Prospecting Middle Palaeolithic open-air sites in the Dutch-Belgian border area near Maastricht
Keywords:Middle Palaeolithic, OIS7, Maas basin, Province of Limburg, loess, open-air sites, macrofauna, fire.
Since 1981 a series of brickyard quarries to the north and west of Maastricht, in the municipalities of Maastricht (The Netherlands) and Lanaken (Belgium), have been intensively and successfully prospected for human artefacts and faunal remains from the Pleistocene by scrutinising the vertical sections of exposed loess, which in many places is over ten m deep. These efforts were accompanied by extensive geostratigraphic surveys, which have been crucially important in dating the finds and reconstructing the palaeolandscape. Excavation programmes as well as ancillary studies were subsequently carried out at three of these quarries: Maastricht- Belvédère, Veldwezelt-Hezerwater and Kesselt-Op de Schans, each of which yielded multiple Middle Palaeolithic occupation horizons. This article describes the history of these excavations and studies, looking in some detail at the preliminary prospecting work that led to the discovery of this wealth of archaeological open-air sites. A separate description is provided of the litho- and chronostratigraphic frameworks of the three quarries, which has been key in establishing the chronology of Pleistocene occupation of this area. There is particular focus on the landscape and traces of occupation during the Belvédère Interglacial complex at Maastricht-Belvédère and the Weichselian Glacial at Veldwezelt-Hezerwater. The traces of fire and the macrofaunal remains encountered in the respective archaeological horizons are also discussed, and in particular their significance: are these natural phenomena or evidence of interventions by Pleistocene humans?