Grime's Graves

Grime's Graves is a large Neolithic flint mining complex in Norfolk, England. It lies 8 km (5.0 mi) north east from Brandon, Suffolk in the East of England. It was worked between c. 2600 and c. 2300 BC, although production may have continued well into the Bronze and Iron Ages (and later) owing to the low cost of flint compared with metals. Flint was much in demand for making polished stone axes in the Neolithic period. Much later, when flint had been replaced by metal tools, flint nodules were in demand for other uses, such as for building and as strikers for muskets.

The scheduled monument[1] extends over an area of some 37 ha (91 acres) and consists of at least 433 shafts dug into the natural chalk to reach seams of flint. The largest shafts are more than 14 m (46 ft) deep and 12 m (39 ft) in diameter at the surface. It has been calculated that more than 2,000 tonnes of chalk had to be 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. The site is managed by English Heritage and can be visited.

The site is also a biological and geological Site of Special Scientific Interest[2] and a Geological Conservation Review site.[3] It is part of the Breckland Special Area of Conservation[4] and Special Protection Area.[5]

Grime's Graves
Grimes Graves , neolithic flint mine - - 1007207
Interior view of the public pit at Grime's Graves
Grime's Graves is located in England
Grime's Graves
Grime's Graves
LocationBrandon, Norfolk, England
Coordinates52°28′33″N 0°40′31″E / 52.47585°N 0.67541°ECoordinates: 52°28′33″N 0°40′31″E / 52.47585°N 0.67541°E
Openedc. 2600 BC
Closedc. 2300 BC
CompanyManaged by English Heritage

Mining method

Plan of old shaft and galleries

In order to remove the chalk efficiently, the ancient miners built wooden platforms and ladders as they dug downwards and piled the spoil around the shaft opening using turf revetments to hold it in place for the season, when the shaft and all its galleries were thoroughly and fastidiously backfilled to promote stability. The landscape around Grime's Graves has a characteristic pockmarked appearance caused by the infilled shafts. This is probably what inspired the later Anglo-Saxon inhabitants of the area to name it after their god Grim (literally the masked, or hooded one, a euphemism for Woden). Although the pagan Anglo-Saxons seem to have had some idea of what the site was, as the name of the site means literally "the masked one's quarries" (or Grim's Graben), it was not until Canon William Greenwell excavated one of the shafts in 1868–1870 that their purpose was discovered in modern times. Other similar sites have been found in Europe like Cissbury in West Sussex, Krzemionki in Poland, and Spiennes in Belgium.


Deer antler pick

The miners used picks fashioned from the antler of red deer. They probably used wooden shovels, although this is only inferred by analogy with other flint mines with better conditions for the preservation of artefacts. Analysis of the antlers (Clutton-Brock 1984: 25) has shown that the miners were mainly right-handed and favoured the left antlers out of those that were naturally shed seasonally by the deer. The 28 pits excavated up to 2008 yielded an average of 142.5 antler picks each, of which an average of 14.8 have been found to be left-handed.

Once they had reached the floorstone flint, the miners dug lateral galleries outwards from the bottom, following the flint seam. The medium-depth shafts yielded as much as 60 tons of flint nodules, which were brought to the surface and roughly worked into shape on site. The blank tools were then possibly traded elsewhere for final polishing. It is estimated that 60 tons of flint could have produced as many as 10,000 of the polished stone axes, which were the mines' main product. Extrapolation across the site suggests that Grime's Graves may have produced around 16–18,000 tonnes of flint across the 433 shafts recorded to date. However, there are large areas of the site covered by later activity which are believed to conceal many more mineshafts.

There were other hard stones used for axe manufacture, those of the Langdale axe industry and Penmaenmawr in North Wales being traded across Europe, as well as other less well-known igneous and metamorphic rocks. The axes were much in demand for forest clearance and settlement, development of farmland for arable crops and raising animals, which characterises the Neolithic period.

