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Mining and Quarrying in Neolithic Europe: A Social Perpsective

Mining and Quarrying in Neolithic Europe: A Social Perpsective

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Mining and Quarrying in Neolithic Europe: A Social Perpsective

375 pages
4 heures
Jun 30, 2019


The social processes involved in acquiring flint and stone in the Neolithic began to be considered over thirty years ago, promoting a more dynamic view of past extraction processes. Whether by quarrying, mining or surface retrieval, the geographic source locations of raw materials and their resultant archaeological sites have been approached from different methodological and theoretical perspectives. In recent years this has included the exploration of previously undiscovered sites, refined radiocarbon dating, comparative ethnographic analysis and novel analytical approaches to stone tool manufacture and provenancing.

The aim of this volume in the Neolithic Studies Group Papers is to explore these new findings on extraction sites and their products. How did the acquisition of raw materials fit into other aspects of Neolithic life and social networks? How did these activities merge in creating material items that underpinned cosmology, status and identity? What are the geographic similarities, constraints and variables between the various raw materials, and how does the practise of stone extraction in the UK relate to wider extractive traditions in northwestern Europe? Eight papers address these questions and act as a useful overview of the current state of research on the topic.
Jun 30, 2019

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Mining and Quarrying in Neolithic Europe - Oxbow Books


Chapter 1

Flint-working areas and bifacial implement production at the Neolithic flint-mining sites in southern and eastern England

Robin Holgate


The flint-mining sites in southern England are amongst the earliest known Neolithic sites in Britain. Excavations took place at Grimes Graves in Norfolk and Cissbury in West Sussex as early as the 1850s and 1860s, with the most recent excavations at flint-mining sites taking place at Grimes Graves, Harrow Hill and Long Down in the 1970s and 1980s (McNabb et al. 1996; Longworth et al. 2012; Baczkowski and Holgate 2017). Subsequent research has suggested that mining for flint was an episodic, possibly seasonal, small-scale activity restricted to a small number of favoured, possibly liminal, locations on the Wiltshire/Hampshire border and western Sussex in the Early Neolithic period where ‘special’ flint was extracted largely from the lower-most seams in order to fabricate mainly axe heads; during the Late Neolithic period a much wider range of bifacial implements was manufactured, including discoidal knives, with axe heads being relatively insignificant at Grimes Graves in Norfolk and, potentially, at some of the Wessex/Sussex sites (Gardiner 1990; Holgate 1995; Barber et al. 1999; Bishop 2012; Longworth et al. 2012).

The published accounts of investigations over the last 150 years, during which time over 40 shafts and 120 working areas had been excavated, are mainly concerned with the mines and the mining process (Barber et al. 1999; Baczkowski 2014). This paper discusses the flint-working processes and products, along with the operation and outcome of flint working, at the flint-mining sites in southern and eastern England.


A series of flint mines and working areas was investigated at Stoke Down, Long Down, Harrow Hill, Blackpatch, Cissbury and Church Hill, Findon in the 1920s–1960s (summarised in Pye 1968; Holgate 1995; Barber et al. 1999; Russell 2000). Further fieldwork then took place in the 1980s at Harrow Hill organised by Gale Sieveking on behalf of the Fourth International Flint Symposium and by Robin Holgate to assess plough damage at Long Down, Harrow Hill, Stoke Down and Church Hill, Findon on behalf of the then Department of the Environment. Whilst the fieldwork results have been published (McNabb et al. 1996; Baczkowski and Holgate 2017), this paper focuses on discussing further the development and management of flint working at these sites.


Between 1955 and 1958 E.F. Salisbury partially excavated a single shaft and investigated what he considered to be two flint-working areas at Long Down, the results of which he summarised in a brief report (Salisbury 1961). The fill of the shaft and the flint-working areas all produced unspecified quantities of flint debitage. Earthwork and surface artefact collection survey undertaken by Holgate in 1984 of the cultivated field immediately east of the main cluster of flint mines recovered predominantly debitage resulting from the production of bifacial implements fabricated on flint derived from the flint mines, as well as roughouts for two axes and an adze and an axe preform (see Table 1.1); this represents the remnants of an oval-shaped flint-working area measuring at least 25 m in diameter (Fig. 1.1). Two circular depressions c. 6 m in diameter were also recorded to the east of the flint-working area. Excavations in 1985 investigated the two circular depressions and the flint-working area, as well as what was interpreted as an upcast dump adjacent to the shaft excavated by Salisbury (Fig. 1.2). The trench (Fig. 1.2: trench A) by Salisbury’s shaft, rather than an upcast dump, revealed the upper fills of two shafts; the trenches sampling the two circular depressions east of the flint-working area (Fig. 1.2: trenches C and D) demonstrated that they were flint mines. Trenches were excavated to define the extent and nature of the flint-working area (Fig. 1.2: trenches B1–B35). An intact portion of the flint-working area survived measuring c. 12 m² in area close to the edge of the present-day field. In total, 29,817 flints were recovered from both the survey in 1984 and the excavations in 1985 (see Tables 1.1 and 1.2).

The upper fill of two shafts adjacent to Salisbury’s excavation (trench A)

The trench by Salisbury’s shaft produced 5,709 flints (Table 1.2), mostly debitage. Of the flakes, 48% were hard hammer-struck: a higher proportion than that of the flakes recovered from the flint-working area (30%). Although soft hammer-struck axe-thinning or finishing flakes comprised 75% of all flakes and blades, this was a lower proportion than that recovered from the flint-working area (c. 90%). This, coupled with the fact that the upper fills of the mines produced a higher proportion of tested nodules (i.e. with only one or two flakes detached from them), quartered pieces or shattered pieces from the mine fills (7% compared with 0.3% from the flint-working area), sho ws that a significant proportion of the debitage from this trench was associated with the extraction and preparation of flint for making implements. However, the presence of axe-thinning and finishing flakes (64% of the flints), along with the roughouts for axes and a chisel, indicate that bifacial implements were being manufactured in this area or close by. The presence of clusters (described as ‘nests’ by Salisbury and others excavating flint mines in Sussex in the 1920s–1960s) of flakes and, in one instance, indicating an axe roughout, shows that piles of debitage were being dumped in this part of the site. Fragments of Early Neolithic pottery, probably Carinated Bowl, as well as an antler pick fragment and ox shoulder blade, were also recovered from the mine fills and radiocarbon-dated to the 39th to 38th centuries cal BC (Baczkowski and Holgate 2017, 16).

The isolated shafts on the eastern side (trenches C and D)

Sample excavation of the two shafts to the east of the flint-working area produced 2,088 flints (Table 1.2). In common with the flints recovered from the flint-working area, a significant majority from the southern of the two shafts (Fig. 1.2: trench C) derived from the production of bifacial implements: nearly 90% were soft hammer-struck axe-thinning or finishing flakes, along with three roughouts for two axes and a discoidal knife. All the flints recovered from the northern of the two shafts (Fig. 1.2: trench D), as well as 38% of flakes from the southern shaft (Fig. 1.2: trench C), were associated with the rough dressing of mined flint.

Table 1.1: Flintwork from the surface collection/recording surveys, 1984–5.

The flint-working area trenches (trenches B1–B35)

The flint-working area, occupying c. 650 m², yielded 21,597 flints (Table 1.2). It is estimated that 4.2% of the flint-working area was excavated; assuming the same density of flints throughout, this would suggest that over 500,000 flints would originally have been left when the working area was abandoned. Some flints could date to the Later Bronze Age. The remainder all resulted from the production of bifacial implements from the flint mined at the site: 51% were soft hammer-struck thinning flakes, 39% were finishing flakes and 3% were chips; the roughouts were for six axes (one being a thin-butted axe) and three ovate or discoidal knives. The intact portion of the flint-working area contained 2,066 flints, of which 26% were hard hammer-struck flakes, 60% were soft hammer-stuck thinning flakes, 8% were finishing flakes and 5% were chips; two axe roughouts were recovered, along with fragments of Early Neolithic, probably Carinated Bowl, pottery which may have all originated from the same bowl found in the backfill layers adjacent to the shaft excavated by Salisbury. The ovate/discoidal knife roughouts which are usually dated to the Late Neolithic period suggest that, following the establishment of the flint-working area in the early fourth millennium cal BC, further working of flint to produce bifacial implements continued until the mid–late third millennium cal BC.

Fig 1.1: Long Down showing the flint-working area and the densities of flint recorded in the 1984 surface collection survey (after Baczkowski and Holgate 2017, fig. 4).

Fig 1.2: Long Down showing the location of the trenches excavated in 1985 (after Baczkowski and Holgate 2017, fig. 5).


