Prehistoric Flint Mine
The mysterious lunar-like landscape of Grime’s Graves is the legacy of hundreds of years of activity by Neolithic flint miners. From about 4,500 years ago – around the time many of the stones at Stonehenge were first raised – flint miners dug over 400 pits here to extract the fine quality, jet-black flint from which they fashioned tools, weapons and ceremonial objects. Today Grime’s Graves is one of only ten known prehistoric flint mines in England. Grimes Graves is the only Neolithic flint mine open to the public in the UK. This grassy lunar landscape near Thetford of 400 pits was first named Grim’s Graves by the Anglo-Saxons. It was not until one of them was excavated in 1870, that it became apparent and they were identified as flint mines dug over 5,000 years ago. A small exhibition area illustrates the history of this fascinating historicak site. Visitors can descend 9 metres (30 ft) by ladder into one excavated shaft to see the jet-black flint an experience in itself. Set amid the distinctive Breckland heath landscape, Grime’s Graves is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a habitat for rare plants and fauna and makes a great day for family visits.
THE MESOLITHIC PERIOD
Although the first mines at Grime’s Graves were dug about 4,500 years ago, the site has evidence of human activity over some 8,000–10,000 years. During the Mesolithic period (about 9500–4000 BC) hunter-gatherers inhabited a densely wooded landscape in this area, foraging for seasonally available foods and resources. At Grime’s Graves, however, evidence of Mesolithic hunter-gatherer activity is found only in two possible hearths from a campsite and a number of flint tools.
THE NEOLITHIC PERIOD
The Neolithic period (about 4000–2300 BC) saw significant changes, both socially and technologically. Farming was introduced by migrants from the Continent about 4100 BC, along with pottery and new types of stone artefact. In about 4000 BC the first flint mines – one of the earliest types of Neolithic site – in England were dug on the South Downs. Soon afterwards, new types of structure such as causewayed enclosures, barrows and chambered tombs were being built. About 2650 BC, during the late Neolithic period, flint mining began at Grime’s Graves. This was about the same time that the first standing stones were being erected at Stonehenge and Avebury, and is also contemporary with the building of Silbury Hill. The period also saw new burial customs appearing, with a move away from communal to individual burials. Trade networks were extensive, and the fine black flint from Grime’s Graves was exchanged or traded over long distances. At Grime’s Graves, the miners dug shafts up to 13 metres deep to where the best flint lay, and worked in subterranean galleries at the base of each shaft, prising out the flint using picks made from antlers. Although the earthworks visible today represent 433 mines and pits, excavations and recent geophysical surveys suggest that the mines covered a much greater area
RITUALS IN THE MINES
Artefacts that may be deliberate offerings or evidence of ceremonial activities have been found in pits at Grime’s Graves. These imply that the process of flint mining in some shafts followed ritualised practices. Such activities may have been commonplace to the miners, for whom ritual would have been a part of everyday life. In 1971 two highly decorated Grooved Ware pots were discovered on a raised chalk platform at the base of a shaft. Pit 15 produced seven antler picks on another platform, and many mines contained chalk carvings of ‘cups’, balls, phalli and other objects. In a gallery leading from Greenwell’s Pit a dog skeleton, which had been carefully buried, was discovered. Hearths were found on many shaft floors. These had not been used for lighting or cooking, but instead may have had ritual functions.
Even after they had been abandoned, the shafts were a focus for special events. Fires were lit periodically, and offerings of animal remains and occasionally human bones, such as the skull in Pit 1, were placed in the shaft fills. These deposits may have been part of renewal rituals. READ MORE……..
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