Hi-tech view of Stone Age flint mine
From the Eastern Daily Press:
September 7, 2002 10:15
A 3-D image of the 4000-year-old flint mine at Grimes Graves.
A unique insight into the life of Stone Age miners in Norfolk has been unearthed for the first time with the help of high-tech laser equipment.
For the last week archaeologists have been working with surveyors to produce a 3D model of a 4000-year-old flint mine at Grimes Graves, near Thetford.
The mine on the English Heritage site has never been opened to the public and was described as a "time capsule" by those uncovering its Neolithic secrets.
Accessed by a 12m shaft it is the first time that a flint mine will have been surveyed in such detail, from the axe cuts made in the walls by miners to the antler picks left behind on the floor.
Grimes Graves are one of only 10 flint mines in England and the only one to have an excavated shaft open to the public.
While Greenwell's Pit is never likely to be opened it is hoped to put together a virtual reality model of what it was like to work underground.
English Heritage archaeological investigator Cathy Tuck said the work was important for the future management and maintenance of the site.
"This shaft was first excavated in 1868, until then it would have been untouched. It was re-excavated in the 1970s by the British Museum and later sealed for preservation." she said.
"We think it was used for about 500 years, with a team of 15 miners at a time. They only worked in the summer and would have been crawling on the stomachs in some parts."
The pioneering work has only be made possible by the development of portable laser scanning equipment, costing about £150,000, small enough to fit down tunnels that can be less than two metres in size.
It was also used in the aftermath of the Potter's Bar in May.
So far 433 mining shafts have been identified at Grimes Graves, most of which have filled in, creating a landscape of bumps and dips.
They were used to dig for flints, a valuable commodity in the construction of Neolithic tools and weapons.
Hertfordshire-based surveyors Plowman Craven Associates (PCA) were commissioned to carry out the scan of the shaft and adjoining tunnels.
"It's an absolute time capsule," said Ms Tuck, adding that the shaft was also used ritually.
"There has been the ritual deposit of two or three antler picks and carved chalk balls," said Ms Tuck. "Maybe they left a shrine at the bottom encouraging the fertility of Mother Earth if the shaft had not been as successful as they had hoped.
"The Earth to Neolithic people was a goddess. They were asking permission to extract the flint."
The completed 3D model should be available to view in about six months time and will include a similar virtual reality of the surface and what it was like in the Stone Age.
Derry Long, from PCA, said two thirds of the pit had been surveyed.
"We've scanned up to 15m to 20m out from the main shaft. It's mind blowing when you're down and seeing 6000-year-old antler, you do stop and wonder how they did it."
The project has cost about £12,000 so far and the team will be back again in a few weeks to finish off the surveying.
Posted by Rhiannon
10th September 2002ce