In 1924 and 1925 a survey of the flint mines and excavation of a shaft (shaft 21) on the north side of Harrow Hill was directed by E. and E.C. Curwen (Curwen and Curwen 1926). They recovered ten small ‘nests’ of flakes, 54 broken or roughout implements and at least eight axe preforms. In 1936 George Holleyman excavated trenches across the late prehistoric enclosure on the summit of the Hill, which included investigating three shafts (Holleyman 1937), encountering ‘nests of flakes’ and at least 100 axe roughouts and preforms in the fill of the shafts but no remains of surface flint-working areas.

Table 1.2: The flintwork from Long Down, 1985.

In 1982 Sieveking arranged for P.J. Felder to excavate shaft 13, situated to the northwest of shaft 21, and in 1984 for Greg Bell to excavate three trenches alongside shaft 13 to investigate if any flint-working areas were located in this part of the site (McNabb et al. 1996). Surface artefact collection survey of the cultivated field on the south side of Harrow Hill undertaken by Holgate in 1985 identified a flint-working area c. 45 m in diameter which included a significant quantity of debitage and bifacial implement roughouts/preforms, predominantly axe roughouts, as well as two sickle roughout/performs (Baczkowski and Holgate 2017; Fig. 1.3 and Table 1.1). The north-west part of the area surveyed produced debitage and implements manufactured on flint originating close to the surface, which probably date to the Late Bronze Age. Seven circular depressions were also recorded (Fig. 3) and initially interpreted as shafts in the vicinity of the flint-working area. Sample excavations of these ‘depressions’, along with the flint-working area, were led by Holgate in 1986 (Baczkowski and Holgate 2017; Fig. 4). The excavations on both the northern and the southern part of the site produced a total of over 8,100 flints (see Tables 1.3 and 1.4).

North side of the Hill

Clusters of debitage (see Table 1.3), as well as two antler hammers, were discovered throughout the fill of the shaft excavated by Felder and from galleries radiating out from its base (McNabb et al. 1996, 35–7). Over 700 flints were recovered from the three trenches excavated by Bell adjacent to the shaft, the majority from the northernmost trench (trench 2: see Table 1.3). These flints are interpreted as resulting from individual episodes of fabricating axe roughouts/preforms, and not a flint-working area (McNabb et al. 1996, 28); the majority of flint extracted from this shaft was taken elsewhere to be worked (McNabb et al. 1996, 37).

Fig. 1.3: Harrow Hill showing the densities of flint recorded in the 1985 surface collection survey (after Baczkowski and Holgate 2017, fig. 14).

Table 1.3: The flintwork from Harrow Hill, 1982–3 (after McNabb et al. 1996).

South side of the Hill

Trenches excavated across the circular depressions (Fig. 1.4) revealed that these were either natural, shallow depressions or resulted from open cast or drift mining. Further trenching indicated that drift mining occurred mainly in an arc to the northeast of the flint-working area. The drift mines produced 1,128 flints (Table 1.4), most of which resulted from producing bifacial implements: 41% comprised soft hammer-struck axe-thinning flakes, along with five axe roughouts. Only c. 2% comprised hard hammer-struck flakes with cortex, tested nodules and quartered pieces. Most of the contexts associated with the areas of open-cast mining were either devoid of flintwork or contained a few flakes or blades, some of which were soft hammer-struck axe-thinning flakes. However, three distinct groups of flintwork were recovered from drift-mining fills in two of the northern-most trenches excavated in this part of the site. These all produced over 100 flints, including hard hammer-struck flakes with cortex, soft hammer-struck axe-thinning and axe-finishing flakes, tested nodules and axe roughouts which, in each case, were clearly detached from one or more nodules and resulted from the deposition of debitage representing single flint-flaking episodes.

The excavation of the flint-working area (Fig 1.4: the W trenches), occupying c. 1,600 m², produced 3,721 flints (Table 1.4). An estimated 1.4% of the flint-working area was excavated suggesting that, assuming the same density of flints throughout, it originally comprised about 270,000 humanly-struck flints. The majority of the flints are associated with manufacturing bifacial implements from the flint mined at the site, with 31% comprising soft hammer-struck thinning flakes, 2% were finishing flakes and 8% were chips; 14 axe roughouts and three preforms, including an axe, sickle and ovate preforms, were recovered during the excavations.

