Dog-sitting duties yesterday for this old fellah:
12 years old, and with a large out of control tumour on his back, it was awesome to take him into the forest again, even though he ran away - just like he would as a young dog. He had me running around this monument looking for him:
Thetford Warren Lodge, the handsome ruin of a medieval rabbit warrener's fortified house. Possibly commissioned by the nearby Prior of Thetford Cluniac Priory.
After our little adventure, I dropped the dogs off to keep cool during the mid day, and then took the opportunity to revisit an awesome prehistoric site in the Thetford Forest area, the Neolithic flint mines at Grimes Graves. It use to be a regular haunt of mine.
This is an aerial view of the site. An almost Martian landscape of craters and earthworks. Surveys have recorded a total of at least 430 shafts sunk into the ground. Each reaches down to a seam of black flint known as floor-stone, about 10 meters down from the surface. Shallow galleries then radiate along this layer of floor-stone flint in all directions.
Until excavations revealed the nature of these craters during the 19th Century AD, no one knew what this landscape represented. The Anglo-Saxons named it Grimes Graves, after the god Woden (Grim). They set all of the local parish boundaries to meet at the site, where they erected a moot hill, a meeting place for the hundred. Later antiquarians suggested that it was the site of Danish encampments.
We now know that these craters are the scars of a remarkable flint mine complex, that was in use during the Neolithic period between 4,675 and 4,200 years ago. Each year, an average of one shaft was mined. The tools that they used appear to have consisted largely of picks made from red deer antlers, stone axes, and tools made from wood and basketry. So many red deer antlers appear to have been used, that it has been estimated that they will have needed to manage a population of 120 red deer in order to supply them!
One shaft is presently open to the general public, but there are plans to reopen another shaft later this year. The English Heritage site has a small museum and presentation on the site:
From there, you can walk over to Pit 1, the shaft open to the public.
Descent to the floorstone level is via a sturdy 30 feet ladder.
The galleries themselves are not open to public access, for reasons of safety. However, you can enter some of them a short distance before reaching barriers.
It is a little bit of a mystery as to why they were going to such dramatic and exhaustive efforts to mine this flint over a 475 year period. There is plenty of good flint much closer to the surface, even on the surface. However, the floor-stone flint has a particular fresh looking, black colour and quality. It may have even had a ritual value, for coming so far deep out of the earth, and even for being so difficult to mine. Here's a reconstructed Neolithic axe that I could play with, made of local black flint.
I got a little dirty crawling through the galleries. Notice the exposed chalky spoil on the surface. Moved there thousands of years ago by the Neolithic miners.
It's a beautiful place, the Martian looking craters, spoil heaps, often grazed by sheep, and nested on by larks.
I thought it was also recording that Anglo-Saxon moot-hill on the edge of the site.
Discussion - Population Genetics
Okay, so where does this site sit in with the latest news in population genetics? The population that mined this site for so many years, was most likely (based on ancient DNA from other British Neolithic sites) largely descended from farming immigrants from the South, that arrived in Britain some 6,100 years ago. The men most likely had I2a Y-DNA haplogroups, and the population today that most resembles them today are the Sardinians. Their ancestors may have migrated from Iberia, but ultimately, some of their ancestors at earlier dates, had moved along the Mediterranean from an origin in Anatolia and the Levant. They brought with them, the technologies, livestock, and seeds of the Neolithic Revolution, that had exploded in the Fertile Crescent of the Levant, and the Tigris / Euphrates valleys some 10,000 years ago.
Thetford Forest Archaeology