The Exhibition Building
Norfolk IP26 5DE
Grime’s Graves on the border of Norfolk and Suffolk in East England is one of the most fascinating Neolithic sites in Britain. Despite its name it is not a grave site or burial ground although you might be forgiven for thinking that the grassy craters and hillocks mark a cemetery. In fact, what lies beneath this 96 acre (37 ha) lunar landscape is a pre-historic flint mine.
The jet black flint was worked into extremely effective tools such as axes and scrapers. Grime‘s Graves flint axes were was so highly prized that they were traded up and down the length of the British Isles.
Between 300 and 1900 BC pre-historic miners sank over 350 shafts into the chalk searching for seams of flint. Red deer antlers were used as picks and animal shoulder blades as shovels. Incredibly, on one of the antler picks uncovered by the archaeologists was found a miner's fingerprint - still intact after 4000 years!
Once the miners had reached the floorstone flint, horizontal galleries were dug following the flint seam.
The largest shafts were 40 feet (14 metres) deep and 39 feet (12 metres) wide at the surface. It has been calculated that more than 2,000 tonnes of chalk were removed from the larger shafts, taking 20 men around five months, before stone of sufficient quality was reached. An upper 'topstone' and middle 'wallstone' seam of flint was dug through on the way to the deeper third 'floorstone' seam which most interested the miners.
These ancient miners had an extremely efficient way of removing the chalk. The technique was to build wooden platforms and ladders as they dug downwards, piling the spoil around the shaft entrance, and using turf to hold it in place.
As the miners dug deep underground light was provided by primitive lamps. A lump of chalk would be scooped out and the hollow filled with animal fat or oil which was set alight. You can still see soot stains left on the roofs of the galleries by the burning oil from these lamps.
Imagine what being a flint miner 5000 years ago must have been like. How long would you be able to work down there in the semi dark, breathing smoky and soot-laden air before needing to climb out and gulp fresh air?
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Possible Fertility Shine
One of the most exciting discoveries at Grime’s Graves was what appeared to be a fertility shrine set up in an abandoned shaft. The shaft was quite short and it was assumed that it had been abandoned because no flint seam was found.
Before the miners left the shaft they carefully carved out a ledge or altar, on which was found a goddess figurine of chalk, either very obese or pregnant. Beside the female figure was a phallus of chalk. Surrounding both was a pile of antler picks.
The accepted reading of this shrine is that the miners, disappointed at their failure to find the flint they needed, made a religious offering to the goddess to ensure the continued "fertility" of the mine.
Of course this interpretation is only a theory and some historians believe that the shrine was added much later – who knows.
When the seam of flint ran out, the miners carefully back-filled the galleries and shafts before digging the next pit. These in-filled shafts give the heathland site its characteristic pockmarked appearance.
The Strange Name
It was the Anglo-Saxons who gave the site its strange name. It is believed that they had a good idea of what the humps and bumps represented. They named it after their hooded and masked god, Woden whom they called Grim. Grime’s Graves is a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon words Grim’s Graben which literally means ‘the masked one’s quarries’.
Enter a Neolithic Mine Shaft
Following excavation of the pits they were filled in except for one which is open to the public. This is the only shaft of its kind in Britain that can be entered.
This unique experience requires descending a 30 foot (9 metre) shaft by a steel ladder. Participants must wear hard hats and sensible flat shoes. At the bottom of the shaft visitors can see the entrances to seven horizontal galleries.
Plan your Visit
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English Heritage Members Free
Check the English Heritage website for other entry details Web: Grimes Graves/ Opening & Admission
The English Heritage web site has detailed information to assist Disabled Visitors Web: Grimes Graves/ Disabled Access
Visitors intending to descend the shaft should wear flat shoes. No children under the age of 5 allowed down the mine. See Health & Safety on Web: Grimes Graves/ Other Access
Contact & Further Information
+44 (0) 1842 810656
- By Car
Grime’s Graves is located 7 miles (11.3 km) north-west of Thetford off the A134, in Thetford Park. Free car park approximately 547 yards (500 metres) from site entrance
- By Bus
The only public transport is Coach Services of Thetford service 40. Ask driver to set you down at Lynford.
Brandon Station, 3 1⁄2 miles (5.6 km) walk.
Google Maps - Grimes Graves