38 Steengelaag clay quarry

The altitude on which Stekene and Kemzeke lie belongs to the Waasland cuesta and forms, as it were, an island between lower lying landscapes. Although the cuesta front is not nearly as impressive as along the Durme and the Rupel, we do see a striking difference in height between the higher zone at Stekene and Kemzeke and the surrounding lowlands. The cuesta forms the northeastern boundary of the Maldegem-Stekene cover sand ridge and of the Moervaart depression at the foot of this ridge. The Stekene Canal, which drains into the Moervaart, is located in an elongated depression around the western edge of the cuesta. To the northeast, the area borders the Waasland Scheldt polders.

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Origin of the landscape

Since the Steengelaag originated as a clay mining pit, the geological history of this area requires us to go back to the period when this clay was formed. The formation of the Waasland cuesta started about 32 million years ago. During this period, the Netherlands and northern Belgium were below sea level. In the Oligocene North Sea, sediment was deposited from the erosion of the surrounding continents. The coarser particles ended up mostly close to the coasts. Finer particles settled in the deeper parts of the basin. Between 32 million and 30 million years ago, a period occurred when the sea deposited clay. The water depth fluctuated frequently. As a result, the deposit consists of an alternation of layers with more or less silt, chalk and organic material. The result is the Formation of Boom: a package of clays with a characteristic pattern of horizontal light and dark gray bands.

Formation of a cuesta

While sedimentation occurred in the North Sea basin, plate tectonics in southern Europe caused the formation of several mountain ranges, such as the Pyrenees and the Alps. As the land lifted in the south, the Earth's crust lowered in the north and deposits from below The firm clay of the formation of Boom was more resistant to erosion than the underlying and overlying sand layers. This allowed the Flemish Valley - the Pleistocene precursor to the rivers of the Scheldt Basin - to cut deeply into the sand, but not into the Boom clay. The result is a cuesta: an asymmetrical hill with a steep slope in at the eastern border of the Flemish Valley (the cuesta front) and a gentle slope to the northeast.

Brick making industry

Because the clay in the area around Stekene is not very deeply buried, clay has been mined in the area for centuries. In the 16th century, more than 50 brickworks were operating. The quarry in the Steengelaag was only started at the end of the 19th century. Mining started manually, with wooden shovels, in the "Oldest Clay Pit". From 1913, clay mining was mechanized and mining in the "Youngest Clay Pit" was done by means of an electrically driven clay dredge, which is still standing at the clay pit today.