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by Jean-Luc Putman & Marc Soenen


The first mention of finds on the Kemmelberg dates back to the end of the nineteenth century. Until the start of the First World War, flint artefacts were regularly found on the surface. They were mainly assigned to a Neolithic settlement.

The enormous devastation experienced during the First World War is the reason for there being hardly any reports of archaeological activity for four decades afterwards.

Until 1961, when Robert Putman (1916-2015) and his son Jean Luc started their prospecting activities on the Kemmelberg. Together with Marc Soenen (1935-2023) and Gilbert Ennaert (1925-2016), the work was carried out systematically and regularly until 2012, covering a span of more than fifty years.

Robert Putman, Excavation Aug 1966
Photo © J L Putman

Robert Putman, excavation, Aug 1966.

This resulted in a collection of flint artefacts and potsherds which belonged to at least three hunter-gatherer cultures from the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic, and at least one Neolithic culture, as well as a number of Iron Age potsherds.

This collection (referred to as the PUSO collection) was donated in 2018 to the municipality of Heuvelland in which region the Kemmelberg is located. It is kept in the regional heritage depot, DEPOTYZE, which will be responsible for the preservation, further study, and access to the finds and associated archives.


Between July 1963 and August 1967, R Putman and J L Putman undertook a series of emergency and test excavations, especially on the steep northern slope of the Kemmelberg.

They first discovered Iron Age traces and found a whole series of indications of the presence of a hill fort.

Northern slope 1966
Photo © J L Putman

Northern slope 1966.

Northern slope 2021
Photo © Philippe Vercoutter

Northern slope 2021.

Based on this limited excavation series, extensive excavations took place every year from July 1968 to September 1980 for one month each year. Management of the work rested with Dr André Van Doorselaer from the University of Ghent.

The largest excavations in Belgium at the time were first funded by the National Excavation Service (NDO).

Later this was taken over by the province of West Flanders through the non-profit association, 'Association for Archaeological Soil Research in West Flanders' (VOBoW).

The excavation team was also reinforced for five years by a group of French students led by Gilbert Tieghem (1921-2019), excavation leader on the neighbouring Mont Noir in France. The logistics centre for the excavations was the Hollemeersch hotel-restaurant, where the volunteers and students found meals and accommodation.

Gilbert Tieghem
Photo © J L Putman

Gilbert Tieghem, second from top, 1971.

Ultimately, all of the finds from the excavation period between 1968-1980 were housed in the VOBoW premises in Waarmaarde, currently the Regional Archaeological Museum on the Scheldt (RAMS).

Hotel-Restaurant Hollemeersch
Photo © Van den Weghe

Hotel-Restaurant Hollemeersch.

Finds and first publications

So far there have been no precise figures showing the total number of finds. The mass of the PUSO collection masses about 250kg in total weight, mainly comprising flint artefacts, perhaps several tens of thousands of pieces. The mass of finds from the VOBoW/RAMS collection with a few hundred thousand artefacts at the time was estimated at two tons.

The first article, in five languages, dates from 1966. Between 1971 and 1976, Archaeologica Belgica - the magazine of the NDO - made four contributions in Dutch about the Kemmelberg excavations. Each report covered the state of affairs of part of the excavations.

Between 1978 and 1982 the finds were inventoried, and four thousand drawings were made. In total about twenty pots were restored.

Ultimately, VOBoW was able to publish an overview in a Dutch-language monograph in 1987, with the emphasis on the study of earthenware.

Draughtswoman Martine Ingelaere
Photo © VOBoW

Draughtswoman Martine Ingelaere working with a Wild M 3 microscope, 1981.

Research 2.0

In 1992 the member states of the Council of Europe signed the Malta Convention at Valletta. This convention aims to better protect archaeological heritage that is found in the soil. One of the pillars of the treaty is to keep archaeological remains in situ as much as possible.

This resulted in a prohibition on any excavations being carried out unless the heritage is threatened by soil disturbances or displacements such as, for example, by construction work or by erosion phenomena. This meant that excavations on the Kemmelberg had to stop.

In 2006 an international colloquium was held on the theme: 'The Kemmelberg' and related elite sites in central and Western Europe (6th-5th centuries): perspectives for future research.

The decisions resulted in a six-year project between 2007-2012 entitled 50 years of Kemmelberg archaeology, which was funded by the province of West Flanders and was coordinated by the former Ename Expertise Centre, an internationally-leading knowledge and expertise centre for the interpretation of heritage, which was the basis of the ICOMOS Ename Charter for the presentation and interpretation of cultural heritage sites which is recognised worldwide as a reference text (ICOMOS stands for 'International Council on Monuments and Sites', and is an advisory body to UNESCO).

Cranfield University (UK) Fluxgate Gradio Magnetometer
Photo © J L Putman

Cranfield University (UK), Fluxgate Gradio Magnetometer.

The project, '50 years of Kemmelberg Archeology', resulted in a dozen theses and various forms of non-destructive research:

- Analysis of a 32km2 LIDAR scan, recorded by Eurosense, provided a new perspective on microtopography. This scan was edited by Dr Ralf Hesse, State Office for Cultural Heritage, Baden-Württemberg (DEU).

- Micro X-Ray CT scans of pieces of metal found. Scans taken by Dr Ir Manuel Dierick and Professor Dr Ir Matthieu Boone of UGCT University of Ghent, which produced some surprising images.

- Exploratory geophysical research by Cranfield University (UK) in collaboration with KU Leuven, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Thousands of items of analogue data were digitalised within the European CHIRON project (Cultural Heritage Informatics Research Orientated Network).

The European ELHSM project (Experiential Learning in Historical Sites and Museums) organised workshops and a subsequent guide course.

Inventorying and archiving

The many hundreds of archival documents and the thousands of finds have now been intensively digitalised, inventoried, and archived. The aim is to centralise all data and finds in a few years' time in the municipality of Heuvelland and the regional heritage depot, DEPOTYZE, in Ypres.

The opportunity is being taken to subject certain documents to fresh investigation. This has already led to some surprising results.



Text copyright © Archeo Kemmelberg. An original feature for the History Files: Kemmelberg.