Mine flood reveals prehistoric workings: Bronze Age excavation changes perception of early British civilisations. Oliver Gillie reports

AN ENTRANCE to prehistoric copper mines has been found at Great Ormes Head, a rocky headland near Llandudno, North Wales. The mines were first discovered 20 years ago, but their extent and their importance for the history of the British Isles is only beginning to be understood.

Three years of excavation has led archaeologists to previously undiscovered parts of the Great Ormes mine which have not been penetrated since prehistoric times. The workings were found when flood water washed away rubble, which had been used by the prehistoric miners to back-fill the tunnels to save the effort of bringing the waste to the surface.

The prehistoric miners followed seams of malachite, a green copper-bearing mineral in the limestone, creating a honeycomb of tunnels, some so small that only a child could have crawled up them to scrape out the mineral. The entrance is almost entirely filled with rubble, covered with white calcite deposited by dripping water.

Tony Hammond, a mining engineer and managing director of Great Ormes mines, discovered the tunnels when he was asked by the local authority to advise on the safety of a car park on the site. Most archaeologists believed the Great Ormes mine was Roman, but Duncan James, a local amateur, obtained a piece of charcoal from the mine which was radiocarbon dated to 1000BC.

Frank Jowett, resident archaeologist at the Great Ormes mine, said: 'The great size of the workings here is radically changing our ideas about prehistoric Britain. It used to be thought that metal was imported into Britain in the Bronze Age. Now we believe that copper was mined very extensively in Britain probably by the Beaker people who we think came to Britain as prospectors. Evidence is now being found of 15 or more prehistoric mines in Wales. Prehistoric mines have also been found at Alderley Edge, at Coniston in the Lake District, and at least two places in Ireland. It seems that between 2000 BC and 600 BC there was an important metal industry round the edge of the Irish Sea which gives a completely new perspective to our knowledge of the this era.'

Mr Hammond said: 'The prehistoric miners broke the relatively soft malachite with hammers and scraped it off with bone tools. They worked very carefully, avoiding the hard rock, possibly producing only a few kilogrammes of ore a day. Prehistoric mines are very important for understanding human history, because it is metal which provided man with really effective tools and weapons - and it was metal weapons which enabled national states to emerge in prehistoric and early historic times.'

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

Recruitment Genius: Business Support Administrator - Part Time

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the South West'...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - OTE £40,000

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An expanding business based in ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales - Business Broker - Scotland

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As an award winning and leading...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas