelt-Hezerwater should be seen in relation to the Late Saalian rock-fall deposits. Just at the base of these rock-fall deposits, two non-Levallois flakes were found. The younger level (where a large flint core-chopping tool was found) is situated just at the top of the same rock-fall deposits.

Lower sites

At the "Lower Sites", the lithic assemblage at the base of the gravel-bed (GRA-Level 1) of a side-valley of the Hezerwater seems to have been influenced by recurrent Levallois debitage. Throughout the gravel-bed one sees the presence of non-Levallois flake industries (GRA-Level 2). The younger occupation phases at the "Lower-Sites", found in the VLL-VLB find horizons are characterised by non-Levallois flake and blade industries.

All the levels at the "Lower-Sites" at Veldwezelt-Hezerwater could be interpreted as Neanderthal surface flint extraction sites with the presence of several knapping workshops. It is still difficult to say something about the absolute chronology of the VLL-Site and the VLB-Site. However, on stratigraphic grounds, we think that it is safe to say that they should be dated to the Late Saalian Zeifen Interstadial (MIS 6.01). This hypothesis is supported by the presence of charcoal (Pinus silvestris), which suggests that the climate during this Pre-Eemian occupation stage was temperate.

The chronological and typological setting of the tools, as well as the elongated morphology of the blanks and the surface quarrying by the Neanderthals, affirm the original character of the "Lower-Sites".

Small Tool Assemblages and Flint Quarrying Activities at Veldwezelt-Hezerwater

The lithic assemblages, which were excavated at the VLL and VLB loci at Veldwezelt-Hezerwater, mainly included low-quality local raw materials. On the other hand, it cannot be ruled out that some tools, which were made from a variety of lithic raw materials, were imported from other flint sources. Imported raw materials that are present in lithic assemblages are usually interpreted as an indication of the past movements of hunter-gatherer groups (Binford 1979). Against the backdrop of yearly variations in seasonal weather conditions and against the backdrop of long-term climate and environmental changes, sporadic territory shift would inevitably bring Middle Palaeolithic groups into "new" and potentially "hostile" environments repeatedly. However, since Middle Palaeolithic people were primarily focussing on big game exploitation (e.g., Bocherens et al. 1999, 2001), they knew how to minimise the risks. These people of course needed technologies that were adapted to the typical way of life of late Middle and Late Pleistocene hunting-oriented groups. This would imply that all their "tools" and raw material supplies would have to be transportable and usable in the new environments.

According to Binford (1979), lithic raw material procurement and core and tool reduction are usually conducted during the course of other subsistence tasks (e.g., game searching & processing of animals). Indeed, Binford (1979) claimed that certain "logistical" activities were "embedded" in other even more vital activities. At the VLL and VLB sites at Veldwezelt-Hezerwater, where the campsites were present at a lithic raw material source, flint quarrying, core and tool reduction and hafting activities may also have been embedded in vital carcass-processing activities. Indeed, during the "Middle" Palaeolithic, "survival security" was usually improved by repeatedly moving the entire group to "fresh" resource areas. Retooling activities near a lithic source would thus occur only if animals were killed at or near a lithic quarry. Such a kill would enable extended exploitation of a lithic source, since certain others members of the group hunters would be processing the animals. Otherwise, only a quick stop at the lithic quarry to obtain suitable raw materials would be possible. We believe that a visit to the VLL and VLB quarrying sites would lead to an immediate replacement of small, heavily reduced or broken tools. This would explain the presence of small abandoned tools at the sites. However, the newly acquired lithic raw materials would not only be used for retooling, but would also be used in the form of portable blanks, roughouts and cores acquired from the lithic source.

Even though many scholars tend to emphasise the quality of lithic raw material that was used for core and tool reduction, the Middle Palaeolithic people themselves just might have emphasised the usefulness of the tools. The deciding factor was probably not what quality of raw material the tool was made of, but whether or not the tools were still seen as capable of executing their tasks. This is not to say that Middle Palaeolithic did not have a preference for one lithic raw material over another. However, the determining factor was the suitability of the lithic raw materials to meet the anticipated tasks. It seems that both the leptolithic and small tool variants of the “Middle” Palaeolithic have an enormous distribution across time and space and that they were actually relatively common. Leptolithic and "small tool assemblages" were usually made at open-air sites during interglacial s.l. periods. At Schöningen 12 (e.g., Thieme 1996, 1997, 2003), small tools were used as inserts to bigger organic tools. The selection of small lithic raw materials, the reduction of small cores and the reduction of small tools clearly was a deliberate strategy. However, if lithic raw material procurement were really embedded in faunal resource extraction, then Middle Palaeolithic groups would move about the landscape following game herds in any direction. A highly mobile and devious course throughout the Maas Basin would thus be the result. Only the scarcity of game and maybe extreme seasonal or climatic conditions would force Middle Palaeolithic groups out of the area.