Fig 1.4: Harrow Hill showing the flint-working area, the open-cast mining area and the locations of trenches excavated in 1986 (after Baczkowski and Holgate 2017, fig. 15).


In 1910–13 Major A. G. Wade excavated three of the line of at least 100 shafts extending for over 800 m at Stoke Down (Wade 1922; Barber and Dyer 2005); no associated working areas were located at the time. In all c. 2,500 flakes, three flaked axe roughouts/preforms, a chopper, a core and a miscellaneous retouched flake were recovered from the fill of the shafts, mostly from Shaft 1; a greensand quern rubber was also found in the fill of Shaft 2. Surface artefact collection survey by Holgate in 1985 of the cultivated field immediately to the south-west of the line of flint mines recovered 109 flints in total, which included four axe-thinning flakes and one axe roughout fragment. If the opportunity arises, further survey work on the eastern part of the site may reveal the remains of flint-working areas.

Table 1.4: The flintwork from Harrow Hill, 1986.


Between 1932 and 1952 John Pull surveyed 36 shafts and 15 flint-working areas at Church Hill, Findon; of these, he excavated six shafts and eight flint-working areas (Pye 1968). The flint-working areas he investigated were located around the shafts, two of which measured 56.5 m² and another measured 3.5 m²; he also encountered clusters of flints which he interpreted as flint-working areas between layers of mining debris. Pull did not publish a detailed account of his fieldwork. If the plans and section drawings in his archive at Worthing Museum are reliable, one flint-working area was truncated when two shafts were excavated through it during the Neolithic period, another lies amongst the upper fill of a shaft and two flint-working areas are partially overlain by chalk dumps: one of these, flint-working area 2, is not only partially buried by a chalk dump but also overlies the upper fill of a shaft underneath which were found fragments of the base of a Grooved Ware vessel. Only a small proportion of the flints recovered by Pull survive in museum collections (Pye 1968); of the c. 200 flints that survive from Church Hill 72 are axe roughouts/preforms, including axes, chisels, miniature axes and discoidal knives. Pull also excavated eight round barrows, two of which were located amongst the flint mines; whilst no conclusive burials were found, fragments of comb-impressed Beaker vessels and Collared Urns were found.

A walkover and surface artefact recording survey undertaken by Holgate in 1985 (Fig. 1.5) recorded a total of 1,777 humanly-struck flints during the surface artefact recording survey (see Table 1.1). At least 13 clearly-defined concentrations of humanly-struck flints were identified, each of which, in terms of surface density and overall composition, resembled the flint-working area discovered at Harrow Hill. Virtually all the flints resulted from manufacturing bifacial implements from the flint mined at the site, with 24% comprising soft hammer-struck axe-thinning flakes and finishing flakes. Whilst axe roughouts and preforms predominated, some were for thin-butted axes and a miniature axe, and a chisel and discoidal knife roughouts/preform were also recovered which are considered to date to the Late Neolithic period (Table 1.1). The working areas on the eastern edge of the site contained similar quantities of both hard hammer-struck flakes with cortex and soft hammer-struck thinning flakes, along with thin-butted axe, chisel and ovate roughouts/preforms.

Fig. 1.5: Church Hill, Findon showing the flint-working areas recorded in the 1985 survey.


Before his fieldwork campaign at Church Hill, Pull and his colleague Sainsbury spent ten years from 1922 to 1932 working at Blackpatch where he estimated that there were 64 mines and nine flint-working areas in total (Pye 1968). In all he investigated seven shafts, four flint-working areas, one of which measured 1.4 m², and 12 round barrows. As at Church Hill, one flint-working area was partially truncated by a shaft, one was partially covered by a chalk dump and another overlay the upper fill of a shaft. The fill of shaft 1 produced at least 141 flint implements, including 73 axe roughouts and preforms; numerous flakes and blades are also recorded as having been found (Pye 1968). Pottery from the barrows included comb-impressed Beaker and Collared Urn fragments, including a nearly complete Collared Urn, whilst a further 33 flints, including 11 axe roughouts and preforms, were found.


The nineteenth century excavations at Cissbury focused on excavating shafts (Holgate 1995, 137; Barber et al. 1999, 7–8). Between 1952 and 1956 Pull excavated two shafts and partially sampled a further two shafts on the south-west spur of the hill, along with investigating three flint-working areas located adjacent to shafts (Pye 1968), one of which measured 56.5 m² in area and another measured 3.4 m². Of the c. 100 flints surviving from his excavations, 38 are axe roughouts and preforms.