Customs and beliefs

Neolithic flint axe, about 31 cm (12 in) long

One unproductive shaft (pit 15) appears to have been turned into a shrine. An altar of flint lumps had been built with a chalk bowl at its base and antler picks piled around. In front of the altar had been placed a Venus figurine of chalk, a chalk phallus and some balls, also of chalk. It may have been an attempt to ensure that the mine remained productive or 'fertile' after this particular shaft turned out to have little flint in it. However, it is possible that the Venus figurine and the phallus are modern fakes – there is a lack of primary evidence surrounding their recovery in 1939, and rumours circulated at the time of the excavation that they were planted in order to deceive Leslie Armstrong, the archaeologist overseeing the dig.(Piggot 1986: 190, Longworth et al. 1991: 103–105).

Neolithic infrastructure

Grimes Graves, near Thetford, Norfolk - - 41510
The remains of mineshafts, pits, and spoil heaps pockmark the surface of Grime's Graves

Such a large industry may have required supporting infrastructure. Assuming no more than two shafts were open at any one time, around 120 red deer may have needed to be bred and managed nearby, in order to provide a steady supply of antler as well as skin, food and other products that the miners would require. Alternatively, the mines may have been worked intermittently by local farmers, as happened in many early metal mines during the Bronze Age and the later Iron Age.

Earlier flint mines in Britain such as Cissbury in Sussex were just as important as Grime's Graves, and there were many very local sources of flint which were exploited on the downlands. However, it is probably relevant that Grime's Graves were close to the very rich soils of the Fens, and forest clearance here would rely on local products.

There was also extensive farming settlement during the Bronze Age, known from middens that infill the mouths of many Neolithic mineshafts. Animal bones from these middens show that the Bronze Age people kept cattle, which they milked, sheep and a few pigs. They also grew barley, wheat and peas.

The site today

Grime's Graves is in the care of English Heritage. It is open to the public and it is possible to descend a 9 m (30 ft) ladder and explore one of the shafts. There is a small exhibition area.[6] This is the only shaft of its kind open to the public in Britain.


The full English Heritage reports on the excavations at Grime's Graves in 1971–72[7][8] are now available online through the Archaeology Data Service. Doctor Philip Harding FSA, later to appear in the TV programme Time Team, dug the site each summer from 1972 to 1976.


Grimes Graves Hut

The visitor's hut and picnic tables.

Entrance to Grimes Graves pit

The entrance to Pit I at Grime's Graves, the only flint mine open to the public.

Grimes Grave pits

One of the many pits at Grime's Graves.

Grimes Grave foxhole

The first of two Second World War foxholes at Grime's Graves, located between the car park and visitor's centre.

Grimes Grave Foxhole 2

The second of two Second World War foxholes at Grime's Graves, located on the eastern side of the site.

Grimes Graves exhibit

The exhibit in the visitor's centre.

Interactive exhibit

Multimedia exhibit at the visitor's centre.

See also


  1. ^ Historic England. "Grimes Graves, including round barrow in Grimes Graves Plantation (1003619)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
  2. ^ "Designated Sites View: Grime's Graves". Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Natural England. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  3. ^ "Grime`s Graves (Quaternary of East Anglia)". Geological Conservation Review. Joint Nature Conservation Committee. Retrieved 25 May 2018.
  4. ^ "Designated Sites View: Breckland". Special Areas of Conservation. Natural England. Retrieved 25 May 2018.
  5. ^ "Designated Sites View: Breckland". Special Protection Areass. Natural England. Retrieved 25 May 2018.
  6. ^ English Heritage page
  7. ^ Mercer, R. (1981). Grimes Graves, Norfolk Volume I: Excavations 1971-72. English Heritage
  8. ^ Mercer, R., Saville, A. (1981) Grimes Graves, Norfolk Volume II: Excavations 1971–72, The Flint Assemblage. English Heritage


