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Grimes Graves

Grimes Graves

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Grime's Graves is a large Neolithic
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 flint
Flint
Flint is a hard, sedimentary cryptocrystalline form of the mineral quartz, categorized as a variety of chert. It occurs chiefly as nodules and masses in sedimentary rocks, such as chalks and limestones. Inside the nodule, flint is usually dark grey, black, green, white, or brown in colour, and...

 mining complex near Brandon
Brandon, Suffolk
Brandon is a small town and civil parish in the English county of Suffolk. It is in the Forest Heath local government district.Brandon is located in the Breckland area on the border of Suffolk with the adjoining county of Norfolk...

 in England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 close to the border between Norfolk
Norfolk
Norfolk is a low-lying county in the East of England. It has borders with Lincolnshire to the west, Cambridgeshire to the west and southwest and Suffolk to the south. Its northern and eastern boundaries are the North Sea coast and to the north-west the county is bordered by The Wash. The county...

 and Suffolk
Suffolk
Suffolk is a non-metropolitan county of historic origin in East Anglia, England. It has borders with Norfolk to the north, Cambridgeshire to the west and Essex to the south. The North Sea lies to the east...

. It was worked between around circa 3000 BC and circa 1900 BC, although production may have continued well into the Bronze and Iron Ages (and later) owing to the low cost of flint
Flint
Flint is a hard, sedimentary cryptocrystalline form of the mineral quartz, categorized as a variety of chert. It occurs chiefly as nodules and masses in sedimentary rocks, such as chalks and limestones. Inside the nodule, flint is usually dark grey, black, green, white, or brown in colour, and...

 compared with metals. Flint was much in demand for making stone axes in the Neolithic
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 period. Flint nodules were always in demand for other uses, such as for building and as strikers for musket
Musket
A musket is a muzzle-loaded, smooth bore long gun, fired from the shoulder. Muskets were designed for use by infantry. A soldier armed with a musket had the designation musketman or musketeer....

s.

The scheduled monument extends over an area of some 37 ha (96 acres) and consists of at least 433 shafts dug into the natural chalk
Chalk
Chalk is a soft, white, porous sedimentary rock, a form of limestone composed of the mineral calcite. Calcite is calcium carbonate or CaCO3. It forms under reasonably deep marine conditions from the gradual accumulation of minute calcite plates shed from micro-organisms called coccolithophores....

 to reach seams of flint. The largest shafts are more than 14 m (40 feet) deep and 12 m in diameter at the surface. It has been calculated that more than 2,000 tonnes of chalk had to be removed from the larger shafts, taking 20 men around five months, before stone of sufficient quality was reached. An upper 'topstone' and middle 'wallstone' seam of flint was dug through on the way to the deeper third 'floorstone' seam which most interested the miners.

Mining Method



In order to remove the chalk efficiently, the ancient miners built wooden platforms and ladders as they dug downwards and piled the spoil around the shaft opening using turf revetments to hold it in place for the season, when the shaft and all its galleries were thoroughly and fastidiously backfilled to promote stability. The landscape around Grime's Graves has a characteristic pockmarked appearance caused by the infilled shafts. This is probably what inspired the later Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...

 inhabitants of the area to name it after their god Grim
Woden
Woden or Wodan is a major deity of Anglo-Saxon and Continental Germanic polytheism. Together with his Norse counterpart Odin, Woden represents a development of the Proto-Germanic god *Wōdanaz....

 (literally the masked, or hooded one, a euphemism for Woden
Woden
Woden or Wodan is a major deity of Anglo-Saxon and Continental Germanic polytheism. Together with his Norse counterpart Odin, Woden represents a development of the Proto-Germanic god *Wōdanaz....