VBLB site

The lithic assemblage of the VBLB-Site at Veldwezelt-Hezerwater, found in the greyish Bth soil horizon at the top of the "Rocourt soil complex", provides interesting new data in connection with the reconstruction of the intrasite settlement dynamics at open-air sites inhabited during the late Last Interglacial s.l. (MIS 5a).

It is of utmost importance to clarify that the lithic material of the VBLB-Site certainly does not belong to the Eemian s.s. (MIS 5e). The absence of artefacts in the lowest Bt soil horizon of the "Rocourt soil complex" at Veldwezelt-Hezerwater, which is the terrestrial equivalent of the Eemian s.s. (MIS 5e), has also been observed at neighbouring archaeological loess sites (e.g. Veldwezelt-Op-de-Schans, Kesselt-Brickyard-Quarry and Vroenhoven-Kanaal), where geological and archaeological research activities are currently under way. This absence of artefacts could indicate that at least this part of Northwest Europe was apparently deserted by the Neanderthals during the Eemian s.s. (MIS 5e).

At the VBLB-Site, the retouched tools, the larger Levallois flakes, the larger non-Levallois flakes and the tools s.s. were found in association with each other. Refits were rare in the relatively "poor" zone where these artefact types were found, but when present they were always of the long-distance type. This area of the VBLB-Site could be interpreted as the tool utilisation zone.

In the same way, the Levallois cores, the cortical flakes, the Levallois core-edge flakes, the small flakes, the chips and the knapping waste were also associated with each other. Refits were numerous in the relatively "rich" area where these artefact types were found and they were mostly of the short-distance type. This area of the VBLB-Site could thus be interpreted as an in situ knapping workshop.

Further study of the distribution maps, the RMUs and the refits of the VBLB-Site resulted in the recognition of divergent zones of activity, distinguishable by their techno-typological composition. The larger Levallois flakes, probably the most wanted artefacts, were removed from the knapping workshop and brought to the tool utilisation zone where the presence of numerous pieces of charcoal (Betula sp.) also indicated the proximity of a hearth.

This dichotomy of two discrete interrelated artefact groups, located at two particular areas at the VBLB-Site is also recognisable in the geomorphological position of the knapping spot and the tool utilisation zone. After the swift production of Levallois blanks at the geomorphological lower knapping workshop, the larger Levallois blanks were brought to and used at the more elevated northern tool utilisation zone of the VBLB-Site. There the more time consuming activities were performed, providing an excellent observation point that overlooked much of the Hezerwater valley.

Repetitive patterns of spatial dynamics similar to those attested at the VBLB-Site at Veldwezelt-Hezerwater are demonstrated at several other sites in the same geographical zone (Northwest Europe) and in the same chronological interval (Last Interglacial s.l.). At some other sites, especially those in Northern France, the same coexistence of flint knapping workshops and tool utilisation zones, as recorded at the VBLB-Site at Veldwezelt-Hezerwater, was confirmed.

TL and WFL sites

The loess, loess-derived sediments and the many intercalating fossil soils overlying the "Rocourt soil complex" and the "Warneton soil complex" belong to the Weichselian s.s. and represent the terrestrial equivalent of MIS 4, 3 and 2. The TL-R-Site, the TL-GF-Site and the WFL-Site can all be dated to the Middle Weichselian (MIS 3) and they all reveal the presence of lithic material in connection with the remains of large mammals. The lithic assemblage of those sites is clearly characterised by the presence of large Levallois products in association with Quina sidescrapers.


Finally, we could try to answer the question why there is such a variation in technology, in the proportions of the artifacts and in the types of tools present in the different lithic assemblages at Veldwezelt-Hezerwater. In our view, many factors influenced the type of flint-working taking place in a particular location. Some we may never fully understand, such as the ad hoc response to a local situation. But, if we accept it is no longer realistic to look only for "cultural" divisions in the Middle Palaeolithic lithic assemblages, we will be free to study the other factors that also influenced them.

We think, that we can begin to understand some factors, like the influence of raw material availability. At Veldwezelt-Hezerwater the lithic assemblages of the "Lower Sites" and of the VBLB-Site were located on sources of poor quality flint. Exactly this kind of flint, which was generally unsuitable for large artefact manufacture, was used for stone tool processing.