  • Russell, M., (2000) Flint Mines in Neolithic Britain. Tempus. Stroud, ISBN 075241481X
  • Russell, M., (2002) Monuments of the British Neolithic: The Roots of Architecture. Tempus. Stroud, ISBN 0752419536
  • Barber, M., Field D., Topping, P, (1999)The Neolithic Flint Mines of England, Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England / English Heritage, ISBN 1-873592-41-8
  • Piggott, S., (1986) 'Early British craftsmen' Antiquity LX No 230, Pages 189-192.
  • Clutton-Brock, J., (1984) Excavations at Grime's Graves Norfolk 1972-1976 Fascicule 1: Neolithic Antler Picks From Grime's Graves, Norfolk, And Durrington Walls, Wiltshire: A Biometrical Analysis, British Museum Press, ISBN 0-7141-1374-3
  • Longworth, I., Herne, A., Varndell, G. and Needham, S., (1991) Excavations at Grimes Graves Norfolk 1972-1976 Fascicule 3: Shaft X: Bronze Age Flint, Chalk and Metalworking, British Museum Press, ISBN 0-7141-1396-4
  • Legge, A. J. (1991) Excavations at Grime's Graves Norfolk 1972-1976 Fascicule 4: Animals, Environment and the Bronze Age Economy. London, British Museum Press, ISBN 0-7141-1399-9

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History of Norfolk

Norfolk is a rural county in the East of England. Knowledge of prehistoric Norfolk is limited by a lack of evidence — although the earliest finds are from the end of the Lower Paleolithic period. Communities have existed in Norfolk since the last Ice Age and tools, coins and hoards such as those found at Snettisham indicate the presence of an extensive and industrious population.

The Iceni tribe inhabited the region prior to the Roman conquest of Britain in 43 AD, after which they built roads, forts, villas and towns. Boudica's rebellion in 60 AD, caused by the imposition of direct rule by the Romans, was followed by order and peace, which lasted until the Roman armies left Britain in 410 AD. The subsequent arrival of the Anglo-Saxons caused the loss of much Roman and British culture in Norfolk. It is known from external evidence from excavations and place-names that by c. 800 AD all Norfolk had been settled and the first towns had emerged. Norfolk was the northern half of the Kingdom of East Anglia and was ruled by the Anglo-Saxon Wuffing dynasty. Our knowledge of several Wuffings is scant, as few historical documents of the period have survived.

Under the Normans, Norwich emerged as the hub of the region. With steady growth and strong overseas links it became an important mediaeval city, but it suffered from internal tensions, unsanitary conditions and disastrous fires. Mediaeval Norfolk was the mostly densely populated and the most productive agricultural region in the country. Land was cultivated intensively and the wool trade was sustained by huge flocks. Other industries such as peat extraction were important. Norfolk was a prosperous county and possessed a wealth of monastic establishments and parish churches.

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Sixty-one sites are Special Areas of Conservation, forty-four are Special Protection Areas, thirty-two are Ramsar sites, forty are Geological Conservation Review sites, thirty-five are Nature Conservation Review sites, eighteen are National Nature Reserves, ten are Local Nature Reserves, twenty-eight are in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, one is on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens and three contain Scheduled Monuments. Twenty-two sites are managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, one by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, three by the National Trust, one by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and one by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust.

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Lynford is served by Our Lady of Consolation and Saint Stephen chapel of ease joined to Saint Mary's Catholic Church, Thetford.Lynford Hall, which is actually closer to Mundford, was rebuilt in the 19th century by Stephens Lyne-Stephens who was known as the richest commoner in England. The hall is now a hotel and conference centre. Lynford Arboretum and Lakes, formerly part of Lynford Hall estate, is now owned by the Forestry Commission.Grimes Graves, the only Neolithic flint mine open to visitors in Great Britain, lie a mile to the south. Lynford Quarry is one of only two sites on mainland Britain which has evidence of Neanderthal occupation.


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