Have you ever been to a mine? Depending on where you live, different minerals will be mined from the earth – in Cornwall, it’s tin and copper, in Wales, slate is commonly mined, and in Norfolk, flint is mined. At Grimes graves, a Neolithic mining site in Norfolk, the people of those times were not going to let such a fantastic opportunity go!
The flint at Grimes Graves is some of the best in the UK, and it lays under the earth in three layers. The deepest layer is the best quality and lays 13 meters under – as deep as a Brachiosaurus was tall! But how on earth (or under earth!) did they get to it? Just like Stonehenge, they had no mechanical equipment, so the answer is simple – antler picks and hard work! A lot of picks made from red deer antler have been uncovered in digs at Grimes Graves, like this one. Note the smooth edges where they have been held for hundreds of hours.
As the mines were dug down, the waste was carried up ladders – logs with notches cut out – and thrown into the last emptied mine to refill it, once they had taken the flint they wanted out. It has been estimated that to remove the 2000 tonnes of chalk and earth, in order to get to the flint would have taken 20 men five months, just for flint! However, you can probably guess why they wanted to mine flint – to make flint tools. Some of the best flint was used to make high quality axes, and the less better-quality flint would be made into arrowheads.
A lot of Archaeology is not just digging, but also simply learning all we can about certain sites. One shaft (as the pits are known) was found to be unproductive, with little flint inside. It seems that this shaft was used as a shrine, as a Venus figurine was found inside by Archaeologists. This may have been an attempt to ‘plead with the gods’, so to speak, and ‘ask them’ for better mining in the future. However, you should know that Archaeologist do sometimes get things wrong! The figurine was discovered in July of 1939 by archaeologist A.L. (Leslie) Armstrong. He found it at the bottom of a shaft, sitting on a chalk slab. Some, however, think that the figure is a fake. The arrangement of the figurine on the slab seems too ‘perfect’, and also, no other Venus figurine has been found in Britain. Finally, one of the excavators, Mrs Ethel Rudkin, was found to have carved these figurines before. Is it possible that she carved the figurine and the other artefacts found on the shrine herself, and set them there for a laugh, to wind Armstrong up?
Who knows for sure?