SUMMARY / RELATED TOPICS

Mining archaeology in the British Isles

Mining archaeology is a specific field well-developed in the British Isles during recent decades. A reason of ongoing interest in this field is the particular bond between regional history and the exploitation of metals. References to mines in the area exist in Strabo's works; however the first accomplished study on the topic was attempted by Oliver Davies in 1935. Other momentous researches were that of geologist John S. Jackson about mines in Ireland and Lewis, Jones in Dolaucothi goldmine in Wales, the pioneering work of Ronald F. Tylecote. Moreover, in the 1980s and 1990s a new generation of amateurs and scientists began investigations in different locations in the British Isles, including Duncan James on the Great Orme's Head, Simon Timberlake with the Early Mines Research Group at sites in Wales and William O'Brien in Ireland. Signs of Bronze Age metal extraction have been identified from several locations in the British Isles. Oliver Davies has accomplished the most intensive archaeological investigation in central Wales at Cwmystwyth.

The first investigation conducted in 1935, however in 1986 a group of scientists instituted the Early Mines Research Group and reinvestigate the Copa Hill region including Cwmystwyth. Though lead deposits are the main concentration the first metal extracted in the area was copper; the main lead lode is at "Comet lode". At the walls of the opencast, revealed entrances of tunnels, which were constructed to follow smaller veins. At one of them, a wooden "pipe" was found. Moreover, in the same area a considerable amount of dump was exposed including stone hammers and lead ores. Charcoal samples from the site give several different dates from 2000–1900 BC to 1400 BC. Other two significant sites are Nantyreira mine located in mid-Wales. Copper was the reason for their early exploitation if Nantyreira's main lode contained predominantly lead ores. S. Timberlake and the Early Mines Research Group in 1986 explored them; the excavations had as a result the discovery of dump in both sites. Charcoal and stonehammers were found inside the tip.

The C14 samples place both areas at the Early Bronze Age 2000–1500 BC. The Great Orme mine exploitation, on the North Wales coast began in the Bronze Age and continued until the nineteenth century. According to remains, mine workings have been traced in the Bryniau and Pyllau valley; the dolomitised limestone deposits are rich in copper which early miners must extract by malachite. Because of ground composition, the extraction was sufficiently easy, this explains the scale of the operations. In 1976 Duncan James revealed in Great Orme a shaft which included a firesetting in connection with stone hammers, bone tools and rock dump; the deposit was placed by radiocarbon-dating to 1395–935 BC. Andy Lewis continued the research in the area at the late 1980s, it is believed that the operations in the location ended shortly after 1000 BC. Extractions techniques with visible remains are the opencasts at the surface and group of caverns and underground shafts; the underground system was accessible by many different openings which used as a ventilation system for the tunnels.

The tools in the site constitute by pointed bone tools and stonehammers. Other stone tools revealed at the locations were stone mortars and pestles, which indicate another stage in the ores exploitation. Moreover, a unique find. Evidence for early quarrying was discovered in Alderley Edge though industrial operations in the 19th century destroyed a big part of the earlier deposits. Ireland has many areas related with mining activities from the prehistoric period. However, the two important mines are Mount Ross Island mines. Ross Island lies near Killarney. Inside its area they have been exposed two primitive mines. O'Brien excavate "Danish mines" and revealed a mine cave and a huge spoil concentration nearby thus after the excavation of the latter, another unknown mine appeared. Furthermore, he investigates pits and dips in the bedrock, which considered primitive; the feature that differentiates this site is the discovery of a Beaker settlement close with metallurgical pits and rock waste. This finds in combination with an early phase in 2400 BC makes the site and the settlement important for mining Archaeology in the British Isles.

Mount Gabriel located close to west Cork provides useful evidence for the exploitation of copper ore in the Early Bronze Age about 1700 BC. Through research thirty-two areas of activity were underlined. Shallow concaves and significant amount of dump with charcoal and tools are the evidences of Bronze Age copper extraction in the region. Mount Gabriel constitute until now the only locations, where primitive assemblages remained undisturbed by 19th century deeds due to the low quality of its veins. With the beginning of the Iron Age about 700 BC operations associated with ore exploitations spread around the British Isles. A representative example of the period are Puzzlewood's surface mines; the site prospered in the Romano-British period and the late Middle Ages. The limonite ores represent a small part of the local Carboniferous Limestone; the archaeological remains of mining which can be detected in the area are opencasts, known as Scowles Holes. It's important to underline the discovery of habitations areas in close proximity, dated around 100–400 AD.

During the Roman period massive veins exploitation took part in the Dolaucothi. Further metallic lead pigs originate from Peak District in Derbyshire has been discovered but the exact position of the mines remains unknown, it is possible that the Mendip sources were exploited in Late Bronze Age

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