Easton Down

Between 1929 and 1934 J. F. S. Stone investigated six shafts and four of the six flint-working areas that he discovered at Easton Down (Stone 1931a; 1933a; 1935). One of the flint-working areas overlay two filled-in shafts. The flint-working areas ranged in size from 150 m² to 56 m² and contained mainly flakes and chips. He concluded that both the final finishing of implements was carried out as well as coarser fashioning of rough nodules. Bifacial implements included roughouts/preforms for axes, adzes, chisels and discoidal knives, whilst one working area (floor 7) included a ground and polished chisel (Stone 1931).

Martin’s Clump

Whilst investigating Easton Down in the early 1930s Stone discovered a second flint-mining site 3 km to the north-east on the same ridge at Martin’s Clump, Hampshire (Stone 1933b). He located three flint-working areas one of which, measuring c. 40 m², he investigated with J. G. D. Clark and found a mass of flakes and both broken and half-worked implements which included axe and chisel preforms (Stone 1933b).


Grimes Graves

The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries excavations at Grimes Graves focused on excavating examples of the deep mines. In 1914 A. E. Peake, besides exploring two deep mines and other features, investigated 14 flint-working areas (Peake 1915), identifying two types: areas containing quantities of large cortical flakes and ‘finishing floors’ which also included smaller flakes devoid of cortex (Peake 1915; Bishop 2012, 46; Longworth et al. 2012, 27). During the interwar years A. L. Armstrong, who had worked with Peake in 1914, excavated a series of trenches to establish the boundaries of the floorstone and to explore flint-working areas. In all he noted 98 flint-working areas, including 37 within the visible ‘Deep Mine Field’, 15 to the south and east, 14 to the north and five to the west (Longworth et al. 2012, 14); these varied in size from c. 5 m² to c. 105 m². In 1971 Roger Mercer excavated a shaft on the north-east edge of the Deep Mine Field which cut through an earlier working area on its western side, whilst another working area was situated on the eastern side of the shaft which produced c. 60,000 flints: the flint was worked into a variety of implements, including discoidal knife and some axe preforms (Mercer 1981; Saville 1981). Excavations by the British Museum in 1971–5 investigated two working areas on the southern edge of the Deep Mine Field and near the centre of the field immediately to the west of the Deep Mine Field. The working area on the southern edge of the Deep Mine Field was the largest of the hitherto excavated areas producing c. 250,000 pieces, although it is considered that these represented several flint-working episodes that were not necessarily connected with the exploitation of one mine by one group of miners, whilst the second working area contained 30,000–40,000 flints (Longworth et al. 2012, 86–89). Lech (2012, 117) concluded that flint was extracted and initially worked at the bottom of the shaft or nearby; selected fragments of flint nodules and large flakes were then brought to the flint-working area to produce implements: this included, besides piercers, denticulates and scrapers, preforms for axes and discoidal knives, as well as more irregular implements including points, picks and waisted/wedge-shaped tools (Bishop 2012, 46).


The investigation of flint-working areas leads to a number of conclusions regarding how flint-mining sites operated and the role these sites played throughout the Neolithic period.

Operation of the flint-mining sites

The flint-working areas were places where mined or quarried flint was brought and flaked to produce mainly preforms for bifacial implements, a significant proportion of which were then taken off-site to be ground and polished into finished products. From the early fourth millennium cal BC, preforms predominantly for axes were being fabricated at the Sussex and Wessex flint-mining sites. At Long Down, a greater proportion of debitage from the upper mine fills was associated with the initial working of flint using hard hammers to remove cortex and irregularities than that recovered from the flint-working area. Axe-thinning flakes and axe roughouts have also been found in the fill of shafts at all the flint-mining sites which, in the case of Harrow Hill, are interpreted at the ‘sweepings’ from flint working incorporated into the backfill (McNabb et al. 1996, 36). However, it is apparent that at least in some instances, for example at Easton Down (Stone 1931, 356), Grimes Graves (Peake 1915) and, to some extent, at Church Hill, Findon, ‘undressed’ pieces of flint could be taken to flint-working areas and then converted into preforms for bifacial implements.

Detailed study of the roughouts and preforms from Long Down and Harrow Hill shows that there is considerable variation in the strategies pursued in manufacturing bifacial

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