). Although the pagan Anglo-Saxons seem to have had some idea of what the site was, as the name of the site means literally 'The masked one's quarries,' (or Grim's Graben,) it wasn't until Canon William Greenwell
William Greenwell
Canon William Greenwell FRS FSA FSA.Scot was an English archaeologist.-Life:William Greenwell was born 23 March 1820 in the estate known as Greenwell Ford near Lanchester, County Durham, England...

 excavated one of the shafts from 1868- 1870 that their purpose was discovered in modern times. Other similar sites have been found in chalk
Chalk
Chalk is a soft, white, porous sedimentary rock, a form of limestone composed of the mineral calcite. Calcite is calcium carbonate or CaCO3. It forms under reasonably deep marine conditions from the gradual accumulation of minute calcite plates shed from micro-organisms called coccolithophores....

 or downland
Downland
A downland is an area of open chalk hills. This term is especially used to describe the chalk countryside in southern England. Areas of downland are often referred to as Downs....

 areas, such as at Cissbury
Cissbury
Cissbury is the name of a prehistoric site near the village of Findon around 5 miles north of Worthing in the English county of West Sussex. The site is managed by the National Trust....

 and Spiennes
Spiennes
Spiennes is a Walloon village in the municipality of Mons, Belgium.It is well known for its neolithic flint mines, which are on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 2000....

 in Belgium
Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

.

Tools



The miners used pick
Pickaxe
A pickaxe or pick is a hand tool with a hard head attached perpendicular to the handle.Some people make the distinction that a pickaxe has a head with a pointed end and a flat end, and a pick has both ends pointed, or only one end; but most people use the words to mean the same thing.The head is...

s fashioned from the antler of red deer
Red Deer
The red deer is one of the largest deer species. Depending on taxonomy, the red deer inhabits most of Europe, the Caucasus Mountains region, Asia Minor, parts of western Asia, and central Asia. It also inhabits the Atlas Mountains region between Morocco and Tunisia in northwestern Africa, being...

. They probably used wooden shovels, although this is only inferred by analogy with other flint mines with better conditions for the preservation of artefacts. Analysis of the antlers (Clutton-Brock 1984: 25) has shown that the miners were mainly right-handed and favoured the left antlers out of those that were naturally shed seasonally by the deer. The 28 pits excavated up to 2008 yielded an average of 142.5 antler picks each, of which an average of 14.8 have been found to be left-handed.

Once they had reached the floorstone flint, the miners dug lateral galleries outwards from the bottom, following the flint seam. The medium-depth shafts yielded as much as 60 tons of flint nodule
Nodule (geology)
A nodule in petrology or mineralogy is a secondary structure, generally spherical or irregularly rounded in shape. Nodules are typically solid replacement bodies of chert or iron oxides formed during diagenesis of a sedimentary rock...

s, which were brought to the surface and roughly worked into shape on site. The blank tools were then possibly traded elsewhere for final polishing. It is estimated that 60 tons of flint could have produced as many as 10,000 of the polished stone axes, which were the mines' main product. Extrapolation across the site suggests that Grime's Graves may have produced around 16-18,000 tonnes of flint across the 433 shafts recorded to date. However, there are large areas of the site covered by later activity which are believed to conceal many more mineshafts.

There were other hard stones used for axe manufacture, those of the Langdale axe industry
Langdale axe industry
The Langdale axe industry is the name given by archaeologists to the centre of a specialised stone tool manufacturing at Great Langdale in England's Lake District during the Neolithic period .The area has outcrops of fine-grained greenstone suitable for making polished axes which have been...

 and Penmaenmawr
Penmaenmawr
PenmaenmawrConwyPenmaenmawr is a town in the parish of Dwygyfylchi, in Conwy County Borough, Wales. The population was 3857 in 2001. It is a quarrying town, though the latter is no longer a major employer, on the North Wales coast between Conwy and Llanfairfechan.The town was bypassed by the A55...

 in North Wales
North Wales
North Wales is the northernmost unofficial region of Wales. It is bordered to the south by the counties of Ceredigion and Powys in Mid Wales and to the east by the counties of Shropshire in the West Midlands and Cheshire in North West England...

 being traded across Europe, as well as other less well-known igneous and metamorphic rocks. The axes were much in demand for forest clearance and settlement, development of farmland for arable crops and raising animals, which characterises the Neolithic
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 period.

