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Grime's Graves

For use with Talking Point worksheets

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Grime's Graves

Postby TalkingPoint » Tue Nov 02, 2010 11:49 pm

What are Grime's Graves?
Grime's Graves are holes in the ground. But there is more to them than that – they are prehistoric flint mines which were dug by Neolithic miners nearly 5,000 years ago – they are therefore nearly as old as Stonehenge, the famous stone circle in Wiltshire, England. It is thought that these prehistoric miners used the shafts for hundreds of years, to extract flint from the ground. Flint was an important stone at the time as it could be used to make axes, and other useful, durable objects. Although the word "grave" usually refers to a place in which someone is buried, the word "grave" in this case refers to earthworks called mines or quarries. The name "Grime" comes from the name of the Anglo-Saxon god known as Grim.

The mines at Grime's Graves might have remained unknown to us today if a certain William Greenwell hadn't discovered them in 1868. Although he was not a professional archaeologist his interest in the subject was sincere and, on discovering the mines at the site, he proceeded to explore the mineshafts, the galleries underground and to collect and catalogue the prehistoric tools he found there. He quickly deduced that the original miners had been from the Neolithic period. Some later historians and archaeologists attempted to prove that the mines were even older and one, a certain Leslie Armstrong, is said to have produced artifacts which indicated that the mines originated in the Paleolithic period, but these items were soon discovered to be fakes.

Where are Grimes Graves?
Grime's Graves is in Thetford Forest in the county of Suffolk, in the east of England. Nearby is the town of Mildenhall, where a fabulous hoard of late Roman silver tableware was discovered in a field in 1942. Also nearby, at Woodbridge in Suffolk, is the site of the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial. It was here, in 1939, that archaeologists uncovered the burial site of an Anglo-Saxon king which dated from the mid-7th century and contained beautifully ornate brooches and serving plates as well as a fine helmet. It is clear from these finds, and many others in the surrounding area, that this particular part of England has been inhabited continuously for thousands of years and has a very rich history.

Why are they important?
Grime's Graves is one of ten flint mines which have been discovered in Britain, though many more are thought to exist. Grime's Graves is different from the other sites because it is the only one where visitors can actually go down a mineshaft and visit the prehistoric mine itself. Some shafts go down as far as 12 metres because the miners had to excavate layers of chalk before reaching the desired strata of precious flint underneath.

In historical and archaeological terms the site at Grime's Graves is important because of light it throws on pre-history. Neolithic tools have been discovered at the site which show that the miners used deer antlers to help them dig into the chalk and deer shoulder bones as spades. Archaeologists have also discovered that later Bronze Age people, who did not rely on flint as much as Neolithic man, used the mineshafts as enormous rubbish bins!

See also: Do mining companies do enough to prevent disasters?

Quick Quiz: Read the clues below and write the solutions on a piece of paper. Then take the first letter of each answer and rearrange them to find the hidden word connected with this Talking Point.

1. The name "Grime" comes from the name of the Anglo-Saxon god known as __________.

2. Nearby is the town of __________, where a fabulous hoard of late Roman silver tableware was discovered in a field in 1942.

3. Also __________, at Woodbridge in Suffolk, is the site of the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial.

4. It is clear from these finds, and many others in the surrounding area, that this particular part of England has been __________ continuously for thousands of years and has a very rich history.

5. Grime's Graves is different from the other sites because it is the only one where visitors can actually go down a mineshaft and visit the prehistoric mine __________.

6. __________ tools have been discovered at the site which show that the miners used deer antlers to help them dig into the chalk and deer shoulder bones as spades.
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