At the VBLB-South-Site and at all the temperate Middle Weichselian occupations at Veldwezelt-Hezerwater, the proximity of good-quality flint sources in the Jeker valley and the Maas valley seemed to result in an important effect, namely the import of fresh grey good quality flint and even the import of translucent flint. Chalk outcrops and chalk cliffs, out of which fresh good quality flint (e.g. Lanaye Flint) was being eroded, are situated at not more than 5 km away from Veldwezelt-Hezerwater. This phenomenon led to the production of significantly larger good quality flint artefacts at the very end of the Last Interglacial s.l. (late MIS 5) and during the Middle Weichselian (MIS 3).

Our approach also tries to understand the role played by the palaeoclimate, which profoundly shaped the existence of Middle Palaeolithic humans. Since climate change interacts with the biosphere, we can therefore expect climate change to influence human activity and human "culture" as well. Either directly or through paths leading from climate via plant cover to food animals. The variation in technology, in the proportions of the artefacts and in the types of tools present in the different lithic assemblages at Veldwezelt-Hezerwater indicates, in our view, also the adaptation by the Neanderthals to the unsteady climatic conditions.

In the same geographical zone, lithic technology appears to change each time climate changes occur, especially in the event of stress conditions and consequently unstable natural resources availability. Of course local conditions of raw material availability have affected lithic production, but raw material availability is very often a function of a particular climatic setting. This phenomenon seems to play a key role at the "Lower-Sites" at Veldwezelt-Hezerwater during the Late Saalian to Eemian s.s. climatic shift (late MIS 6 to MIS 5e), with in general the presence of very small tools s.s.

In times of relative stable climatic conditions, e.g. during the late Last Interglacial s.l. (MIS 5a), lithic technology appears to be more settled. This seems to be the case at the VBLB-Site and at the VBLB-South-Site at Veldwezelt-Hezerwater where a more "classical" Levallois flake technology is present, together with already larger tools.

During the Middle Weichselian (MIS 3), under temperate interstadial climatic conditions, we see in the lithic assemblages of the TL-R-Site, the TL-GF-Site and the WFL-Site at Veldwezelt-Hezerwater the presence of in general very large Levallois products in association with large Quina tools.

Although there are a few exceptions, we can state that at Veldwezelt-Hezerwater, from the Late Saalian (late MIS 6) onwards, the general trend in the Middle Palaeolithic succession of lithic artefacts and tools is that they seem to increase in size through the Middle Palaeolithic. At Veldwezelt-Hezerwater, there is thus a clear tendency to manufacture progressively heavier-duty tools.

There is a clear correlation between the raw material availability and the size of the artefacts. But could there be also a correlation between the size of the artefacts and the body size of the food animals? The hunt for bigger animals would have produced a need for heavier-duty tools. Raw material availability and food animal availability are a function of the oscillating climatic conditions.

Middle Palaeolithic humans were compelled to change the ways in which they procured and processed meat, because they were forced to accede to a particular climatic setting that they could not control. The only alternative they had, was to move Southwards or Eastwards, leaving our regions deserted, which seems to be the case at Veldwezelt-Hezerwater during the warmest (MIS 5e) and coldest (MIS 4) climatic phases, when no large herds of food animals seemed to be present.

Middle Palaeolithic humans, who wanted to make a living in a particular climatic setting, had to respond to that setting. This fact of course led to adaptation in terms of migrational, technological and "cultural" behaviour, which in turn affected their clothing, shelter, mobility, meat procurement and butchery methods and thus their lithic technology.

We thus could put forward the hypothesis that Middle Palaeolithic humans could react instrumental in creating their own adequate life-sustaining technologies and this through interactions with the environment, changes in behaviour and modifications in their lithic technology. This approach considers Middle Palaeolithic humans as active agents, rather than passive recipients of optimised environmental conditions.

See also


    • Bringmans, P.M.M.A., Vermeersch, P.M., Gullentops, F., Groenendijk, A.J., Meijs, E.P.M., de Warrimont, J.-P. & Cordy, J.-M. 2003. Preliminary Excavation Report on the Middle Palaeolithic Valley Settlements at Veldwezelt-Hezerwater (prov. of Limburg). Archeologie in Vlaanderen - Archaeology in Flanders 1999/2000 VII: 9-30.
    • Bringmans, P.M.M.A., Vermeersch, P.M., Groenendijk, A.J., Meijs, E.P.M., de Warrimont, J.-P. & Gullentops, F. 2004. The Late Saalian Middle Palaeolithic "Lower-Sites" at Veldwezelt-Hezerwater (Limburg - Belgium). In: Le Secrétariat du Congrès (eds), Acts of the XIVth UISPP Congress, University of Liège, Belgium. September 2-8, 2001. Section 5: The Middle Palaeolithic. Oxford. British Archaeological Reports (BAR) International Series 1239: 187-195.

    Coordinates: 50°51′22″N 5°38′28″E / 50.856°N 5.641°E / 50.856; 5.641

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