Customs and Beliefs



One unproductive shaft (pit 15) appears to have been turned into a shrine. An altar
Altar
An altar is any structure upon which offerings such as sacrifices are made for religious purposes. Altars are usually found at shrines, and they can be located in temples, churches and other places of worship...

 of flint lumps had been built with a chalk bowl at its base and antler picks piled around. In front of the altar had been placed a Venus figurine of chalk, a chalk phallus and some balls, also of chalk. It may have been an attempt to ensure that the mine remained productive or 'fertile' after this particular shaft turned out to have little flint in it. However, it is possible that the Venus figurine and the phallus are modern fakes – there is a lack of primary evidence surrounding their recovery in 1939, and rumours circulated at the time of the excavation that they were planted in order to deceive Leslie Armstrong, the archaeologist overseeing the dig.(Piggot 1986: 190, Longworth et al. 1991: 103-105).

Neolithic Infrastructure


Such a large industry may have required supporting infrastructure. Assuming no more than two shafts were open at any one time, around 120 red deer may have needed to be bred and managed nearby, in order to provide a steady supply of antler as well as skin, food and other products that the miners would require. Alternatively, the mines may have been worked intermittently by local farmers, as happened in many early metal mines during the Bronze Age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

 and the later Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

.

Earlier flint mines in Britain such as Cissbury
Cissbury
Cissbury is the name of a prehistoric site near the village of Findon around 5 miles north of Worthing in the English county of West Sussex. The site is managed by the National Trust....

 in Sussex
Sussex
Sussex , from the Old English Sūþsēaxe , is an historic county in South East England corresponding roughly in area to the ancient Kingdom of Sussex. It is bounded on the north by Surrey, east by Kent, south by the English Channel, and west by Hampshire, and is divided for local government into West...

 were just as important as Grimes Graves, and there were many very local sources of flint which were exploited on the downland
Downland
A downland is an area of open chalk hills. This term is especially used to describe the chalk countryside in southern England. Areas of downland are often referred to as Downs....

s. However, it is probably relevant that Grimes Graves were close to the very rich soils of the fenland
Fenland
Fenland is a local government district in Cambridgeshire, England. Its council is based in March, and covers the neighbouring market towns of Chatteris, Whittlesey, and Wisbech, often called the "capital of the fens"...

, and forest clearance here would rely on local products.

There was also extensive farming settlement during the Bronze Age, known from middens that infill the mouths of many Neolithic mineshafts. Animal bones from these middens show that the Bronze Age people kept cattle, which they milked, sheep and a few pigs. They also grew barley, wheat and peas.

The Site Today



Grime's Graves is in the care of English Heritage
English Heritage
English Heritage . is an executive non-departmental public body of the British Government sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport...

. It is open to the public and it is possible to descend a 9 metre ladder and explore one of the shafts. This is the only shaft of its kind open to the public in Britain.

See also

  • Cissbury
    Cissbury
    Cissbury is the name of a prehistoric site near the village of Findon around 5 miles north of Worthing in the English county of West Sussex. The site is managed by the National Trust....

  • Flint
    Flint
    Flint is a hard, sedimentary cryptocrystalline form of the mineral quartz, categorized as a variety of chert. It occurs chiefly as nodules and masses in sedimentary rocks, such as chalks and limestones. Inside the nodule, flint is usually dark grey, black, green, white, or brown in colour, and...

  • Knapping
  • Neolithic
    Neolithic
    The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

  • Penmaenmawr
    Penmaenmawr
    PenmaenmawrConwyPenmaenmawr is a town in the parish of Dwygyfylchi, in Conwy County Borough, Wales. The population was 3857 in 2001. It is a quarrying town, though the latter is no longer a major employer, on the North Wales coast between Conwy and Llanfairfechan.The town was bypassed by the A55...

  • Spiennes
    Spiennes
    Spiennes is a Walloon village in the municipality of Mons, Belgium.It is well known for its neolithic flint mines, which are on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 2000....

  • Stone tool
    Stone tool
    A stone tool is, in the most general sense, any tool made either partially or entirely out of stone. Although stone tool-dependent societies and cultures still exist today, most stone tools are associated with prehistoric, particularly Stone Age cultures that have become extinct...


External links