Small clue to Neolithic Cham flint traders

The Schlögen double bend of the Danube river in Upper Austria. Image: Techcollector (Wikipedia, used under a CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Schlögen double bend of the Danube river in Upper Austria. Image: Techcollector (Wikipedia, used under a CC BY-SA 3.0)

Alexander Binsteiner
Dipl.Geol.Univ. Alexander Binsteiner examined in his thesis the chert deposit of Baierdorf at Ried castle in Altmühltal. After that, he was a field director of excavations at the flint mine of Arnhofen near Abensberg. From 1993-96 he was chief geologist of the Ötzi Project at the University of Innsbruck. Today he divides his time as a freelance geoarchaeologist between Austria, Bavaria and the Czech Republic.

Weighing in at a few grammes, and measuring only 25mm long, a tiny scraper discovered by an amateur archaeologist on the Schlögen loop of the River Danube, Upper Austria, tells a story of trade and society in Central Europe over 5,000 years ago, and helps piece together a long forgotten way of life.

Findspot location of the small Cham scraper (inset).  Image: A. Binsteiner

Findspot location of the small Cham scraper (inset). Image: A. Binsteiner


Mines of Arnhofen

An ongoing study of imported Bavarian flint artefacts into Upper Austria, places the origins of this unprepossessing scraper, 200km away from its find- spot, to the mines of Arnhofen in Lower Bavaria. Arnhofen is one of the largest sources of this quality Jurassic  flint in Europe and was exploited for over 2,500 years. The flint was collected at a depth of up to 8 metres via more than 20,000 shafts, many of which can still be seen today (see image below).

Flint mine of Abensberg-Arnhofen. (Image: Binsteiner : Photograph: Otto Braach

Flint mine of Abensberg-Arnhofen. (Image: Binsteiner : Photograph: Otto Braach

Late Neolithic Cham culture

The scraper was found on one of the broad flat terraces that form around the Danube loop, and is of a type created by the Late Neolithic Cham culture (3400-2700 BCE). This culture stretched along the waterways of the Danube from Austria to Bavaria in southern Germany.

They are however an elusive group, with most of their settlements being represented by only a few stray finds on later sites. Undoubtedly though, they must have had a sophisticated network of trade and transportation judging from the distance that their flint travelled, and this may have relied upon the rivers and tributaries of the Danube to move across a large area that would otherwise be difficult to traverse, given the deep valleys and mountains blocking overland travel.

A flint route

Although, researchers have long believed that the waterway route would make most sense for long distance travel, a distinct lack of direct artefactual evidence meant that this had remained only a theory. However, as up to 50 per cent of the tools from the Cham culture were made from flint imported from the Bavarian mines, a “flint route” via the Danube would be the most likely option. Therefore, this small scraper lying at the edge of the Danube brings just a little bit more perspective to the theory.

Although only a small part of the larger picture, it is entirely possible to imagine flint traders coming from Bavaria in dugout canoes and travelling along the Danube “superhighway” then landing on this piece of land beside the broad river loop, leaving behind a tiny clue to be discovered thousands of years later.

  •  Burger: Die Chamer Gruppe in Niederbayern. In: Beiträge zur Geschichte Niederbayerns während der Jungsteinzeit I. 1978.
  • S. Graser: Das Erdwerk von Hadersbach, Stadt Geiselhöring, Lkr. Straubing-Bogen. In: Hemmenhofener Skripte I. S. 49-54, 1999.
  • I. Matuschick: Riekhofen und die Chamer Kultur Bayerns. In: Hemmenhofener Skripte I. S. 69-95, 1999.
  • Alexander Binsteiner: Die Silexartefakte aus dem Chamer Erdwerk von Riekofen (Lkr. Regensburg). Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt 43, 2013, 19-28.
  • Alexander Binsteiner : The Neolithic flint mine of Arnhofen, district of Kelheim.. A reduction in Jura cherts in the southern Franconian. Bayer. Vorgeschbl. 55 (Munich 1990) 1-56.
  • Alexander Binsteiner: The deposits and the reduction Bavarian Jura cherts and their distribution in Neolithic Central and Eastern Europe Yearbook RGZM 52, 2005, (Mainz 2006) 43-155..